Eric D. Snider


The last Disney animated feature to be a huge success was 1994's "The Lion King." The ones since then, while doing so-so at the box office, have failed to register with audiences for one reasons or another. "Pocahontas" was boring and stupid (pardon my bluntness), "Hunchback of Notre Dame" was too dark for kids, and "Hercules" was too light and airy, like eating cotton candy -- you watched it, and the next day you forgot you ever saw it.

Fans of the franchise will be pleased to know, then, that the new "Mulan," which opened last Friday, hearkens back to the days of "The Lion King." In fact, "Mulan" has perhaps the best combination of humor and seriousness of any of the Disney cartoons. "Hunchback" was TOO serious, without enough humor to balance it; "Aladdin" and "Hercules" were very funny but with little depth; even the classic "The Little Mermaid" had little to offer in the way of serious themes or morals.

But "Mulan" has it all. It has very serious themes, but it is also quite consistently funny, demonstrating a perfect balance never before reached by the folks at Disney.

Mulan is the best cartoon heroine ever. She's not a generically feisty, play-by-your-own-rules, who needs men? kind of gal like, say, Belle in "Beauty and the Beast." She lives in China several hundred years ago, when women were true second-class citizens, expected to marry whomever was chosen for them, and expected to shut up when men were around. Mulan doesn't really hate this sort of society -- she's not trying to change all of Chinese culture -- she merely wants to know how she fits in to it.

When the Huns attack China, one man from every family must join the Imperial Army. To save her ailing father from what would certainly be his death, Mulan disguises herself as a man and joins the army. Assisting her is a wacky little wise-cracking dragon named Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy), who was summoned by Mulan's ancestors, sort of, to make a hero out of her, thus proving himself a worthy guardian.

Mulan uses her brains -- as opposed to the men's brawn, which is what men usually rely on, especially in war -- to save the day a couple times before her true gender is discovered. Later on, though, she saves the day -- and China -- once again, this time by making some of the MEN dress as WOMEN, deceiving the guards, etc., etc.

You get the idea: There are some skills that only men possess, and others that the women have, and to accomplish some goals, you need to use both. But the message here is deeper than a simply gender-equality issue. In the process of everything, Mulan truly finds herself, comes to accept her heritage, and brings great pride and honor to her family.

The theme of most of the Disney cartoons of the last decade has basically boiled down to "Just Be Yourself and You'll Be Happy," but none have demonstrated this as well and as poignantly as "Mulan." And none have been as simultaneously funny, either. Parents should find this a joy to watch with their kids, and kids will love it, too.

Grade: A-

Rated G

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This item has 9 comments

  1. Lotus says:

    You haven't seen Mulan 2?

  2. BeeDub says:

    Disney's direct-to-DVD sequels are devilspawn.

  3. Dave the Slave says:

    Amen brother BeeDub, Amen! Disney is one of the shallowest, most soul-less, money-grubbing pukebag companies around now; so sad since they definately used to be a great company, committed to excellence. Now its just a machine that tries to wring every last penny out of every good thing it used to have. I mean, Cinderella 3?? Disney can rot for all I care.... Lets just hope it doesnt corrupt Pixar...

  4. card says:

    Dave the Slave: You mean to tell me that you're not interested in what would have happened if the slipper didn't fit?

  5. Argus Skyhawk says:

    Dave, up until quite recently I would have fully agreed with you, but Eisner is now gone and I have heard that John Lasseter from Pixar has shaken things up at the Mouse Factory. In short, I think it is possible that Disney will bounce back in quality in the near future.

  6. Dave the Slave says:

    I sure hope you're right Argus, I really wish Disney could return to its roots. But I'm not holding my breath. When Disney aquired Pixar as its new animation department the "Circle 7" (Disney's 3d animators before then) were sent packing pretty heartlessly, and that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth considering Disney's supposed family-centered and uplifting environment. Now I realize the life of a 3d artist usually consists of contracts based on projects, and when the movies done they go shoppin for another job, but from my knowledge these animators were under the impression that they were Disney's secret weapon, leverage for negotiation with Pixar, and that as long as they produced high quality animations rivaling Pixar they had a future. After Lasseter sold out to them (arguably) these animators were dropped like a bad habit since Disney didnt need them anymore. Its just an eye opener for me since I'm graduating with a degree in Media Art and Animation to watch out for sleezy companies and make sure I have a good lawyer to go over all my contracts.

    Maybe I'm too overly-bitter (okay not maybe) but i think Pixar has just a big a chance to start flopping as Disney has to come back from the 7th circle of hell, I'm just sayin'!

  7. Argus Skyhawk says:

    I didn't know that Circle 7 was sent packing. I was glad when I heard they were not going to be doing Toy Story 3 and other direct-to-video sequels to Pixar movies, but I was hoping they would be assigned to make original movies instead. Dang.

  8. BeeDub says:

    Disney's threat to make Toy Story 3 without Pixar was leverage used in the squabble that led to the Disney/Pixar merger. Disney knows how to fight dirty.

  9. Dave the Slave says:

    Interesting side not on that too- Disney owned the rights to produce a Toy Story 3 but Pixar retained its rights of all the 3d models, rigs and environments! If Disney really had tried to produce Toy Story 3 without Pixar they would have had to recreate all the assets from the first movies from scratch!

    And I still cant understand why people watch straight-to-video movies in the first place, how much more obvious can companies like Disney be that they dont give a crap about producing any level of quality entertainment, its solely for the last few pennies the can possible wring out of past ideas... but once again I take things too seriously, if Bambi 2 floats your boat, go kill yoursel- ..i mean, go watch it and have fun! :-P

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