Rating -

Animated (US); 1998; Rated G; 88 Minutes

Ming-Na Wen: Mulan
Eddie Murphy: Mushu
B.D. Wong: Shang
Harvey Fierstein: Yao
Jerry Tondo: Chien-Po
Gedde Watanabe: Ling
James Hong: Chi Fu
Miguel Ferrer: Shan-Yu
Soon-Tek Oh: Fa Zhou
Freda Foh Shen: Fa Li
Pat Morita: The Emperor

Produced by Pam Coats,Robert S. Garberand Kendra Halland; Directed by Tony Bancroftand Barry Cook; Screenwritten by Robert D. San Souci, Rita Hsiao, Chris Sanders, Philip LaZebnik, Raymond Singerand Eugene Bostwick-Singer

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Disney's new animated feature begins like the traditional family animated film they put out every year and then evolves into a war epic filled with colorful characters, prolifically powerful family values, and beautiful computer animation. It is not in the tradition of any normal Disney animated feature, as it takes place on the eastern side of the planet, and relies on its characterization rather than music to tell the story of Fa Mulan, who, in attempt to bring honor to her family, takes her father Zhou's place in the great war against the Chinese Huns, who have invaded the country against the emperor. It is not the music this time around that becomes the focus of most of the picture; it is the rich characterizations.

These characterizations are almost too hard to believe; they are so powerful and strong that it's unlike any type of characterization that Disney has ever presented us with. Most critics believe that ever since "The Lion King," Disney has been cloning their animated formula to the point where the recent animated features seem fairly forgettable. I do not necessarily believe for one second that "Pocahontas," "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame," or "Hercules" are fairly forgettable, but for either side of this debate, "Mulan" brings us something new in the tradition, and as most new things of Disney, the movie explores animated possibilities and penetrates us into a rousing piece of work. Audiences will jump up and cheer for "Mulan," which declares itself a true Disney masterpiece.

The story takes place when the Huns break into China's land and threaten the emperor in order to take down the great wall, a threat which the emperor refuses. Then the Hun army moves toward his palace, threatening any bystander in its way, all to hostage the emperor in hopes his country will give in and remove the wall.

The Huns are led by Shan-Yu, the villain of the picture, who, with glowing eyes and a grim smile, resembles a demonic spirit, making him one of the most fearsome-looking Disney villains in a long time.

When the emperor learns that the Hun army might attack his palace, he calls upon a member of each Chinese family to join his army and fight the Huns, who seem to be progressing to the palace rather rapidly. Within the Fa family, Zhou, who is the head of the family, is called off, despite his old age. Mulan, his daughter who has shamed the family, tries to stop him from going, but he has no choice.

Mulan, trying not only to save her father but her honor as well, cuts her hair and races off with her father's armor and horse to impersonate the soldier from the Fa family, though the risk of finding out she is really a woman would be certain death.

Mulan and several other beginners are trained in the army by Shang, son of the general, who Mulan has an eye for from a far. She proves to be the best they have, and when they head off into the mountains to help the other armies to fight the Huns, they find themselves confronted with torn battlefields, filled with soldiers who have already died for their country to the Hun army.

In these extremely gorgeous animated scenes, the Huns then come over a side of the mountain to fight the army which has just arrived on scene. Mulan, examining the snowy slopes around, sets off the last bomb the army has onto a steep snow-covered slope, displacing an avalanche that carries the Huns over to the other side of the mountain. The army then rushes off to the palace to inform the emperor of the Hun's downfalls, not aware that they actually got back up and continued on their journey.

These scenes within the snowy mountains are the most beautiful ever captured in animation. They renew our faith in Disney, who, in the past, has created Notre Dame, Hades' Underworld, a Wildebeest Stampede, a Cave of Wonders, and a beautiful ballroom with the extraordinary techniques of computer animation.

"Mulan" may be a tale of war and family, but it was almost more, because the film was originally concepted to gain a PG rating in theaters. When the studios feared that the PG rating would scare off younger audiences, as it did with "The Black Cauldron," they cut it for G. Cutting it may not have been the right choice, but for financial success, as well as critical, they probably did the right thing for themselves.

Either way, what we have here is another Disney classic, one that reminds that imagination and animation can create us things that no live action film can--a freedom of creativity and landscape.

1998, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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