"Mulan" is of course based on the questionably true legend of Hua Mulan, a girl who masquerades as a man to enlist in the army in her father's place. In the film, re-dubbed Fa Mulan, she does so because she believes her aging father will most likely die in battle, and she doesn't feel cut out to be a traditional bride, being kind of an oddball. The spirit guardians wish to send the strongest among them to watch over Mulan, but unfortunately end up stuck with Mushu, a small arrogant dragon who intends to help Mulan succeed to get back into the guardians' good graces. The forces are led by a young upstart Shang, who having got the job through nepotism, is desperate to live up to his father's name. By the way, they're fighting a bunch of invading Huns led by the towering Shan-Yu, who's got an equally sinister eagle. Gives me the creeps...
It's strange I think of this movie as largely comedic considering it's basically all about a war against an invading people who want to kill everyone they find. You'd think that in in a film with such a serious story that the comedy would feel out of place, but I never really felt that way. It strikes the right balance between the two stories of the movie (the war and Mulan's escapades), yet intertwines them within each other. Of course, it's not always seamless, the most infamous example of mood whiplash being when all the soldiers jubilantly sing about the women they want to bang after the war, and are cut off once they find a decimated village with everyone dead. The sudden tone-shift is kind of funny, but it goes back to its intended intensity as the scene goes on.
I'm thankful that finally we start getting leads that are not only more approachable and likable, but feel more human. Mulan on the surface seems to be yet another awkward, well-wishing and ever-dreaming Disney heroine of the 90s, but she has a bit more depth than that. She's headstrong and wise, but not invulnerable and cocky; her heart is in the right place even when she's over her head. I also love the Shang character; remembering this movie I only think of him for his exaggerated militant commander persona, but I forgot about his nervousness about doing a good job to impress his father. It's like a facade he's got to put on to hide his own insecure nature. Though he is physically stronger than her, Mulan seems to be the stronger character among the two, and the best thing is is that it's not heavily highlighted. In the end, he turns into the awkward one when he comes to see her, and it's very adorable. The fact that this "love story" is so muted and left to the viewer's imagination is incredibly amazing considering the long string of tacked-on love stories we've seen in the Disney Renaissance.
The voice acting here is also great, between the great leads, and a string of recognizable side characters, from Pat Morita, George Takei and... Harvey Fierstein (for a gruff-voiced drag queen, he somehow manages to pull off this hot-tempered Chinese solider character). Then, of course, we have the black sheep... so to speak, Eddie Murphy as Mushu. His voice and character are pretty out of place in the film, and a lot of his dialogue is pretty schticky, but it seemed every time I started getting annoyed by him, he was in another scene that I liked him in. His being in the movie is pretty superfluous, but you know what, he was fun to have around for the most part, especially his interactions with his own sidekick, a seemingly lucky cricket.
Verdict? I dunno, I feel I don't have as much to say about this one. I thought it was real good, maybe the funniest I've seen thus far from Disney, with a solid story and great rounded characters. But despite its effectiveness of balancing drama and comedy, it does still feel a little awkward in tone, especially compared to the all-drama in "Hunchback" and all-comedy in "Hercules." Still, I love this one a lot, once again more than your Disney Renaissance big Four. If "Tarzan" is good, that'll complete the four-fecta, and my allegiance to the latter "forgotten" four of the Disney Renaissance.