Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Mulan 1998
"It isn't daring enough." | Photo: Disney

You keep saying to yourself, "Don't sing, don't sing," but they do. Walt Animation Inc has its traditions, like bumptious American kids on lead vocals. Woody didn't yodel in Toy Story, did he? Tom Hanks covered the blah-blahs and he's not a child. Yes, but Toy Story broke the rules, which is why it's so great.

Mulan doesn't. It isn't daring enough. Ming-Na Wen (voice of heroine) sounds like a Californian high school senior and Mulan, who is the daughter of a retired cavalry officer in traditional old China, where children tortured their feet and women kept their traps shut, behaves with the free spirit of a feisty Valley girl on Coke. Don't forget, Quasimodo couldn't speak French and the Lion King's African dialect was non-existent.

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When the Huns invade China, in the century before the one you first thought of, a man from every household is drafted into the Emperor's army. To stop her ailing dad sacrificing himself for the sake of duty and honour and all that malarky, Mulan cuts her hair, deepens her voice and signs up in his place. She goes to boot camp and joins the awkward squad, taking with her a lucky cricket (insect, not game) and a snake-sized dragon with an Axel Foley attitude. Naturally the captain in charge of her squad is a dish (Donny Osmond on ballads) and one thing doesn't lead to sigh/flutter/swoon. Well, not immediately, anyway.

They fight the barbarians in the snowy mountains (best visual sequence). Mulan is discovered to be ineligible for national service, owing to penile deficiency. She makes up for it later when the invaders, who have been taking banned substances by the look of their pecs, snatch the Emperor. All's well that sings well, except by the end no one remembers the lyrics to Fireworks Over Peking. The animation lacks the perfectionism expected of computer-generated Disney, which is not to say it emulates the jerk-for-TV cheapo style, rather fails to match Hunchback's artistic flair, or Lion's visional breadth. The story punches every emotional button and, by the end, Ming-Na Wen's positive energy becomes an asset, even though it reflects North American sensibilities.

Is Eddie Murphy (little red dragon) a contender against Robin Williams' garrulous genie in Aladdin? Not quite. The film isn't as memorable, which makes a difference, and Eddie being Eddie does damage to a Confucian state of mind. The level of humour exceeds expectation, with awkward sqad gags filtched from Sgt Bilko's waste bucket. Love interest is never allowed to gunge the works, as in Pocahontas, which keeps the action flowing. Not a classic, but higher up the fun chain than Hercules.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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A young Chinese girl pretends she is a boy and enlists in the army, with the help of a cricket and a small red dragon.
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Director: Barry Cook, Tony Bancroft

Writer: Rita Hsiao, Christopher Sanders, Philip Lazebnik, Raymond Singer, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, based on the story by Robert D San Souci

Starring: Miguel Ferrer, Harvey Fierstein, Freda Foh Shen, June Foray, James Hong, Miriam Margolyes, Pat Morita, Eddie Murphy, Marni Nixon, Soon-Tek Oh, Donny Osmond

Year: 1998

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


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