Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Mulan

Film #231

THE PLOT

To save her father from death in the army, a Chinese maiden secretly goes in his place and becomes one of China’s greatest heroes in the process.

Year 1, Day 231

BEFORE: Day two of animation and I’m going with yet another previously-seen film, this time it’s Mulan. Unlike Aladdin, I feel like I remember more of this film going into it and my thoughts are very positive. From what I recall, there aren’t any superfluous characters or dramatic changes in tone at the ending. But as with Aladdin and all these other animated films I’ve seen coming up, the purpose is for me to see why I have these opinions and whether or not there’s anything to the film besides nostalgia value.

AFTER: (UPDATE 3/4/13: You may have noticed I’ve changed the rating from my original 4 out of 5 stars to 5 out of 5 stars. For a, quite lengthy, write-up as to my reasoning behind revisiting Mulan and how it affected the outcome, head on over to my addendum where you can find a detailed analysis that pretty much nullifies the last few paragraphs in the review. I have also decided to keep my original review as-is up below for reference.)

So far, we’re off to a good start. Mulan once again brought back many memories from childhood and had me remembering the highly exaggerated characters and the hilarious dialogue. But once again, there were parts of the film that my fondness and nostalgia for it couldn’t overcome.

As has been, and probably will be, the case for most of these old animated films, the characters, or rather their personalities, are what stands out the most. While Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) and Captain Shang (BD Wong), the main characters, are strong, it’s the supporting characters that stick out the most. Mushu (Eddie Murphy) the dragon and the three soldiers Yao (Harvey Fierstein), Ling (Gedde Watanabe), and Chien-Po (Jerry Tondo) were, and still are, my favorite characters.

My complaint about Aladdin and the difference in style at the end (read: dramatically and suddenly darker) doesn’t carry over to Mulan. Still a fairly dark film, but it was consistent throughout so I wasn’t taken by surprise at any point. Looking at it in broad terms I think it did a very good job at honing in on the ideas of family and honor with the twist of being from a female’s point of view. It isn’t the typical male performing heroic feats and saving others (à la Aladdin among many other Disney films) and combined with the legendary tale you get a film that seems familiar and similar to other Hollywood fare yet still it’s own.

A word I keep throwing out there is nostalgia and it’s one of the biggest criterion I’m reviewing these films with: have these films held up over the many years from which I saw them last? Were they actually good to begin with or is it just my fond memories that are giving these films high scores? Mulan was always amongst my favorite of the Disney classics and after re-watching it I can say why: the characters and story stand out and both are well developed. But if you look down a bit you’ll notice a four star rating and I haven’t really complained about anything yet. I would love to give this film the full five stars but there’s just some part of me that’s holding back. And I think the reason is something to do with the time difference between viewings. Nostalgia can work both for and against and in this case it’s against. Put in other words, because Mulan isn’t as good as I remember it 10+ years ago, it doesn’t receive full marks. Kind of a stupid reason for knocking off a star but that’s my justification and I’m sticking with it.

For a more logical reason, I’ll use comparison. Mulan is certainly a well-made film with lots of positives (see: above). But when I think about some five-star animated films (e.g. Up, The Lion King), they’re just on the next level. For me Mulan lacks that defining characteristic to set it apart from all others, one to make it the cream of the crop. You should still watch it, or re-watch it.

RATING: 5 out of 5