Rated G - Running time: 1:28 - Released 6/19/98

In a year when Disney has turned out some truly awful live-action pictures, this summer's major cartoon release, Mulan, shows that the animation department is definitely separate from the office that produces the other Disney films. In keeping with their recent tradition, it is fun, touching, and beautifully animated, with catchy tunes and lots of action. A telling testimonial for this film is my 6-year-old's first exuberant utterance as the credits began rolling: "Can we get the video?"

Mulan (voice of Ming Na-Wen) is a teenage girl coming of age in feudal China, who cannot reconcile herself with her role in the strict society. She knows she has more to offer the world than simply being a docile ornament to a prospective husband, as is expected of her.

A message comes that the Huns have attacked, so each family in the village must send one male to serve in the Emperor's army. Mulan's aging father, already disabled from a previous conflict, is forced to accept the responsibility. But Mulan cannot watch him go to face certain death, so, in the dark of night, she cuts off her long hair, dons his armor, and sets off to join the army, masquerading as a man.

Of course, the ghosts of Mulan's family ancestors are aware of what has transpired, and decide to send one of their most powerful animal spirits to retrieve her and restore honor to the family. That is, they plan to send a powerful one, but the one that ends up going is Mushu (Eddie Murphy), a scrawny, scrappy little dragon who is desperate to regain the honored stature he lost through some previous misadventure. He catches up with Mulan and accompanies her as she rides into the soldiers' camp and enlists. There, thanks to her intelligence and his occasionally successful help, she proves herself as an adequate warrior.

At this time, she meets Li Shang (B.D. Wong), a dashing young commander for whom she quickly develops feelings she dare not show. After a humorous training segment not unlike the one in last year's Hercules, Mulan and her adoptive army of misfits go into battle against the evil Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer), leader of the Huns.

Visually, this movie reminds me of Hercules. While films like Aladdin, The Lion King, and Pocahontas used subtle texturing to represent a more or less realistic representation of life, these more recent films are more colorful, using bright primary shades for a simpler look. The linear story of this film is simple, too, with little time spent on sub-plots or character development. This seems to underscore the simplicity of ancient Chinese traditions, and the simplicity of thought associated with Confucianism.

Eddie Murphy, as the film's main source of comedy, is very successful at lightening the somber subject matter, and through his hip characterization of what would normally be a stoic Chinese dragon, shows why Mushu has trouble fitting in with his fellows.

Mulan is ideal for little kids who don't need a long, complex story to turn them on. At less than 1½ hours long, it gets the job done before they have time to get bored, but the beauty of the cinema and the engaging characterizations will appeal to adults as well. ****½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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