Promotional poster by John Alvin
|Directed by||Tony Bancroft
|Produced by||Pam Coats|
|Screenplay by||Rita Hsiao
|Story by||Robert D. San Souci|
|Music by||Jerry Goldsmith|
|Editing by||Michael Kelly|
|Studio||Walt Disney Feature Animation|
|Distributed by||Walt Disney Pictures
Buena Vista Distribution
|Running time||87 minutes|
Mulan is a 1998 American animated musical comedy-drama film directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook, with story by Robert D. San Souci and screenplay by Rita Hsiao, Philip LaZebnik, Chris Sanders, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, and Raymond Singer. It was produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures on June 19, 1998. Ming-Na, Eddie Murphy, Miguel Ferrer and BD Wong star in the English version, while Jackie Chan provided his voice for the Chinese dubs of the film. The 36th animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics, and a part of the Disney Renaissance, the film is based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan.
Mulan was the first of three features produced primarily at the Disney animation studio at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida. Development for the film began in 1994, when a number of artistic supervisors were sent to China to receive artistic and cultural inspiration. Mulan was well received by critics and the public, grossing $304 million, earning Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, and winning several Annie Awards including Best Animated Feature. A 2005 direct-to-video sequel, Mulan II, followed.
Mulan is set in China during the Han Dynasty. The film's title character, Fa Mulan, is the only daughter of aged warrior Fa Zhou. She impersonates a man and takes her father's place during a general conscription to counter a fictitious Hun invasion led by Shan Yu. Along with her guardian dragon Mushu, her captain, Li Shang, a lucky cricket, "Cri-kee," and her companions, Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po, she battles the invading Hun army.
The Huns, led by the ruthless Shan Yu, invade Han China, forcing the Chinese emperor to command a general mobilization. Each family is given a conscription notice, requiring one man from each family to join the Chinese army. When Fa Mulan hears that her elderly father Fa Zhou, the only man in their family, is once more to go to war, anxiety and apprehension grip her. Mulan decides to take matters into her own hands, by putting on the guise of a man so that she can go to war instead of her father. When her family learns of Mulan's secret departure, they are all very anxious. Fa Zhou, Mulan's father, prays to his family's ancestors for the safety of his child. The ancestors then order their "Great Stone Dragon" to protect Mulan. The ancestors are unaware that the statue of Great Stone Dragon failed to come to life, and that Mushu, a small dragon, is the one to go and protect Mulan.
Mulan is initially misguided by Mushu in how to behave like a man, and starts a ruckus at the training camp. However, under command of Li Shang, she and her new friends at the camp, Yao, Ling and Chien-Po, become skilled warriors. Mushu, desiring to see Mulan succeed, creates a fake order from Li Shang's father, General Li, ordering Li Shang to follow them into the mountains. They arrive at a burnt-out encampment and discover that General Li and his troops have been wiped out by the Huns. As they solemnly leave the mountains, they are ambushed by the Huns, but the clever use of a rocket by Mulan creates an avalanche which buries most of the Huns. Mulan is slashed in the side by an enraged Shan Yu, and her deception is revealed when the wound is bandaged. Instead of executing Mulan as the law requires, Li Shang decides to spare her life, leaving her on the mountain as the rest of the army departs for the Imperial City to report the news of the Huns' demise. However it is revealed that several Hun warriors including Shan Yu survive the avalanche, and Mulan catches sight of them as they make their way to the City, intent on capturing the Emperor.
In the Imperial City, Mulan attempts to warn Li Shang about Shan Yu, but he refuses to listen. The Huns appear and capture the Emperor, locking themselves inside the palace. With Mulan's help, Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po pose as concubines and are able to enter the palace and, with the help of Li Shang, defeat Shan Yu's men. As Shang prevents Shan Yu from assassinating the Emperor, Mulan lures the Hun onto the roof where she engages him in single combat. Meanwhile, acting on Mulan's instructions, Mushu fires a bundle of fireworks rockets at Shan Yu on her signal and kills him. Mulan is praised by the Emperor and the people of China, who all bow to her as an unprecedented honor. While she accepts the Emperor's crest and Shan Yu's sword as gifts, she politely declines his offer to be his advisor and asks to return to her family. She returns home and presents these gifts to her father, but he is more overjoyed to have his daughter back safely. Li Shang, who has become enamored with Mulan, soon arrives under the guise of returning her helmet, but accepts the family's invitation for dinner. Earlier in the film, Mulan was declared unfit for marriage, but this is not the case with her budding romance with Li Shang. Mushu is granted a position as a Fa family guardian by the ancestors amid a returning celebration.
Mulan originally began as a short, straight-to-video film titled "China Doll" about an oppressed and miserable Chinese girl who is whisked away by a British Prince Charming to happiness in the West. Then Disney consultant and children's book author Robert D. San Souci suggested making a movie of the Chinese poem, "The Song of Fa Mu Lan" and Disney combined the two separate projects.
Development for Mulan began in 1994, after the production team sent a select group of artistic supervisors to China for three weeks to take photographs and drawings of local landmarks for inspiration; and to soak up local culture. The filmmakers decided to change Mulan's character to make her more appealing and selfless and turn the art style closer to Chinese painting, with watercolor and simpler design - opposed to the details of The Lion King and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
To create 2,000 Hun soldiers during the Huns' attack sequence, the production team developed a crowd simulation software called Attila. This software allows thousands of unique characters to move autonomously. A variant of the program called Dynasty was used in the final battle sequence to create a crowd of 3,000 in the Forbidden City. Pixar's photorealistic RenderMan was used to render the crowd. Another software developed for this movie was Faux Plane which was used to add depth to flat two-dimensional painting. Although developed late in production progress, Faux Plane was used in five shots, including the dramatic sequence which features the Great Wall of China, and the final battle sequence when Mulan runs to the Forbidden City. During the scene in which the Chinese are bowing to Mulan, the crowd is a panoramic film of real people bowing. It was edited into the animated foreground of the scene.
- Ming-Na Wen as Fa Mulan (singing voice provided by Lea Salonga)
- Eddie Murphy as Mushu
- BD Wong as Captain Li Shang (singing voice provided by Donny Osmond)
- Miguel Ferrer as Shan Yu
- Harvey Fierstein as Yao
- Gedde Watanabe as Ling
- Jerry Tondo as Chien-Po
- James Hong as Chi-Fu
- Soon-Tek Oh as Fa Zhou
- June Foray as Grandmother Fa (singing voice provided by Marni Nixon)
- Pat Morita as The Emperor of China
- George Takei as First Ancestor
- Freda Foh Shen as Fa Li
- James Shigeta as General Li
- Frank Welker as Cri-Kee, Khan (Mulan's horse), and Little Brother (Mulan's dog)
- Mary Kay Bergman as various ancestors
Reception of Mulan was mostly positive, gathering a 86% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Additionally, the film was ranked twenty-fourth out of the fifty canon Disney animated features in a 2009 countdown at the same website. Kyle Suggs described the visuals as "breathtaking," and Dan Jardine described the visuals as "magnificently animated." Film critic Roger Ebert gave Mulan three and a half stars out of four in his written review. He said that "Mulan is an impressive achievement, with a story and treatment ranking with Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King". Negative reviews described it as a "disappointment." The songs are accused of not being memorable, and slowing down the pace of the movie. Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine criticized the film as being "soulless" in its portrayal of Asian society.
This movie was also the subject of comment from feminist critics. Mimi Nguyen says the film "pokes fun at the ultimately repressive gender roles that seek to make Mulan a domesticated creature." Nadya Labi agrees, saying "there is a lyric in the film that gives the lie to the bravado of the entire girl-power movement." She pointed out that she needed to become a boy to do it. Kathleen Karlyn, an assistant professor of English at the University of Oregon, criticizes it suggesting "In order to even imagine female heroism, we're placing it in the realm of fantasy". Pam Coats, producer of Mulan, aimed to produce a character that exhibits both masculine and feminine influences, being both physically and mentally strong.
Box office performance
Mulan's opening weekend box office figures were $22.8 million, placing it as the second highest grossing movie that week to The X-Files. It went on to make $120 million in the U.S. and Canada as well as $304 million worldwide, placing it the second highest family film of the year, behind A Bug's Life, and the 7th highest of the year overall. While Mulan outgrossed the two Disney films which preceded it, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules, its box office returns failed to match those of the Disney films of the early 1990s such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Top international releases include United Kingdom ($14.6 million) and France ($10.2 million).
Mulan won many Annie Awards. The film itself won the award for Best Animated Feature. Individual achievement awards were awarded to Pam Coats for producing; Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft for Directing; Rita Hsiao, Christopher Sanders, Phillip LaZebnick, Raymond Singer and Eugenia Bostwick-Singer in Writing; Chris Sanders for Storyboarding; Hans Bacher for Production Design; David Tidgwell for Effects Animation; Ming-Na for Voice Acting Mulan; Matthew Wilder, David Zippel and Jerry Goldsmith for music and Ruben A. Aquino for Character Animation. Tom Bancroft and Mark Henn were also nominated for Character Animation. The music score also received significant praise. Jerry Goldsmith won the 1999 BMI Film Music Award and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score in 1998. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for Original Music Score in 1998, but was beaten by Stephen Warbeck's score for Shakespeare in Love. Matthew Wilder and David Zippel were also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song the same year for "Reflection". They were beaten by The Truman Show and "The Prayer" from Quest for Camelot respectively.
Reception in China
Disney was keen to promote Mulan to the Chinese, hoping they might replicate their success with their 1994 film The Lion King, which was one of the country's highest-grossing Western films at that time. Disney also hoped it might smooth over relations with the Chinese government which had soured after the release of Kundun, a Disney-funded biography of the Dalai Lama that the Chinese government considered politically provocative. China had threatened to curtail business negotiations with Disney over that film and, as the government only accepts ten Western films per year to be shown in their country, Mulan's chances of being accepted were low. Finally, after a year's delay, the Chinese government did allow the film a limited Chinese release, but only after the Chinese New Year, so as to ensure that local films dominated the more lucrative holiday market. Kelly Chen, Coco Lee (Taiwan version) and Xu Qing (Mainland version) voiced Mulan in the Cantonese and Mandarin dubs of the film respectively, while Jackie Chan voiced Shang in all three dubs.
Chinese culture in Mulan
The Legend of Hua Mulan
The Chinese legend of Hua Mulan centers on a young woman who disguises herself as a man to take the place of her elderly father in the army. The story can be traced back to The Ballad of Mulan and Disney's Mulan casts the title character in much the same way as the original legend – a tomboy daughter of a respected veteran, somewhat troubled by not being the "sophisticated lady" her society expects her to be. In the oldest version of the story, Mulan uses her father's name Li and she was never discovered as a girl, unlike the film.
The earliest accounts of the legend state that she lived during the Northern Wei dynasty (386–534). However another version reports that Mulan was requested as a concubine by Emperor Yang of Sui China (reigned 604–617). The fireworks featured in the movie indicate that the movie is set during the Sui dynasty. The film correctly omits foot binding, but includes numerous other anachronisms, such as the Ming era Forbidden City in Beijing (the Sui capital was near modern Xi'an). Though Mulan is set in northern China and employs her Mandarin personal name, Disney gives her the Cantonese pronunciation (Fa) for her family name.
When Mulan masquerades as a man, her name is a Chinese pun. She takes the name "Fa Ping" (花平, Huā Píng), which sounds identical to 花瓶 (huāpíng), meaning both a literal "flowerpot" and figurative "eye candy". In Chinese versions, the joke is somewhat muted by the common practice of including subtitles to make the story easier to follow for speakers of Chinese's many dialects. The subtitles simply read 平.
Chi Fu's name (欺负, qīfù) means "to bully".
Mulan features a score by Jerry Goldsmith and five songs by Matthew Wilder (music) and David Zippel (lyrics), with a sixth originally planned for Mushu, but dropped following Eddie Murphy's involvement with the character. The movie's soundtrack is credited for starting the career of pop singer Christina Aguilera, whose first song to be released in the U.S. was her rendition of "Reflection", the first single from the Mulan soundtrack. The song, and Aguilera's vocals, were so well received that it landed her a recording contract with RCA records. In 1999, she would go on to release her self-titled debut album, on which Reflection was also included. As well as her own, the pop version of Reflection has 2 Spanish translations, because the movie has separate Spanish translations for Spain (performed by Malú) and Latin America (performed by Lucero). Other international versions include a Brazilian Portuguese version by Sandy & Junior ("Imagem"), a Korean version performed by Lena Park and a Mandarin version by Coco Lee.
Lea Salonga, the singing voice of Mulan in the movie, is also the singing voice of Princess Jasmine in Aladdin. Salonga was originally cast also as Mulan's speaking voice, but the directors did not find her attempt at a deeper speaking voice when Mulan impersonated Ping convincing, Ming-Na was brought in to speak the role. The music featured during the haircut scene, often referred as the Mulan Decision score, is different in the soundtrack album. The soundtrack album uses an orchestrated score while the movie uses heavy synthesizer music. The synthesizer version is available on the limited edition CD. Salonga, who enjoys singing movie music in her concerts, has done a Disney medley which climaxes with an expanded version of 'Reflection' (not the same as those in Aguilera's version). Salonga also provided the singing voice for Mulan in the movie's sequel, Mulan II.
A PlayStation action-adventure video game based on the film, titled Disney's Story Studio: Mulan, published by Ubisoft and developed by Revolution Software (under the name "Kids Revolution"), was released on December 15, 1999. The game was met with generally positive reception and currently holds a 70.67% average rating at the review aggregator website GameRankings.
Live action adaptation
Disney has agreed to invest in a live action and 3D adaptation of Mulan starring international star Zhang Ziyi. Chuck Russell was chosen as the director, and also rumored to be in the production is US-born singer/actor Wang Lee Hom as General Li Shang. Production is slated to begin filming in China in October 2010.
Mulan was first released on VHS on February 2, 1999 after part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection. It was then re-released under the 1999 Limited Issues line and 2000 Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection. The film was released on a 2 disc "Special Edition" DVD on October 26, 2004. Mulan and its sequel were released a 3 disc Blu-Ray and DVD combo pack in March 2013 as part of the film's 15th anniversary.
References in Disney media
Although she is royalty neither by birth or marriage (her husband is merely a high-ranking military officer), Mulan is often regarded as one of the Disney Princesses. In the film Lilo & Stitch, Nani has a poster of Mulan in her room. Mulan is also present in the Disney and Square Enix video game series Kingdom Hearts. In the first Kingdom Hearts and in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Mushu is a summonable character, and in Kingdom Hearts II, the movie is featured as a playable world named "The Land of Dragons", with the plot being changed to accommodate the game's protagonists (Sora, Donald and Goofy) and Mulan (both as herself and as "Ping") able to join the player's party as a skilled sword fighter. Actress Jamie Chung plays Mulan in the second season of the ABC television series Once Upon a Time.
- Mulan II
- History of the Han Dynasty (for info on the period this film is loosely based on)
- Han–Xiongnu War (for info on the conflict this film is loosely based on)
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- Official website
- Mulan at the Internet Movie Database
- Mulan at AllRovi
- Mulan at Rotten Tomatoes
- Mulan at the Big Cartoon DataBase