Friday, July 29, 2016

Mulan

MULAN was one of the few Disney animated musicals of the '90s - a period known as the "Disney Renaissance"- I had never seen.  I really enjoyed all the others: ALADDIN, TARZAN, POCAHANTAS, et. al.  Not sure why I skipped this one.  1998 was a transitional year for me, so maybe I was just distracted. Can't recall.  But I know I saw plenty of other movies amidst going back to school, relationships, moving, and whatever else.  My wife, who I first met in 2000, has been bugging me to watch this film for years.

So one Saturday night earlier this year I saw the title on Netflix and a hour and a half later was smiling.  I had been smiling most of the time.  MULAN is a solid entry in that golden era between 1989 and 1999 when the Disney company took time worn stories and created something resembling the old magic.  BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and THE LITTLE MERMAID really kicked it off.  MULAN tells the familiar tale of a young girl who proves herself a brave warrior among men.

The time is during the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) in China.  Invasions by the Huns force the Emporer to conscript the male heads of households for service.  When Mulan's father, Fa Zhou, an elderly war veteran, is called, Mulan pushes up her hair and brandishes a sword, headed for battle.  The expected complications ensue when she reaches basic training.  There's even a close call when fellow soldiers decide to skinny dip within the same river Mulan is bathing.  And of course, our heroine falls in love, with her platoon commander Li Shing.  What will he do when he discovers the truth? Chinese law would consider Mulan's actions treasonous.

It sounds a bit solemn, but there is plenty of humor.  Too much, you might quibble.  I had to remind myself that this movie was aimed at toddlers and those not old enough to watch The Simpsons.  Thus liberal doses of slapstick play out among scenes of Mulan's bravery and day saving.  For good measure, a miniature dragon named Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy) is along for comic relief.  Well, he's there to inspire and protect Mulan but gets involved in a lot of pratfalls as he tries to prove himself to the "great Ancestors".

The silliness did hurt MULAN a little for me, but the screenplay (credited to five writers) does create an engaging story of honor - to family and country - that most everyone can appreciate.  The seriousness of war and death is addressed, even if the battle scenes play into/confirm Francois Truffaut's dismissal of such moments ("they make war look like fun").  The songs (one an early effort from Christina Aguilera) are decent and the score by Jerry Goldsmith is just fine.

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