Drained from watching animated Disney movies like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty with dainty princesses awaiting their ‘perfect prince-charming’ to save the day, I initially faltered in watching Tony Bancroft’s Mulan. As the movie unfolded, I became engrossed in the story that is far from typical damsel-in-distress Disney stories.
Set during the Han Dynasty, Mulan pivoted around Mulan, a high-spirited Chinese girl. She lived in a time-period when the Hans – a group of rivalling invaders – attacked China, compelling the Chinese emperor to conscript one man from each family to draft into the Chinese army. Hearing this news, Mulan disguised herself as a boy to fight in her feeble father’s place and embarked on a taxing journey as a Chinese soldier to fight the ruthless Hans.
As the story unfolded, Mulan’s characterisation solidified from a carefree, joyous young girl toiling away time on mundane chores to a resolute daughter intent on sheltering her father and preserving her family’s honour. With the movie’s progression, Mulan broke stereotypes, forging a new path of independence, intelligence and courage of women. Though Disney females – like Cinderella and Jasmine – are illustrated as graceful and obedient, Mulan deviated from Disney’s norms, emerging as clumsy, courageous and self-reliant. Throughout the movie, Mulan’s strong persona clashed with the confining stereotypes of the primordial males, but despite all obstacles, Mulan la bored on, striving for triumph.
Besides presenting themes of gender inequality, Mulan also intertwined spectacular directing. From the dark wall carvings resembling the Great Wall of China, the archetypal Chinese-matchmakers, renowned Chinese temples, to the antediluvian concept of family-honour, Mulan’s direction effectively captured China’s true essence. The direction and acting furthered Mulan’s competence by establishing an enigmatic and treacherous vibe for the Hans by under-developing their characterisations, affiliating them with dark-coloured bulky outfits, and employing Miguel Ferrer’s deep, threatening voice for Shan-Yu. Mulan’s father’s heart-tugging yet very accurate hobbling was another testimony to the movie’s immaculate direction.
Mulan’s remarkable cinematography and special effects were also established in the movie. One particular scene that stuck out to most of the audience was when Shan-Yu emerged atop the snow-covered hill. With the horizon high in the shot, the camera was situated so that the immense width of the landscape was clipped; when the Hans began to cascade down the snow-covered mountain, I experienced the pleasurable awe evoked by the cinematography of the war-scene. Mushu, with his comical one-liners and wise-crackers, upbeat, hyperactive personality and cute banters with Cri-Kee and Khan, easily became my favourite character.
As for soundtrack, I actually preferred the in-sync background-music to the generic movie-songs like ‘I’ll Make a Man out of You’ The movie showed that within a few scenes, the joyous girl changed into a girl distressed about her father’s army-drafting, and then into a fierce daughter resolved to save her father’s life at the cost of her own. I enjoyed how poignantly Mulan’s characterisation transitioned into a more intense facet as the dejected pout slowly morphed into a determined look with the lift of her frowned eyebrows. But what I enjoyed most was the accompanying upbeat background-music and deafening thunderstorm of that scene that created a sense of enigma and apprehension.
Even though animated Disney movies always failed to impress me, Mulan aberrated from that unimpressive stash of movies. With its radical theme, exceptional cinematography and stupendous background-soundtrack, Mulan is definitely worth a watch!