A worthy warrior, but failing none the less
"Mulan" was created and released at the end of the Disney Renaissance, in between animated gems "Hercules" and "Tarzan", respectively. And while it packs in a good amount of "girl power" and other positive/empowering messages ("You don't need to be male to BE A HERO!!"), it does not warrant the same praise or respect as the other Disney movies in its time period. A genuine Disney classic, it is not. It does not even come close. From beginning to end, the tone is constantly wavering between levity and high drama, quirky comedy and full-blasted action, silly songs and traumatizing scenes of war. And unlike many a Disney film before, it does not mesh these elements well, feeling rather disconnected from the story its trying to tell. The quality of the animation is equally unreliable, as is the effectiveness of the score. At times, Mulan is brilliantly put together, but as you sigh your breath of relief, another cheap gag or misfitting plot element is thrown in yet again. "Mulan" also fails to set a good atmosphere, taking far too few chances with adapting Chinese culture, and often feeling more like a mockery than an homage to the ancient Chinese legend it is based upon. But not all is bad - Mulan is not exactly a well-developed character, but she and Shang are none the less engaging. Mulan's animal sidekicks are actually funnier than we give them credit for, as are her male soldier colleagues. And the messages the film strives to put forward do, in fact, resonate quite well. Mulan comes to terms with her identity of a tomboy after being at odds with both an extremely feminine and extremely masculine side being forced upon her. Gender roles are challenged, defied and discussed. Family pride is set aside in favor of love and acceptance. Bravery and boldness are as important in winning a fight as quick wits and planning ahead. All in all, Mulan makes for an uneven and oft flawed, but ultimately enjoyable viewing. Just don't expect a full-on Disney classic when you put it on - expect a nostalgic trip to the 90s that accomodates to reasonable expectations, delivers well most of the time and even surprises at some points. 7.5 / 10.