Starring (voices): Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, Miguel Ferrer, James Hong, Harvey Fierstein, Jerry Tondo, Gedde Watanabe, Soon-Tek Oh, Pat Morita, June Foray
During the 90's, there was no one more reliable for family entertainment than Disney. Well, sort of. Their live action movies were horrible, but their animated movies were amazing. The list is impressive: "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin," "The Lion King," "Hercules," "Tarzan." They had a misfire or two (like "Pocahantas" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"), but even those weren't horrible. They knew better than anyone that in order to be a success, you had to put story and character development over visuals and marketing. While not as well-remembered as the first two movies I listed, "Mulan" is just as good.
Mulan (Wen) is a young girl who just wants to do right by her family. However, she's more of a tomboy than anything, which turns her important meeting with the Matchmaker (Miriam Margolyes) into an epic disaster. This is small beans compared to what's in store for her beloved father Fa Zhou (Oh). The Huns, led by Shan Yu (Ferrer), have breached the Great Wall and are headed for the Imperial City. The Emperor (Morita) has ordered conscription across China, and that includes Fa Zhou. Fa Zhou honors the call to serve despite an injury that would mean certain death for him. Mulan won't let her father die, so she cuts off most of her hair, steals his armor and goes in his place. Of course, if her commander, a man named Shang (Wong) finds out the truth, she'll be executed. To help her, her ancestors send the Great Stone Dragon. Or they would have, had Mushu (Murphy), an ex-guardian, not destroyed his statue in an attempt to wake him up. Now Mushu, with the help of a "lucky" cricket and a very sarcastic horse, must save Mulan.
All the requisites for a good Disney movie are here: the plucky misfit who finds herself, the animal sidekicks, the action scenes, the love interest, the quirky supporting characters. And the songs. No Disney animated movie would be complete without some catchy songs. While not up there with the classics like "Beauty and the Beast" or "The Circle of Life," they musical numbers here get the job done.
The voice acting is excellent. Ming-Na Wen, taking over from Lea Salonga (who was turned down because she couldn't sound masculine, although she does provide the singing voice), makes for a strong yet vulnerable heroine. It's impossible not to get behind her. And Wen brings impeccable comic timing, something the actress is rarely allowed to show. Eddie Murphy, like Robin Williams in "Aladdin," is a scene stealer, throwing out hilarious one-liners left and right. BD Wong is alternately intimidating and heroic, and the rest of the cast provides more comic relief.
No Disney movie would be complete without a good villain, and in many ways Shan Yu, voiced by the late Miguel Ferrer, is the creepiest. He'd be up there with the most memorable ones like Scar if he had more screen time, but he's mostly off in the background. That's not such a bad thing, since he's scary enough to be nightmare-inducing.
"Mulan" works because it hits all the right notes. It's thrilling, inspiring and frequently hilarious. The bits where Mulan talks like a man are cringe-humor (something I'm not particularly fond of) and the ending is a little too cute, but all in all it's a great way to spend 90 minutes.
Even if you don't have kids.