Things ain’t what they used to be for the Disney animated musical. The house that Walt built reinvented itself in the Nineties with Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, but the formula wore thin with Pocahontas and Hercules, Audiences drifted away.
Drift back, people, Mulan, based on a 4,000 year old Chinese legend about a girl who joins the army as a man — the kind of artful animation that makes this movie worthwhile beyond the ?? die ghetto (a team of artists spent three weeks in China for inspiration). There are amazing sights, including an avalanche and Hun soldiers on the attack. And the film shines at capturing the watercolor delicacy of China’s past.
Mulan, assertively voiced by Ming Na-Won, is being set up for marriage by her family. Instead, she replaces her father — he’s to sick to fight — in the emperor’s army by cutting her hair and acting butch, Mulan could have degenerated into a Chinese Yentl, The songs, by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel, are filler. And did Mulan really need a lucky cricket, Cri-Kee? Still, Eddie Murphy is hilarious as the voice of Mushu, a skinny dragon with more ?? than Godzilla. And Mulan, who won’t go back to being submissive after she’s revealed as a girl, makes a feisty prefeminist. She doesn’t swoon over Captain Shang, the hunky officer (sung by Donny Osmond), which leaves Shang as frustrated as the rest of this summer’s action heroes. Mulan, let the record show, does not put out.