Mulan is a 1998 animated feature film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation, and released by Walt Disney Pictures on June 19, 1998. The thirty-sixth animated feature in the Disney Animated Canon and the ninth film in the Disney Renaissance, the film is based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, and was the first of three produced primarily at the animation studio at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida. It was directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook, with the story by Robert D. San Souci and Rita Hsiao, among others.
While the film today is very popular among the millennial generation, many of which praise it for being the most progressive Disney Princess film, the film did only modestly well at the box office; its success did not quite reach the standards of previous Disney Renaissance movies, such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.
The Huns, led by the ruthless Shan Yu, invade China, breaching the Great Wall via grappling hooks. This prompts a panicked soldier to light the sentry fires. As a result of the invasion, each family is given a conscription notice. On the same day Fa Mulan's meeting with the local matchmaker goes awry, her father, Fa Zhou, is ordered to serve in the army. Due to his age and previous war injuries, however, it is unlikely he will survive. Against her family's wishes, Mulan secretly disguises herself as a man, then takes her father's conscription notice, armor, and weapons so that he will not have to go. She rides away on her horse, Khan, to join the army, knowing that if she gets caught she will be killed, as women are strictly forbidden from joining on pain of death.
Mushu, a small Chinese dragon, has been awakened by the family's First Ancestor. Mushu had been demoted to gong ringer after a mishap with one of the ancestors from the last time they were awakened. After various choices of which guardian to send after Mulan, he is asked to awaken the "Great Stone Dragon". Mushu accidentally destroys the Dragon but realizes that this could be an opportunity to earn his place among the guardians again if he can make Mulan a war hero. Cri-Kee joins him in this task.
In the meantime, Shan Yu and the Huns pillage a city on the way to the Imperial Palace. Leaving the wreckage, they locate two spies. Shan Yu asks them to send a message to the Emperor telling him that the Huns are coming and are ready to engage the Imperial armies. However, as they leave, Shan Yu orders his archer to murder one.
Despite bad advice from Mushu leading to a rocky start at the training camp, Mulan (under the alias "Ping") trains with a group led by Captain Li Shang, including fellow soldiers Ling, Yao, and Chien Po, and slowly earns their respect and trust. At some point during this, Shan Yu's falcon, Hayabusa, uncovers a doll from a mountain village, revealing that the Imperial army is waiting for them. One of the Elite Hun Soldiers claims that it will be easy to avoid the ambush, but Shan Yu insists they proceed through the mountains, remarking they should "return" the doll to its rightful owner. Soon after this event, the troops complete their training, but Chi Fu, the Emperor's meddling and misogynistic advisor, refuses to let them see battle, accusing the troops of being ill-prepared. Mushu forges a letter from the General, ordering Shang to take his men to battle. The troops set out to meet General Li, who has already left on a mission. However, Shang and his troops tragically discover that his father, the general and his men were killed in battle against Shan Yu. As they leave, Mulan finds the doll Shan Yu found and places it in front of the General's grave marker.
Shang and his troops continue, disheartened by their loss, when they are ambushed by Hun archers due to a misfired cannon. After an initial attack, the Huns are believed to be defeated, but the troops soon discover otherwise, and Shan Yu orders a massive cavalry charge to finish off the remaining men. While the rest of the troops set up the last cannon to fire at Shan Yu to cut the head off the snake, Mulan spots a precarious mound of snow on the upper mountainside. During the charge, Mulan snatches the cannon and fires the rocket at the snow mound on the mountainside. It hits the mound near the summit and triggers a large avalanche, spreading all over and swallowing the now fleeing Huns, including Shan-Yu, burying them. Shang's soldiers take refuge while Mulan rescues Shang from being swept away by the snow and falling off a cliff. The Chinese soldiers initially cheer for their victory, but quickly become somber after Mulan discovers that she is bleeding; she had been wounded by a swipe of Shan Yu's sword before the avalanche buried Shan Yu and his army. Shang quickly summons a doctor just as Mulan faints.
During treatment, Mulan's true identity is discovered. Shang is notified and is expected to execute Mulan. Instead, he spares her life (she having saved his own life during the avalanche), and promptly expels her from the army. Shang and his troops promptly continue their path to the capital, leaving Mulan behind. Mulan decides to return home, but spots the Huns emerging from the snow from the avalanche. She tries to warn Shang's troops as they are heralded by citizens in a parade for their war efforts, but they do not listen. As the Emperor (Pat Morita) addresses the crowd, the Huns, disguised as parade characters, kidnap him and barricade themselves inside the palace.
Shang and his troops try to follow the Huns into the palace but are unsuccessful. Mulan devises a ploy with the other soldiers to dress as concubines, scale one of the palace walls and infiltrate the palace. When the Huns lower their defenses in the presence of the "women", Mulan and her allies swiftly dispatch them all. During this attack, Shan Yu demands the Emperor bow before him, but the Emperor calmly rebuffs him. Before Shan Yu can kill the Emperor, Shang intervenes and the Emperor is safely removed from the palace by Chien Po. Unfortunately, Shang and Mulan are now trapped on the balcony with Shan Yu. Shan Yu is about to kill Shang when Mulan gets his attention with her shoe. He recognizes her from the mountain battle and gives chase. Mulan lures him onto the palace rooftop where they face each other in personal combat, until Mushu, as arranged by Mulan, launches a huge firecracker that hits Shan Yu and carries him off to his death. The fate of the remaining five Hun warriors is never fully disclosed.
The Emperor meets Mulan and, in an accusatory tone, lists Mulan's crimes, but nevertheless pardons her for saving China and himself. The Emperor then bows to Mulan, which is considered an extremely high honor as it implies being of a higher status than the Emperor, while the hundreds of observers kow-tow (an Eastern bowing position with one's face and palms to the floor). The Emperor then offers Mulan a position among his staff (even offering to have her replace Chi-Fu). Though certainly flattered by the offer, Mulan politely declines it, explaining that she'd rather go back home to her family. The Emperor accepts this, and he gives her Shan Yu's sword, along with his crest, for her to bring home and give honor to her family.
Upon her return, Mulan expects to be reprimanded but is instead embraced by her family. Shang arrives to talk with Mulan, having been encouraged to tell her his feelings for her by the Emperor. The ancestors reluctantly agree to make Mushu a guardian once more and celebration ensues.
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), the principal protagonist, based on Hua Mulan. She disguises herself as a man and joins the Chinese Imperial Army in her father's place. Instead of being punished for doing so, she ends up a war hero. Kelly Chen and Coco Lee voiced Mulan in the Cantonese and Taiwanese Mandarin dubs of the film respectively, while Xu Qing and Ye Bei were the speaking and singing voices respectively in the Standard Mandarin version.
- Eddie Murphy as Mushu, a dragon and one of the Fa family's guardian spirits, previously demoted after misguiding one of the Fa family ancestors. He serves as the film's deuteragonist. He is reinstated as a guardian after successfully aiding Mulan in her efforts in the army. Eric Kot, Jacky Wu, and Chen Peisi provided the voice of Mushu in the Cantonese, Taiwanese Mandarin, and Standard Mandarin versions, respectively.
- BD Wong as Captain Li Shang (singing voice provided by Donny Osmond), the son of General Li and the officer in charge of training the Imperial Army's new recruits. He is the tritagonist of the film. Jackie Chan provided the speaking and singing voice of Li Shang in all three Chinese versions.
- Miguel Ferrer as Shan Yu, the film's chief antagonist and the head of the Hun army who attempts to conquer the Chinese Empire.
- Harvey Fierstein as Yao, a short but tough Imperial Army recruit who was initially antagonistic towards but later befriends Mulan. Known for the fact that his left eye is constantly swollen shut. Despite this supposed handicap, he exhibits great proficiency with range weapons; namely the bow and the rocket.
- Gedde Watanabe as Ling (singing voice provided by Matthew Wilder), a lanky Imperial Army recruit who befriends Mulan. Initially seen as a weakling, he later develops the capacity to deliver a hard and painful headbutt through Li Shang's training.
- Jerry Tondo as Chien-Po, a huge, rotund, good-natured, and inhumanly strong Imperial Army recruit who befriends Mulan. He appears to be one of the few who could appease Yao; mainly by the means of calming him down by holding him up and telling him to chant with him.
- James Hong as Chi-Fu, a misogynistic member of the Emperor's council and advisor to Li Shang who refuses to allow the recruits to join the battle against the Huns.
- Soon-Tek Oh as Fa Zhou, Mulan's father and a renowned war veteran.
- June Foray as Grandmother Fa (singing voice provided by Marni Nixon), the grandmother of Mulan, who is encouraging her to find a husband.
- Pat Morita as the Emperor of China, the target of a Hun kidnapping who commends Mulan after saving him and the Chinese Empire. Wise and decisive, he stated that "a single grain of rice can tip the scale; one man may be the difference between victory and defeat." Ironically, he was saved by a woman at the near end of the first film.
- George Takei as First Ancestor Fa, the head of the Fa family ancestors.
- Freda Foh Shen as Fa Li, Mulan's mother, who looks strikingly like her except that Fa Li has a different hairstyle and is chubbier than Mulan.
- James Shigeta as General Li, Li Shang's father who was killed in a battle against the Hun army.
- Miriam Margolyes as the Matchmaker, who attempts to find Mulan a husband at the start of the film.
- Frank Welker as Khan, Mulan's horse; and Cri-Kee, a cricket given to Mulan as a good luck charm. Considering all he survives, he certainly seems to be lucky.
- Tom Amundsen
- Arminae Austen
- Mary Kay Bergman
- Susan Boyd
- Julianne Buescher
- Steve Bulen
- Corey Burton
- Mitch Carter
- Robert Clotworthy
- David Cowgill
- Sally Dworsky
- Beth Fowler
- Don Fullilove
- Elisa Gabrielli
- Jack Gilpin
- Sandie Hall
- Richard S. Horvitz
- Linda Kerns
- Matthew Labyorteaux
- Conan Lee
- Dana Lee
- Edie Lehmann-Boddicker
- Luisa Leschin
- Christina Ma
- Susan McBride
- Huanani Minn
- Edie Mirman
- Mark Moseley
- Patrick Pinney
- Peter Renaday
- Maurita Thornburg-Phillips
- John Walcutt
- Frank Welker
- Claudette Wells
- Mark Henn (Mulan and Fa Zhou)
- Tom Bancroft (Mushu)
- Pres Romanillos (Shan Yu, Falcon, and Elite Huns)
- Ruben A. Aquino (Shang and Fa Li)
- Aaron Blaise (Yao and the Ancestors)
- Broose Johnson (Chien Po and Ling)
- Alex Kupershmidt (Khan and General Li)
- Barry Temple (Cri-Kee)
- Main article: Mulan (video)
Reception of Mulan was mostly positive, gathering a 86% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Stephen Wong described the visuals as "stunning," Kyle Suggs described the visuals as "breathtaking," and Dan Jardine described the visuals as "magnificently animated." Many praise the movie for attempting something new. Fa Mulan is unlike a traditional Disney heroine, suggesting that she is independent and brave; without being overtly glamorous.
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".
A negative review described it as a "disappointment." The songs are accused of not being memorable, and slowing down the pace of the movie. Some reviewers suggest that the film is "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 domestically and $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. However, these figures were criticized as being a significant decrease from former Disney films, and this was considered a sign of the decreasing popularity of cartoon animation. Top international releases include the United Kingdom ($14.6 million) and France ($10.2 million).
Mulan won many Annie Awards. The film itself won the award for Best Animated Theatrical Feature. Individual achievement awards were awarded to Pam Coats for producing; Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft for Directing; Rita Hsiao, Christopher Sanders, Philip 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 Wen for Voice Acting for 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. 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. 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. Wilder and 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 10 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.
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. 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 film may take place even later, as it prominently features landmarks such as the Forbidden City which was not constructed until the 15th Century. On the other hand, at the time of Northern Wei, the Xiongnu (Huns) had been already absorbed into Chinese culture. However, according to the style of dress (traditional Han clothing), the film takes place sometime in the 15th century or before. The fireworks featured in the movie indicate that the movie is set during the Sui dynasty. Although Mulan is set in north China, where the dominant language is Mandarin, the Disney film uses the Cantonese pronunciation, "Fa", of her family name. In Mandarin her name is pronounced "Hua".
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 being the "sophisticated lady" her society expects her to be after failing the matchmaker's training, dishonoring Mulan's family. In the original Mulan legend, Mulan uses her father's name Li and not the name "Ping" and she was never discovered as a girl, unlike the film. Also in the original legend, Mulan went to war for her father, because her father was getting too old to fight, and had no sons to take his place. However, in the film, it was added that her father's leg was injured.
The script used for most of the text in Mulan is Traditional Chinese, which is no longer used in daily life on Mainland China (but still used in Hong Kong, Macau, and many overseas Chinese communities), although people are still able to read it. The traditional name for the leaders of the Central Asian Huns was Shanyu. The war between the Huns and China was real, called the Sino-Xiongnu War.
When Mulan masquerades as a man, her name is a pun in Chinese. Her first name is "Ping" (瓶), meaning pot, and her surname (placed first using Chinese naming conventions) means Flower (花). Together they make "Flowerpot", a Chinese term meaning an effeminate man. According to Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Stories and Sketches by Maurice Baring, "Ping" in Chinese means soldier-man, and if you wish to express your contempt for a man there is no word in the whole of the Chinese language which expresses it so fully and so emphatically as the word Ping. Chi-Fu's name literally means "to bully" in Chinese.
- When Ling loses his teeth after getting punched in the face, you see him later with all of his teeth back.
- During the trek to the pass and during the battle, the number of soldiers increases and decreases multiple times.
- Mulan was the first movie created outside L.A., California, created by Disney's Studio in Florida.
- Mulan was almost a PG movie but went by different standards to get G. If it had been rated PG, it would have been the second Disney movie to be rated this after The Black Cauldron and the first Disney Princess movie to be rated PG.
- During the avalanche, Mulan's helmet gets blown off and Shang's horse disappears but are both seen later in the film.
- It took five years to make Mulan.
- The movie was almost a short movie titled China Doll until Robert D. San Souci came along.
- Mulan was originally supposed to be betrothed to a wealthy man but this was changed so that it would not seem she was joining the army for selfish reasons.
- When the troops discover that the Huns destroyed a village in the Tung Shao Pass, numerous dead bodies of soldiers can be seen, making Mulan the only Disney movie that shows numerous dead bodies.
- Mulan awards, by far, the Disney highest 'on screen' body count since the avalanche implies the death of thousands of Huns, leaving only a few survivors.
- The original theatrical release poster for Mulan makes a cameo in Nani's bedroom in Lilo & Stitch.
- Lea Salonga, who sings as Mulan, sang as Jasmine.
- There was supposed to be a Mulan 3 released in 2006, but it was canceled.
- Mulan was supposed to appear as a young child in the original script of the film, but this was deleted because animators felt people would think she just wanted to be a soldier since it was a childhood interest, rather than to save her father.
- Mulan is played by Ming-Na Wen who also plays Agent Melinda May in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
The original story of Mulan was based on the fifth century Chinese poem the Ballad of Mulan. The original poem was originally a short fable, designed to show gender equality, but in the following centuries it was developed until Hua Mulan became a legendary figure. As little contemporary evidence exists other than the poem, it is unknown whether she was a real or fictional figure.
- Mushu calls Mulan Sleeping Beauty when he wakes her up.
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 princess 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 two 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") 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. 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 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.
The song "I'll Make a Man Out of You" was performed by Donny Osmond, who commented that his children decided that he had finally "made it" in show business when he was in a Disney film.
On Classic Disney: 60 Years of Musical Magic, this includes "I'll Make a Man Out of You" on the orange disc. And on Disney's Greatest Hits, this also includes "Reflection" on the blue disc, and "I'll Make a Man Out of You" on the green disc.
Stephen Schwartz, lyricist and composer of Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame was originally hired to write and compose songs for the film, but these were not used due to his decision to continue with his work on the DreamWorks film The Prince of Egypt. Despite this, one of these songs, "Written in Stone," was later used for the children's theatre production Mulan Jr.
References in Other Media
References to Mulan in Disney Media
- When Mulan sings "Reflection", in her father's shrine, her reflection appears in the polished surface of the temple stones. The writing on the stones is the names of the Disney animators who worked on the film written in ancient Chinese.
- In the scene where Mushu awakens the ancestors, one set of grandparents worry that Mulan's quest will ensure her family loses their farm. This couple appears to be the couple on the farm in Grant Wood's famous painting American Gothic.
- There are a number of Hidden Mickeys in this film, including the spots on Shang's horse's neck and rump and in the training sequences, the first time the soldiers use their rockets.
- Although she is technically not a princess, Mulan is an official member of the Disney Princess franchise. More often than not, Mulan is the subject of internet debates over whether she is a "real princess" or not, but her inclusion in Disney's official line-up leaves little question to the matter.
- In the film Lilo & Stitch, Nani has a poster of Mulan in her room.
- Mulan is present in the Disney and Square Enix video game series Kingdom Hearts. In the first Kingdom Hearts game 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 (and Ping) able to join the player's party as a skilled sword fighter. In the title's manga adaptation, the character skirts the fourth wall to reference his absence in previous installments, an acknowledgement of the fact that Mushu did not appear in the Kingdom Hearts or Chain of Memories manga titles due to only being a summoned character.
- In Tarzan, when the apes are jiggling Professor Porter, the things that fall out of his pockets include a plush doll of Little Brother.
References to Mulan in popular culture
- The British sitcom Spaced referenced Mulan in the second episode of the second series. In the show, characters are frequently hard-pressed to draw a line between fantasy and reality, and in this scene the character Daisy recalls Mulan as someone she has met "when she was traveling" until another character reminds her it was 'a Disney film'. Daisy also sings a very badly-remembered line of 'Reflection'.
- In the television show Firefly, Shepherd Book mentions a Chinese warlord named Shan Yu who purportedly believed you could only truly know a man by torturing him.
- Comedian Margaret Cho referred to a fish and rice diet a tabloid (falsely) reported her adhering to as being "so Mulan," in that it was based on the stereotypes of her ethnic background.
- In the Ugly Betty season one episode "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", Mulan is referenced when Betty is quizzing Marc on his knowledge of her to fool his mother into thinking they are dating. However, he does not know much, as is evidenced when the question is about her favorite princess, and Marc guesses Mulan. Henry, on the other hand, knows it is Cinderella.
- In the episode of Family Guy titled "Love Thy Trophy", Stewie is taken from the Griffin family and placed in the foster care of a couple who has adopted many children of different racial backgrounds (Chinese, Indian, African, Inuit, etc.). Stewie turns them all against each other by letting them know of the conflicts between their homelands and then by getting them to argue the ethnicity of Santa Claus. During the argument, one child tells his adopted Chinese sister to "Go back to your rice paddy, Mulan!"