Wednesday, February 26, 2014

38. Mulan (1998)

Code-name: Mushu

Directors: Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook
Type: animation, historical, dramedy, nostalgia
Music: Jerry Goldsmith

Fa Mulan- Ming-Na Wen
Mulan (singing voice)- Lea Salonga
Mushu- Eddie Murphy
Fa Zhou- Soon Tek-Oh
Fa Li- Freda Foh Shen
Grandma- June Foray
Grandma (singing voice)- Marni Nixon (of "Sound of Music" & "My Fair Lady" fame!!)
Matchmaker- Miriam Margolyes
Shan Yu- Miguel Ferrer
Chi Fu- James Hong
Li Shang- BD Wong
Shang (singing voice)- Donny Osmond
Ling- Gedde Watanbe
Chen Po- Jerry S. Tondo
Yao- Harvey Fierstein
The Emperor- Pat Morita

Notable Nominations:
OSCAR- Best Original Score  (Jerry Goldsmith)
Golden Globe- Best Original Score
Golden Globe- Best Original Song ("Reflection" by Matthew Wilder & David Zippel)
Grammy- Best Song For a Movie Picture ("Be True to Your Heart" by Wilder & Zippel)


Trip Down Memory Lane

Around the time this movie came out, I'd say it's one of the last instances where I can say something is "nostalgic" for me. Anything that comes after 1998 won't fit that description.
Some people refer to it as part of the end of the Disney "Renaissance" era. After "Mulan" and "Tarzan," probably the last two animated non-Pixar theatrical releases Disney heavily promoted to the nth degree... more than a decade later, we got "Tangled" and "Frozen" where it's safe to say once again that Disney is back on track.

If I remember right, I saw this in theater with my mom, sister and Teresa, my best friend at the time... I saw a couple of movies with her between 1998-2002, including "Godzilla," "Pokémon the movie 2000" and "Drive me Crazy"...
The battle scene in the mountains was super impressive on the big screen.

Nowadays, young girls are still singing "Let it go" into their hairbrushes. "Reflection" was that song for me... except I never did the hairbrush thing... I sing in the shower. Or at least I used to :-P heck, if I sing anymore, it's to the radio in the car.
But yeah, that was one of my favorite songs at that particular time. Around the same time (likely after I saw this movie), I bought my first CD and it was Christina Aguilera's. I enjoyed maybe half of the songs on it and I still have it to this day. I stopped being a fan of her music when she decided to move past the "prepackaged Britney Spears-esque" pop in favor of artistic freedom. I don't know why... maybe because I find her runs and holding the big notes annoying. I do love her as a judge on "The Voice"... so long as she doesn't make it all about her or try to turn her female contestants into a new version of herself.

The reason I go into that tangent is because this movie was credited with launching her career. Supposedly after she recorded "Reflection," she got signed to her first record deal.

The Story

This was another instance of Disney dabbling in historical renderings, but handled a little better than "Pocahontas"... more than a little better...

The story, for those who don't know, is that Mulan is a woman that disguises herself as a man to take her father's place in the Chinese Imperial Army.
But unlike in the film, which made it a dramatic plot point, her true identity wasn't discovered until years after she left the army and her comrades came looking for her.

In the movie, they expanded upon the plot to add more motivation for Mulan's actions. Prior to the Huns invading China, she fails to impress the matchmaker, which is deemed the only way a woman can bring honor to her family. She takes her ailing veteran father's place, believing this can only result in his death, but also to find another to redeem herself.

Then there's the storyline of the dragon, former Fa family guardian, Mushu. The ancestors are up in arms when Mulan runs away and he's asked to awaken "the great stone dragon," the most powerful of the guardians... something he fails miserably at, so he decides to take it upon himself to make Mulan a war hero to get back in the ancestor's good graces.

So many shenanigans go down at the training camp, which is being led by the General Li's son, Shang. Mulan (disguised as the young man "Ping") is one of several undisciplined rag-tags, but soon enough, she gains their friendship.
Then of course, she starts to fall in love with her commanding officer, which could (and does) makes things potentially awkward down the road.

The Highlights

As far as Disney animation goes, "Mulan" probably has the funniest script I know. With "Aladdin," The Genie has nearly all of the best lines thanks to the improvisational nature of Robin Williams. But with "Mulan," we have more personalities than just Eddie Murphy as Mushu... although there's no denying he's the biggest source of comic relief. Both on his own and with the cricket as if they were a comedy duo.

Colorful cast of characters, particularly the three men Mulan befriends in the army. They're idiots... well, two of three are definitely idiots, but they gain the discipline in the training needed to do great things further down the road.
Ling is the biggest of the idiots, a bit of a klutz.
Chen-Po is the biggest of the guys, probably has the biggest heart too, and although he's peace-loving, he comes through in a pinch when it matter.
Yao is the hot-headed one :-P easily my favorite of the three on Harvey Fierstein's voice alone... it makes everything he says sound hilarious and you can't not mimic him.

It also has a great story about finding yourself, gaining self-worth and making a difference in the name of those you care about. Mulan's been wrongly tagged as one of the "Disney Princesses," but of all the female Disney characters, she's the strongest and probably one of the better role models. Instead of waiting for her prince, she goes out to make her own path to finding her destiny. It just so happens she finds love along the way... not in a prince, but in a Chinese Army captain.

Speaking of Shang, he's one of the best looking male characters Disney has alongside Aladdin. Probably the biggest difference between the two is how they hold themselves. Shang, being the General's son, wants to prove himself as an authority figure and does a damn good job of it. And it has nothing to do with the fact he looks hot with no shirt... okay, that has something to do with it :-P
It also says a lot of his character that even when Mulan is revealed to be a woman, he doesn't carry out the decided "punishment" because he wanted to repay his debt to her for saving his life.

Other great characters also include:
Chi Fu, the emperor's head adviser who's dutied with overseeing the training camp... he's so uptight and such a brown noser, making it all the more funny when fun is made at his expense by the other troops.
Mulan's grandma, who wins our hearts earlier on with some wise-cracking moments, but some sentimental ones as well. And in the last five minutes, she probably has one of the best lines in the entire movie regarding Shang.

Shan-Yu makes a pretty good villain, looking all menacing with his size and a Falcon as his animal side-kick that accentuate his terrifying image.

Last but not least, you can't leave out the Emperor. Yeah, it might be a little politically incorrect that he was played by Japanese actor Pat Morita, but he brings a sense of class to this role as well as some heart.


Probably one of the better Disney soundtracks. All of the songs had their place in the story. They have range from being dramatic to upbeat to just plain funny. "Reflection" is one of the best written character themes Disney has.
I still kinda prefer Lea Salonga's version because it's the actual movie version and she's great in everything she does for Disney (she did Jasmine in "Aladdin" as well). This is also a reminder of how much it irks me that the movie version and the end credits version of a song have different lyrics... seriously, why do they do this? They at least learned this lesson with "Let it go," but that doesn't excuse picking Demi Levato to sing it when it's clearly Idina Menzel's shining moment.

The same can be said about "Be True to Your Heart," which is a Stevie Wonder/98° collaboration in the credits... when Disney Mania remade it with Raven-Symone, they changed the lyrics almost completely... what is the point of us memorizing song lyrics if you're not going to be consistent?

Of course I can't go into this without bringing up Donny Osmond who does Shang's singing voice. Aside from Eddie Murphy and Pat Morita, that's the biggest star power this movie has. Also kinda adds to the charm of the character because Donny Osmond was as big as it got back in day. Just as many girls had posters of him as they did David Cassidy... luckily, Donny maintained his good looks :-P

Sequels and Other Renderings

Sadly, this was one of many successful Disney movies that got a sequel... something they often don't do a good job of.
"Mulan 2" features Mulan and Shang, who are engaged, protecting three princesses who've been matched with husbands. They end up falling in love with Ling, Yao and Chen-Po. Overall, the storyline is decent... except for what they did with Mushu. It's bad enough Eddie Murphy didn't stick around to do his voice...
well, actually, according to the trivia, Eddie Murphy had to pull out cuz his contract to the "Shrek 2" wouldn't let him... but that's beside the point. His storyline is that because Mulan is going to marry into another family and she's the last of the Fa family, there's no need for him anymore. So he tries to break up her engagement for his own selfish reasons.

In the "Kingdom Hearts" franchise, Mushu was a summoning gem in the first game.

In the sequel, "Land of Dragons" was the first world and its storyline was based on this movie. Mulan's enrolling into the army and our protagonists, Sora, Donald and Goofy enlist to help her fit in. The gameplay is a little difficult at first because the success of the first few tasks is based on keeping morale up by picking up orbs from defeated enemies... in addition to not dying. But it's a good start into the game. Probably the only difference is how Mulan's revealed to be a woman... because Mushu mistakenly blabs it out loud after the adventure in the mountains when he was used to light a cannon that caused an avalanche.
Then for the second trip into the world, Sora and the others find her as she's tracking a mysterious figure who's on his way to the place. Sora suspects its his long lost friend, Riku, who he'd been spending this game trying to track down. And instead of Shan-Yu, the boss fight is against a dragon Heartless.

Eddie Murphy never reprised Mushu, which is a shame. But I definitely give a lot of credit to Ming-Na Wen for portraying Mulan's voice at every opportunity. I love how she's now playing a bad-ass fighter in "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."
It's also great that BD Wong followed through with Shang, even into "Kingdom Hearts II"... it's just too bad his animated rendering wasn't as good looking :-P

Mulan was also featured in one of my favorite TV series, "Once Upon a Time." I understand Ming-Na Wen not reprising it this time because we're going for the version of herself that we had in the film. She's portrayed instead by Jamie Chung, who I affectionately know as Amber from "Sucker Punch".
She's first introduced as a warrior who fought alongside Prince Phillip... as in betrothed to Princess Aurora "Sleeping Beauty" Prince Philip. Mother-Daughter team Snow White and Emma Swan find themselves in a far-off corner of the Enchanted Forest untouched by Regina's curse when they accidentally fall down a wormhole meant to remove an evil spirit set out to destroy Regina.

Things got kinda interesting with her, though. She's duty-bound to protect Phillip and Aurora, but there'd been hinted moments where she'd had feelings for both of them beyond friendship. Her storyline recently ended where she was getting up the courage to tell Aurora about her feelings for her, only to change her mind when she gets the news they're expecting.
So she decides to join Robin Hood and his troupe of Merry Men. I'm sure we'll see more of her, but I definitely felt taken aback by that poetic license they took with her. Too bad, she'd become one of my favorite characters in the series.

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