Let’s get down to business to write this post!
This week we tackle one of the most iconic Disney films in the canon, Mulan! It’s a favorite of mine, and I hope you enjoy it, too.
Production began when Disney decided to adapt the Chinese poem “The Song of Fa Mulan” into a feature length film. The poem tells the story of a woman named Mulan who steps in for her elderly father when he is recruited back into the army, disguising herself as a man in order to blend in. She fights successfully in the army for ten years, defending her country and earning the Emperors respect. He offers her a job in the government, but she turns it down. Mulan returns home and it is then that she reveals the truth, surprising her friends from the army. Overall, the Disney story hits the major beats, of course throwing in some songs, a love interest, and a sassy Dragon sidekick.
Originally, the team began writing the story as a romantic comedy of sorts, where Mulan was a tomboy, setup with Shang by her family, and a runaway bride, leaving home NOT because she wanted to protect her father, but because she wanted to avoid her arranged marriage. When Chris Sanders was appointed as Head of Story, he had the team change the story back to the original tale, a decision I for one am thankful for. After all, why decide to adapt a story if you’re not going to adapt the actual story, ya know? Mushu the dragon and Cri-Kee the cricket were added on to give Mulan animal companions, though neither were a part of the original legend. One tidbit I found funny was that apparently everyone hated Cri-kee and didn’t want him in the movie, but Michael Eisner and one of the artists, Joe Grant, liked him so he stayed.
In the early stages of production, a small group traveled to China to explore the country and culture, gaining inspiration and insight. Producer designer Hans Bacher chose an animation style for the film that was close to the watercolor design, the traditional art style of China. Back in the U.S., Mulan was the first feature film to be animated in the Florida animation studios located in the then Disney-MGM Studios park.
Stephen Schwartz, who, if you recall, had wrote lyrics for the songs in Pocahontas and Hunchback, was initially supposed to create the music and lyrics for Mulan as well. However, there was a little bit of studio drama. Jeffrey Katzenberg, who, if you recall, was the former chairman of Walt Disney Studios, had started his own little company with some friends. And by “little company” I mean DreamWorks and by friends I mean Steven Spielberg. Jeff asks Steph to do the music on the current movie DreamWorks was making, The Prince of Egypt, which was honestly a great call on his part because that soundtrack slaps. Michael Eisner and Peter Schneider were NOT keen on sharing the lyricist and asked him to back out of his commitment to DreamWorks, even threatening to take him out of all the promotion for the prior two movies. To Disney’s dismay, (sidenote: Disney’s Dismay would be a great name for a band that only performed hard rock covers of classic Disney villain songs, but probably only got to perform them on a Disney cruise) Schwartz took the DreamWorks job and left Mulan. And while this caused some brief bad blood between the studios, we got “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” out of it (pun intended) AND we got the TPOE soundtrack, so to paraphrase Victoria Justice, I think we ALL win.
At first, Lea Salonga was cast as Mulan, but the production team did not think her voice could go low enough to sound convincing as a young man, and so she was kept to just the singing voice (again, she had previously provided the singing voice for Jasmine in Aladdin). After hearing her voice as narration in the film adaptation of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, the Disney team chose Ming-Na Wen to do the speaking voice of Mulan. Eddie Murphy was, of course, chosen to voice Mushu, and really made the role his own. It must have been because he was comfortable seeing as he did his recordings in his own basement! BD Wong was picked for Shang’s speaking voice, while Donny Osmond was chosen for his singing voice. To make sure things sounded as seamless as possible, Osmond even studied Wong’s recordings “to match his inflections and personality.”
Mulan came in second during its opening weekend and would go on to become the seventh highest-grossing film of 1998. In terms of the rest of the Renaissance, it performed better than Hunchback and Hercules, though not better than the first few films. Critical reviews were mixed. Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, calling it an “impressive achievement” and other critics commended the animation, deep plot, and characters. However, not everyone was impressed. Gene Siskel even called it a “great disappointment” and other critics disliked…the animation, plot, and characters. Just goes to show you can’t please everybody. The score was nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe, and “Reflection” was nominated for a Golden Globe as well. Christina Aguilera recorded a version of the song for the soundtrack which was not only her first single in the U.S., but what lead to her record deal!
A direct-to-video sequel was released in 2004 and in 2020 a live-action adaptation of the film was released on Disney+, as a theatrical release was not possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the Disney parks, Mulan is available for character meets in the China pavilion of E.P.C.O.T. in Orlando, though it is quite difficult to find her in other parks. She also sometimes appears at the end of Fantasmic in Hollywood Studios. The music and characters are also featured in certain rides and shows throughout around the world.
Mulan was not one of the Disney movies I watched most often as a kid, but I have grown to appreciate it as I’ve gotten older. I love the strong message and girl power energy, I find Mushu to be a sidekick with the perfect balance of humor (while not being too ridiculous) and heart (while not being too cheesey), and, of course, I love the soundtrack. And I’m not alone in seeing this film as a favorite! For the past two years, I’ve run a “Disney March Madness” poll series on my Instagram, and the first year Mulan won favorite song (“I’ll Make A Man Out Of You”) and this past year it won favorite movie. So, let’s get down to business, take a good look at our reflections, and be true to our hearts as we watch Mulan!
My thoughts on Mulan:
- Yess! I’m so excited to watch Mulan kick butt
- Great Wall of China is close to the top of places i want to visit list
- “Now all of China knows you’re here” “Perfect” iconic opening lines
- That transition from the Emperor saying “one man may be the difference between victory and defeat” to Mulan, a common trope but a good one
- I think it’s really cute the puppy’s name is Little Brother
- Mulan is so clever getting the dog to run around and release the food for the chickens
- Haha she was ready with a spare cup, girl is self-aware
- I LOVE Mulan’s grandma
- She so casually causes a multi-cart pile up
- Did Mulan not know she was getting a bath when she wrote the notes?
- There are so many great character moments during this sequence – Mulan making the chess move to show her intelligence, helping the little girl to show how kind she is
- There really is no good way for Mulan to carry the cricket other than by hand why can’t she just do that?
- HOW did the cricket get out?
- Okay, matchmaker’s hand would not get that inky nor would it transfer so much on her face
- Why wouldn’t Mulan just act like a cricket just…came in through the window and had nothing to do with her?
- The matchmaker is way dramatic most of what went wrong wasn’t even Mulan’s fault
- Poor Mulan
- I’m sad she’s distraught but this gives us Reflection so….
- WHOOOOO IS THAT GIRL IIIiiiiIII SEEEEEEE
- The fact that this song is so short is a TRAVESTY
- Where is the second verse Disney?!
- (Note: I know that there ARE other verses, I just mean I want to see them in the movie)
- Mulan’s garden is so pretty, I want a bridge and river in my backyard
- I love her dad’s late-blooming-flower pep talk
Mulan when the soldiers arrive
- So, if one man from every family has to go, is there an age limit? We see one man take his father’s place and his father looks very elderly. If a man had no children or only had daughters, would they take someone who is 70+?
- Report tomorrow?! That’s such a quick turn around
- They don’t get any time to get their affairs in order? Ask someone to pet sit?
- Kind of related to the old age question but once Mulan’s father got to camp would they really keep him with how injured he is? I know that her fear and decision are driven by her knowing her father will die in battle, but would the army even let him get that far knowing he can’t really fight and will probably just be dead weight?
- Spoiler but later we see Shang try to send Mulan home for not being able to pull her own weight so wouldn’t that happen to her dad?
- Should I just shut up and enjoy the movie? Ok
- This epic synth music while Mulan prepares feels so out of place with the rest of the movie’s music but it’s so cool
- Leaving the comb for the scroll, the imagery
- It’s amazing that she fits her father’s old uniform perfectly haha
- Hahaha Mushu’s “I LIIIIVE” is such a great entrance
- I wanna know what would have happened if the guardian woke up? How would he get Mulan back?
- Haha the guy with no head going “yeah thanks a lot”
- Does the poor dude not get his head back in the after life?
- I wish there was some kind of explanation for the Stone Dragon not waking up
- And since the statue is crumbled, is he like, dead and gone forever?!!! Even though he’s the most powerful guardian? Mushu seemed pretty worried and we never get to see him…
- Okay the ancestors have a CLEAR view of the statue from the window and not ONE sees it crumble?
- The “How many men does it take to give a message” scene is so dark for a kids movie, we really rarely see Disney villains actually kill people
- “Let me hear ya say Ahhh” “AHHH!” lmfaooo
- What was the ancestor’s plans for Mulan’s dad? Was anyone going to help him? Because if the guardian got Mulan to come home, her family would be in trouble for not sending anyone
- “Dishonor on you! Dishonor on your cow!” I. CON. IC.
- I get Mulan is not a man and wants to change her body language, which is smart. But. With the goofy walk and the way she says things, it’s like she’s never even met a man.
- Chien-Po lifting a raged filled Yao is so funny
- Yao is looking right at Mulan’s back but doesn’t see the talking dragon yelling at him?
- Ok, the food line getting knocked over isn’t Mulan’s fault!! They had already run away from her and Chien-Po stumbles into them
- Mulan keeps getting blamed for things that are not her fault
- I love that little glimpse of excitement from Shang, he’s so stern throughout the rest of the movie (rightfully so)
- Mulan is the only one not fighting!
- If Shang can hear Mulan whispering why can’t he hear Mushu whispering?
- Okay, the guy in blue was in the village yesterday and saw Mulan’s dad accept and no son step forward. He also saw Mulan, the only child around, step up to defend her father. Shouldn’t he be suspicious?
- Shang is absolutely ripped and Disney aint trying to hide it
- HERE WE GOOOOOO
- Those drums baby those drums
Shang: “Let’s get down to business-“
Me: “TO DEFEAT THE HUNS!”
- How come Shang doesn’t notice the other guys messing with Mulan??
- See? Shang tells Mulan to (pack up) go home (you’re through)
- Would her father have had more of a commanding role so his fighting/physical ability wouldn’t have mattered as much?? Maybe that’s it…
- Go Mulan go!!!
- Best training montage in all of cinema honestly
- Rocky whomst??
- Gosh Shan-Yu deciding to go right to the army because he knows he can is Bold
- There’s a lot of hinting at naked men in this scene, I feel like this is inappropriate for the kiddos
- Ok the horse blocks Mulan from the “camera” on the side not the guys in the water
- So there was a chance Mulan’s dad wouldn’t have even had to fight!
- Why is Chi Fu so against the troops? They were looking better at the end of the montage
- This Mushu plays the general scene is so silly.
- The guy is so high-strung and by the book how would he not know something was up?
- “How bout a girl whose got a brain and always speaks her mind”
- “The only girl who’d love him is his mother” hahaha roasted
- Damn the end of Girl Worth Fighting For is so abrupt and hits hard every time
- It’s obviously a sad and harsh transition but in terms of storytelling and pacing it’s excellent and unexpected for a kids movie
- And then that reveal over the hill of the dead army
- Ugh terrible
- Poor Shang that’s such a rough way to find out your dad died
- Stupid Mushu! Stupid Crikee!! Such danger and chaos because of stupidity
- That shot of all the huns coming down on the mountain is so intimidating
- Why wouldn’t Mulan be like “going start an avalanche!”
- Gotta communicate with your team, girl
- Where did all the other soldiers go?
- Did…did Mushu just explode?
- That’s a super convenient rock for every one to hide under
- The movie can’t have the huns buried under the snow but Shang just surfing on top unconscious
- I know this was made in California and Florida, but that’s not how snow works folks
- There’s no way that rope would hold two humans and a horse!
- I know that’s just typical cartoon shenanigans but the rest of the movie is based pretty heavily in reality so it just feels off to me
- That doctor must have been SO confused lol
- I’m glad Mulan’s friends try to rush to save her
- Mulan’s not riding home or to any close villages? She’s just chilling? No pun intended
- Poor Mulan, she’s worked so hard
- Mushu asking if the horse is a sheep hahaha
- HOW did the huns survive
- Everyone’s very lucky that she didn’t already start home and saw the huns
- It’s only been a few hours and the whole city is like “yep the danger is gone! Woo! Party!”
- Ugh I hate that part where Mushu tunes her out and is like “you’re a girl again” like why would HE say that?
- Lol how did Shan get on the roof? Did he Parkour up? Where were the guards?
- Mulan’s friends just follow her into battle, love to see it
- How did they get perfectly tailored women’s clothes so fast?
- Concubines? This is a KIDS movie!
- Go team!!
- The emperor gets to zip line! I’ve always wanted to zip line
- “You took away my victor” “no I did!” such a boss moment
- “Who are you?” “Your worst nightmare” so random but so funny
- Did those innocent men just jump to their deaths?
- Can we talk about that more???
- Mulan disarming him with a fan (a traditionally female object) is AWESOME!
- And then she kicks ass
- And now Mulan gets to zipline!!
- Yay fireworks! We just survived death!
- “She’s a hero” “she’s a woman” with absolutely no due respect, shut the hell up
- The emperor shoulda let Shang rough up Chi Fu a little more
- Everyone bowing to her is such a beautiful moment
- He gives her a sword that’s so cool
- “You…you fight good” so suave Shang
- She just rides off alone….she doesn’t get an escort or anything?
- “You don’t meet a girl like that every dynasty” lmfaooo the emperor was like “what are you doing Shang?”
- Did word of what she did make it to her parents? Or is her showing up with the medal and sword just a complete surprise?
- Haha Shang shows up two seconds after she does, was he like ten feet behind her the entire trip?
- “Sign me up for the next war” get it grandma
- “Would you like to stay forever?” hahaha I love grandma!!
- Yeah Crickee gets a drum set!
- I forgot about True to Your Heart!! What a banger!!
- 98 degrees, a throwback
- And now….it would not be a 90s movie without…a 90s slowww jammmm
- And by the legendary CHRISTINA AGUILARA
- One more time, take us home Xtina with some Reflection
Mulan is always such a great watch. No matter how many times I see it, it never gets old. I love the message and female empowerment that I think is good for all to see. And if you don’t burst out into song when “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” comes on, I don’t know how to help you.
Next time, we wrap up The Renaissance (I am very sad about that) with Tarzan.