While it's been a long time since I've seen any Disney Movies before starting this series of Reviews, I went in already having an idea of which ones were my favorites just based on all my fond memories. I don't know if it will change once I finish these reviews, but as of watching Mulan again, I think it will still end up as my favorite movie Disney has ever made. And no, I have not seen nor do I have any intention of watching the Live-Action version.
Taking place in ancient China, Mulan is a young woman who doesn't fit into the typical mold of an honorable wife. The way the show frames it however is something a lot of people are going to be able to relate to. The central conflict of the show doesn't revolve around the society she lives in, though it does act as a framing device, it revolves around her desire to find a place for herself in the world around her. No matter how hard she tried to fit in and honor her family, she was never able to look herself in the eye and be proud of who she saw. It's a story about learning to be true to yourself.
As mentioned though, the world she lives in does push certain roles onto people. So when China goes to war with the Hun, to save her father from serving again she takes his armor and joins the military while pretending to be his son. Where the show shines is it doesn't try to portray this as something Mulan is naturally adept at. You get one of the key songs of the movie and the one that seems to be the most remembered. You see Mulan struggling through the majority of the Montage, being pretty much a failure at anything. Then you get the moment where she is being sent home, deemed unfit for war. Something I don't often see talked about much is right here she kind of succeeded at her goal. She saved her father from serving again, she never got discovered, and she could have just went home and her initial goal would have been achieved. But she convinces herself instead to stay. The show never outright says this, but its part of her is finally starting to see what it is she wants, likely for the first time in her life.
Going forward, the actual story isn't all that interesting. It goes exactly as would be predicted, but is carried by a fantastic cast. I think it's a testament to the importance of characters in the story. It doesn't matter if the plot is extremely simple and predictable if you care about the characters involved. By and large, the cast is fantastic. One of the weaker aspects, oddly enough, is the villain. The Leader of the Hun is just kind of there as a face to put on an invading army, and he does a great job at being intimidating, I adore his design. But he doesn't work as a foil to Mulan, or have anything to do with her story or growth. On one hand, it works because Mulan's real central conflict is with herself, but it doesn't stop the villain from feeling interchangeable.
Not all is perfect in Mulan, as we now get to talk about Mushu. I will say Mushu gets some laughs out of me, but he's a perfect sign of Disney's overreliance on comic relief. The show is very funny, and it's very funny without Mushu. Why this is important is because he honestly doesn't need to be here. Very minor and inconsequential changes could have been made to any scene he was in and his presence would not be missed. And with the other soldiers and the Chancellor alone you have more than enough comic relief in the story, and honestly, they are on a whole funnier than Mushu (I would miss his 'Dishonor on your cow' line though). There is no getting around Mushu being unnecessary filler.
On to the soundtrack, and oh what a soundtrack this is. Reflection stands as my second favorite Disney song of all time, and it follows it up with a lot of great tracks like 'I'll Make a Man Out of You' and 'A Girl Worth Fighting For'. Song for song, it's really hard to choose between this and Hercules for my favorite Disney OST. This one, however, I think falls a bit behind because I don't think 'You'll Bring Honor To Us All' is that memorable, and 'True to Your Heart' playing at the end credits feels a bit too on the nose.
Years later I still love this movie. The animation is good as always, with so many fantastic songs, a fantastic cast, and a lot of good themes. This one I definitely recommend.