Are You With Us? Mulan
By Ryan Mazie
June 18, 2012
While unorthodox, if I had to tip my hat to the most bankable actor at the summer box office, it would definitely be tilted towards … the bow-and-arrow. After piercing through the air with the gargantuan hauls of The Hunger Games and The Avengers and then making a supporting appearance in Snow White and the Huntsman, the favorite “It” weapon of the past (and now present) makes the last stop on its comeback tour with this weekend’s surefire Pixar hit, Brave.
As Brave’s Princess Merida is about to be launched into the Disney stratosphere, 14 years ago on this date, another Disney princess got her start by picking up the harp-shaped weapon – Mulan.
As far as Disney princesses go, Mulan is the one that I seemingly forget for one reason or another, and upon viewing the movie for the umpteenth time (the first time recently, I am just assuming that it was among my usual rotation of Disney VHS tapes from my childhood), it is easy to see why. Formulaic yet gorgeous, Mulan is like the most beautiful bow and arrow you have ever seen; unfortunately the spear’s blade is as dull as a butter knife.
Now don’t get me wrong, Mulan is not a bad movie, in fact, it might be the most important and forward-thinking Disney Princess movie made up until that point where the female character solely takes control over her own destiny without the aid of a mighty Prince. Unfortunately, it is still formulaic to the point of where you can take a bathroom break and come back in without having to ask what happened. The good news is that at a swift 88 minutes, fatigue never sets in, although I could feel it inching in like the evil Hun army in the warrior flick.
We all know how the story of Mulan goes, but for those of you not hit by the inescapable world of Disney; Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na) is a progressive beauty who cross dresses to take her weak father’s place in the army, for he would inevitably face death if he goes to war. After a few training montages to song and dance, Mulan turns out to be the best warrior China has to offer, landing a husband (Shang, voiced by Law & Order: SVU’s BD Wong) and defeating the bad guy (Shan-Yu, voiced by Miguel Ferrer) along the way.
A jaw-dropping 32 people are credited with writing the story in some capacity. THIRTY-TWO! Luckily, Mulan is a coherent tale with good-hitting humor for both children and adults. A truly four-quadrant movie, Mulan’s weakest spot is the villain. Don’t get me wrong. He has all of the classic Disney villain trademarks. Menacing facial hair? Check. Oddly shaped head? Check. Deep voice? Check. Evil animal sidekick? Check. Plans to dispose of the Chinese Emperor and take over China? You betcha! So why is he a weak spot? Well, it’s because he seems like an afterthought. I feel like 31 people were in the writing room and it wasn’t until the 32nd guy walked in and said, “Great story guys, but who is the villain?” that they added him in. With some good, juicy, nefarious dialogue and a few kills notched on his belt (obviously portrayed vaguely off-screen), Shan-Yu does not have nearly enough screen time to be truly threatening.
And while I am on this negativity streak, let me hit the other lowlight of Mulan – the music. Sure, this was the genie in a bottle of a movie that inked Christina Aguilera’s major record deal for the inescapable ballad, “Reflection” (don’t act like you don’t know the words). Unfortunately, unlike The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and hey, even Hercules “Zero to Hero” jam, nothing really is stuck in your head after seeing the movie.