Formulaic, But Immensely Entertaining
JLFM - wrote on 09/19/12
One could make a compelling argument that Mulan is basically no different than any other Disney princess film. And in a way, this is true. All the basic cliches are here: Outcast wanting to prove herself, supporting cast there for comic relief, and obviously the romantic element. To be honest, there's little about Mulan that hasn't already been covered by other Disney films. But here's the catch: The formula works. And that's why; despite it's lack of originality, Mulan not only succeeds, but flourishes.
Mulan, a young Chinese girl is determined to bring honor to her family, and prevent her father from going to war by going in his place, masquerading as a man. A tiny dragon named Mushu and a "lucky" cricket tag along to aid Mulan on her quest.
The romance element is (perhaps for the better) played down. In fact, it almost isn't there at all, merely added to increase character depth, and make it so supporting character Li Shang actually has something to do.
The setting in China is used to great effect, though the animation is surprisingly simplistic. Some shots are quite gorgeous (such as when villain Shan Yu's army is coming to battle in the snow), though it's not quite as eye popping as usual.
There are 4 songs total (not counting reprises). Though these tunes aren't quite up to snuff with that of Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid, they are absolutely delightful (and miles ahead of modern day Disney songs). The first song in the movie is the strongest, though sadly, it's also the least known. Entitled, "Honor To Us All," this song near the opening is by far the most humorous and entertaining.
Other songs fare less well, but all of them have their strengths. "Reflection" is beautiful, but it's too short, and as one of the main themes in the movie, it's woefully underplayed. "I'll Make A Man Out Of You," has great lyrics, but the animation and sight gags steal the show, lessening the impact of the song. "A Girl Worth Fighting For" brings back some of the humor of "Honor To Us All," and is even a bit more catchy. Still, it's far from a showstopper.
The score (by the late Jerry Goldsmith) is perhaps slightly underwhelming when considering the potential, but it works well and is mostly pleasant. It also takes advantage of the setting, though percussion is way too strong at some points.
Characters are a bit of a mixed bag. Mulan is likeable, but does little to separate herself from, say, Belle. The villain, Shan Yu is incredibly generic, and even if he was more interesting, he has very little screen time. Li Shang has no personality, and only exists as the romantic interest. The most memorable characters are the nonspeaking lucky cricket, and the pint-sized dragon named Mushu (Eddie Murphy). Mushu, while not quite reaching Genie status, has lots of quotable lines and will leave children and their parents chuckling.
Perhaps if Mulan did more to separate itself from other Disney films, it would reach masterpiece status. Still, as it stands, Mulan is marvelous. Entertaining, heartfelt, and well worth watching Mulan reaches heights that other studios struggle to reach. Mulan's not perfect, but it's superior entertainment.