G, because the '90s were still very cool with every animated film being G-rated. There's a lot of death by avalanche. Also, there's some slightly uncomfortable stereotypes being perpetuated around this film. Regardless, there's nothing all that bad. I mean, Mulan is trying to disguise her gender and she's put in a situation where she ends up skinny-dipping with a bunch of dudes. It's tame versions of adult-oriented situations. G.
DIRECTORS: Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook
For those people just joining us, I swear I'm not a Disney blog. My hipster traits help me make my blog as snobby as possible. But realistically, I watch everything. I also have three kids with a fourth on the way. Since I write about everything I watch, that has to include Disney films. Now, I'm not anti-Disney. I actually love what Disney's been churning out lately. But if you scroll my page, you'll see that I just wrote about the live-action version of Aladdin. Trust me. I'll get out of this trend soon. Not necessarily tomorrow, but soon.
I hadn't seen this one before. This is considered part of the lost-era of Disney for me. I was in high school when this came out and I was really diving deep into horror movies and R-rated comedies. That obsessive part of my personality meant that I probably lacked the vulnerability to admit that Disney movies might still be pretty amazing. But because Mulan wasn't part of my Disney upbringing, I tend to be a little bit harder on movies like this. I ran into the same problem when I watched Disney's Hercules. These are movies that people preach, but mainly because there's some kind of positive association with these movies. Disney's not above this problem right now either. It's just that I'm watching them from a perspective of an adult with an acknowledgement that Disney is pushing the envelope. Instead, I'm looking at a snapshot of Disney in 1998. In general, film is in a really weird place starting in this era. There's this atmosphere of coolness that films are trying to adopt to their atmosphere. I'm kind of dancing around the idea that Mulan didn't really do anything for me. I actually found myself remarkably bored.
Part of what makes Mulan admirable is its good intention. In this era, Disney is pushing out from its comfort zone. With Aladdin, the story was adapted from the Arabian Nights stories. With The Lion King, Disney invested in the cultural richness of African cultures to tell King Lear from a non-white perspective. I completely applaud that idea. But Mulan kind of does something that I think Pocahontas did (I never saw that one either! It's in this era of lost-Disney film.) Cultural richness comes from a place of respect and Mulan slightly feels pandering. From what I understand, the story of Mulan is a commonly known legend in China. It's a great place to start. But rather than investing in the challenging story of Mulan, the movie feels like it is trying to take this story of a woman who stood up against an invading enemy and force it into the Disney template. Mulan herself doesn't feel like that strong of a character. Rather than being an active figure in her narrative, it seems like she is responding to challenges as they come along. Mulan, while not fitting into the model of servile women in China, is hardly an advocate for women fighters.
The only thing that really drives her on this quest is an understanding that her father wouldn't be able to survive this draft that pushes on. Yeah, it makes her a problem solving character to say that she could replace her father. But it doesn't feel like there's this big understanding of philosophy in this moment. She doesn't really go through this crisis of character to pick up a sword and fight. Part of that comes from the idea that her choice is entirely internal. She doesn't share this information with anyone, so we don't really get an understanding of what she is going through. I'm about to rip into Mushu pretty hard, so be aware of this nugget that I'm giving him. That's why Mushu is in the movie. He's a character that is meant to give us insight into Mulan's plight. Unfortuantely, Mushu kind of does the heavy lifting for the character. He's really bossy as a character, which makes Mulan look kind of weak. If Mulan and Mushu switched personalities, I think that there would be this huge improvement. Mushu is bullying Mulan into making these strong decisions. The thing is, Mulan is plenty strong on her own. The moment that defines her is the avalanche sequence. No one tells her what to do.
Now, there's something really important about the avalanche sequence that might be very telling about the themes of the story. It doesn't really get conveyed, but I give the movie a lot of props for Mulan's characterization in this moment. Everyone is always yelling at Mulan to do the traditionally masculine thing. She feels like an outsider. But when the squadron is overwhelmed by a massively larger force, Mulan doesn't really say anything. She just kind of springs into action. Mushu's prodding and advice is kind of moot. She doesn't need a masculine voice to tell her what the right thing is in that situation. We get from moment one that her fellow soldiers are buffoons from moment one, but we trust Mushu because he's likable. But Mulan makes that decision on her own. Ultimately, that is the only decision in the entire movie that really makes a difference. The "Making a Man Out of You" sequence is for fun and is really meant to stretch the plot a bit to show that it is difficult to hide one's identity. But the avalanche sequence is what we care about.
I kind of got lost for a second. I was talking about how Mulan Disneyfies a rich cultural history and that's Mushu. First of all, let's step back on the name "Mushu" for a second. Naming a character after a Chinese dish that Americans would know is pretty low hanging fruit. But there's also the white concept that it treats complex beliefs like lucky fortunes and oversimplifies things to make them adorable. Americans do this with the Native Americans and genre storytelling all the time. But Mushu as a representative of honor and the ancestors seems pretty disrespectful. Like, it's done with the right attitude. But it really comes across like the fortune cookie version of Chinese culture. It's something that the remake is trying to avoid. Also, giving Mulan a love interest is similar to sticking her into the princess formula. Why does there have to be a relationship there? It's really distracting from the message that the film is trying to convey.
But my wife liked it. She had criminally low expectations going into the movie. I had kind of high expectations. There's a lot that comes from going into things with low expectations. I really wanted this to be the golden movie in the group of films that I missed. But do you know what this did for me? It got me excited for a remake that is going to make changes. I don't tend to care for the live-action remakes. But because I didn't love Mulan, the changes in the story might work for me. Who knows? There's a lot of potential here, but it really got tainted by the year 1998. There's a good foundation for a movie that isn't here.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.