1998, Movie, G, 86 mins


The folks at Disney prove that clothes -- and little else -- make a man, and do so with extraordinary style. This wonderful adaptation of a 2,000-year-old Chinese poem about a young woman who cross-dresses her way into China's imperial army stands alongside some of the studio's finest achievements. Intelligent and fiercely independent, Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) runs afoul of social expectations that a woman will be always obedient and duty-bound to her husband. Her parents are starting to doubt that they'll ever arrange a marriage that will bring honor to the family, and Mulan knows that the person they want her to be and the person she really is are entirely different. But when the brutal Hun leader Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer) storms the Great Wall of China and Mulan's ailing father is drafted into the imperial army, she finds another way to honor her ancestors: Knowing that her father is too sick to serve, she cuts her hair, steals his armor and shows up for basic training disguised as a man -- a heroic deception, but one punishable by death. The film succeeds on just about every level. The animation is gorgeous, simple but drawn with a lushness reminiscent of BAMBI: The opening shot of the Great Wall and the central battle sequence are truly breathtaking, and the animators do wonderful things with smoke and reflections. The script is razor-sharp and the comic relief -- mostly provided by Mulan's pip-squeak of a guardian dragon, voiced with gusto by Eddie Murphy -- is actually very funny. The generally undistinguished songs are the weak link, but even they are crafted with a knowing, almost camp wink that's totally in keeping with the subtext of the film: "I'll Make a Man Out of You" could be a Village People original. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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