Mulan (USA, 1998)
Directed by Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook
Starring Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, Miguel Ferrer
In my review of Tarzan, I spoke about how the established conventions of the Disney Renaissance were increasingly applied to stories which could not be adequately served by them. In the case of Tarzan, the film-makers took Edgar Rice Burroughs' iconic, pulpy story, which played with ideas about human culture and the 'missing link', and turned it into a pretty but generic story with too many sidekicks and an unconvincing villain.
The Emperor's New Groove two years after it, much of the finished nature of Mulan can be explained (or at least rationalised) by a cursory look at its production history. As with Mark Dindal's film, the project originally began as one kind of story which was subsequently combined with another, very different project, from which the final product was assembled. But while The Emperor's New Groove gave us a passable farce where we could have had a genuine epic, this film gives us an interesting if flawed look at another culture where we could have had another rote, crass princess story.
Sleeping Beauty, that crowd scenes are one area where Disney has often skimped on to save money. By reducing either the movement of crowds or just the numbers that comprise them, they save money but at the cost of making their climactic scenes feel smaller and more static than they should be. Here, by contrast, more than 2000 fully articulated people are in the climactic battle, giving the final set-piece that little bit more punch.
Blade Runner and Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China.
Melody Time) or have handled the subject matter with kid gloves for fear of offending their massive global audience. And it is into this latter trap that Mulan sadly falls.
Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty react to events happening around them, rather than changing their destinies entirely under their own steam. Mulan, on the other hand, is not a product of this heritage and therefore has a more direct agency in driving the plot forward. This may help to explain why Mulan is often held up as one of the better Disney princesses: she isn't really a Disney princess at all.
The Sword in the Stone, she wins the day through intelligence and resourcefulness rather than the use of force.
Aladdin, though he is nothing like as funny or as memorable as the Genie - in fact, he's not funny at all.
Much of this review owes a big debt to the analysis of Lindsay Ellis, a.k.a. The Nostalgia Chick. You can watch her review in full here.
For more on gender expectations in animation, particularly in relation to female characters, check out JesuOtaku's review of Paradise Kiss here.
NEXT REVIEW: Byzantium (2013)