When I began The Great ’90s Animated Film Project, I started with Mulan and then watched most of the films in chronological order. After rewatching Mulan, it seems that I underestimated this film, previously simply feeling that it was a good movie. But I feel that I should revise my prior assessment and say that Mulan is in fact the best film made by Disney post-Beauty and the Beast.
I won’t go over the plot again, as I did so in my previous post on Mulan. Watching this film, it seems that this is Disney’s most complete film that I watched for The Great ’90s Animated Film Project. There’s nothing in this film that seems to bring down the film. Although some might argue that Mushu brings down the film because of Eddie Murphy’s sometimes anachronistic hijinks, Mushu actually brings an interesting contrast and comparison to Mulan’s efforts, which I will get to later.
Mulan is one of the few films that that shows a complete transformation for the protagonist. At the start of the film, Mulan is a girl who isn’t really amazing. She’s a loyal and thoughtful daughter, but is seen being late to appointments and slacking off on her chores. She goes through the motions of training exercises, but doesn’t seem to really put forth any effort until she’s given the threat of being sent home, which would be a huge disgrace to her family. By the end of the film, we see Mulan transformed into a clever soldier and a hero who uses both the weapons of war as well as the roles of women in China to save the empire.
Furthermore, although Mulan becomes a leader, she still works together with her fellow troops, or even Mushu. Mulan is not a natural born warrior; the only reasons as to why she goes off to war are to save her father and to bring honor to her family. She evolves into this role, which is one of the satisfying parts of watching the film.
This brings me to addressing Mushu. In my previous post I said Mushu is a dramatic foil, but instead he is a comparison point for Mulan’s efforts. Mushu deceives the ancestors and Mulan because he, in a way, wants to bring honor to the Fa family as well as restore his own position as a guardian. They both want to restore dignity and do it in two different ways. Mulan does it by risking her life, while Mushu does it by trying to make Mulan a convincing man. In the end they both achieve their goals, primarily by working harder than they ever did before in the film.
The idea of gender roles is also played with in this film. Early in the film, Mulan is just as awkward in the male role of an Imperial Soldier as she is as a woman, perhaps even more awkward because she tries to be macho. At the end of the film, Mulan convinces three of her fellow soldiers to dress in drag as a way to save the emperor. On the journey to becoming a hero, Mulan does not have to give up female gender roles, other than to fit in as a man. In fact, while defeating Shan-Yu, both her and her fellow soldiers use both techniques Mulan is taught to do to be an appealing bride as well as defense moves they learn during training. If there is a message that could be derived from this film in regards to gender, it would be that it doesn’t matter if you’re a woman or a man or how you live your life, you can find ways to uphold honor.
As for other aspects of Mulan, the film has the most unique visual style of any Disney film that I wrote about during this project. Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook’s film often evokes the look of Chinese artwork from that era and has the most unique character designs that match with the temperament of the characters. Additionally Matthew Wilder’s songs are memorable and Jerry Goldsmith’s score works perfectly for evoking the right moods at certain moments. Be it when Mulan is running away or anytime Shan-Yu is on screen. The film also has some of the best plot pacing in any of the films I’ve watched.
Overall, Mulan is the best Disney movie included in this project because it feels like it’s the most thought-out and best executed. This is also easily the last terrific movie Disney made until The Princess and the Frog and is a film that continually is good on multiple viewings, even as an adult.
Now that the project is officially over, here are my rankings of the films:
1). The Iron Giant
2). The Prince of Egypt
4). The Hunchback of Notre Dame
7). The Lion King
9). Quest for Camelot
10). The Swan Princess
12). The King and I