Mulan is Disney’s 36th animated movie. In my opinion it is their BEST family film. My concept of a “family film” is a movie that can be enjoyed by viewers of all ages: undiscriminating young children, teenagers with short attention spans, and adults with somewhat more refined standards. Based upon Chinese folklore, the film follows the escapades of a young girl called Fa Mulan. Problems arise when her aged father is summoned to join the war against invading Huns. In an act of filial devotion (and obligation) Mulan secretly takes his place in the army by disguising herself as a man; knowing full well that such an act is punishable by death under military law.
All the familiar ingredients of Disney animated movies are mixed in: slapstick comedy, adventure, scary parts, wacky sidekicks (both animal and human), a little romance, lessons learned, and some show tunes thrown in. Mulan resists being read as simply a banal piece of Disney fluff. The film offers an opportunity to see the unobvious made more obvious; that is the constructedness of gendered identity and sexuality, and the instability of such constructions. Mulan manages to avoid many of the stereotypical pitfalls that normally plague Western takes on aspects of Asian culture.
However, that territory does come with its flaws. And maybe I’m making too much of it, but I love Asian cinema, and I really wanted Mulan to at least try to respect the culture and history of the people it portrayed. And every time one of the Oriental characters burst into a bombastic Western ballad, the illusion was just that much more destroyed. Still, Mulan offers viewers a glimpse into another culture that many children’s movies don’t. Many aspects of Chinese culture are incorporated, such as reverence to one’s ancestors, the significance of dragons, and the importance of honor.
Unsurprisingly, the animation is top-notch. The film has a unique look for an animated motion picture, using many more unusual camera angles than have previously been attempted in this kind of effort. Although this type of animation is a dying art in the motion picture business, it still has a great look to it. Mulan doesn’t rely upon occasional double entendres to earn its acceptance with adults. Some of the dialogue is specifically aimed at an older audience. There’s not so much that children will become confused or bored, but there’s enough for Mom and Dad not to feel like they’re being ignored or talked down to. A great overall flick and a Disney classic worth putting into your library.