Oscar Classics: Mulan (1998)


Directors: Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook

Starring: Ming-Na Wen, Lea Salonga, Eddie Murphy

Oscars: Nom – Original Musical/Comedy Score

The nineties were a great decade for Disney at the Academy Awards. They had a monopoly on the music categories with a string of wins and many more nominations, following multiple huge box office hits. Mulan was the last musical hoorah, and one of the most underrated, of this era.

Set in China during the invasion of the Hun army, Mulan disguises herself as boy to volunteer in her Father’s place, but her failure to hide her true identity could have fatal consequences. In many ways this is a classic Disney tale of honor, love and family values. Mulan is a heroine, with the bravery to rival Merida and the balls (figurative) to challenge Elsa, yet she lacks the recognition within the Disney universe that she deserves.

Perhaps the film suffers from a soundtrack that lacks the timelessness of its predecessors, with expectations set by them. As a result Mulan has a string of great songs lost in the nineties and vastly under-appreciated.

Disney have very much played the safe game with Mulan, sticking to a tried and tested formula and it pays off once again. The cast is comprised mainly of unknowns, though you may recognise Mulan’s singing voice as that of Jasmine from Aladdin, while Eddie Murphy adds some star power as the voice of dragon Mushu, one that clearly inspired his portrayal of Shrek‘s donkey.

At ninety minutes this is a typical family friendly animated treat, and why it doesn’t stand alongside the classics in DVD shops is unclear. In Mulan Disney finally gave us a film set somewhere other than Europe with a strong female protagonist turned heroine. Maybe it was just too ahead of its time, by Disney standards, and Mulan ultimately was a victim of circumstance – at once too different and too samey that it gave their publicists too big a headache.

If made ten years later it may have been more successful, considering changes in the political and social landscape, but sadly Mulan is a film made during the modern pinnacle of Disney animated film production. As a result it was compared to, and ultimately discarded, in favour of more traditional stories with catchier songs. In reality, maybe Mulan doesn’t quite compete with the greats, but it definitely deserves more appreciation than it gets, so next time you’re looking through your preferred video on demand service, why not try something a bit different and put Mulan on. You might surprise yourself.


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