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Mulan (1998 film)

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Mulan (1998 film)

Promotional poster by John Alvin
Directed by Tony Bancroft
Barry Cook
Produced by Pam Coats
Screenplay by Rita Hsiao
Philip LaZebnik
Chris Sanders
Eugenia Bostwick-Singer
Raymond Singer
Story by Robert D. San Souci
Starring Ming-Na
Eddie Murphy
BD Wong
Miguel Ferrer
Harvey Fierstein
June Foray
George Takei
Pat Morita
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Edited by Michael Kelly
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures
Release dates
  • June 19, 1998 (1998-06-19)
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $90 million[1]
Box office $304.3 million[2]

Mulan is a 1998 American animated musical action-comedy-drama film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan. The 36th animated feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics, it was directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook, with story by Robert D. San Souci and screenplay by Rita Hsiao, Philip LaZebnik, Chris Sanders, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, and Raymond Singer. Ming-Na, Eddie Murphy, Miguel Ferrer and BD Wong star in the English version, while Jackie Chan provided his voice for the Chinese dubs of the film. The film's plot takes place during the Han Dynasty, where Fa Mulan, daughter of aged warrior Fa Zhou, impersonates a man to takes her father's place during a general conscription to counter a Hun invasion.

Released during the Disney Renaissance, Mulan was the first of three features produced primarily at the Disney animation studio at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida. Development for the film began in 1994, when a number of artistic supervisors were sent to China to receive artistic and cultural inspiration. Mulan was well received by critics and the public, grossing $304 million, earning Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, and winning several Annie Awards including Best Animated Feature. A 2005 direct-to-video sequel, Mulan II, followed.


The Huns, led by the ruthless Shan Yu, invade Han China. The Chinese emperor begins to command a general mobilization. Each family is given a conscription notice, requiring one man from each family to join the Chinese army. When Fa Mulan hears that her elderly father Fa Zhou, the only man in their family, is once more to go to war, anxiety and apprehension affect her. Mulan decides to take matters into her own hands, by putting on the guise of a man so that she can go to war instead of her father. When her family learns of Mulan's departure, they all become anxious. Fa Zhou, Mulan's father, prays to his family's ancestors for the safety of his child. The ancestors then order their "Great Stone Dragon" to protect Mulan. The ancestors are unaware that the statue of Great Stone Dragon failed to come to life, and that Mushu, a small dragon, is the one to go and protect Mulan.

Mulan is misguided by Mushu in how to behave like a man, which starts a ruckus at the training camp. However, under command of Li Shang, she and her new co-workers at the camp, Yao, Ling and Chien-Po, become skilled warriors. Mushu, desiring to see Mulan succeed, creates a fake order from Li Shang's father, General Li, ordering Li Shang to follow them into the mountains. The troops set out to meet General Li, but arrive at a burnt-out encampment and discover that General Li and his troops have been wiped out by the Huns. As they solemnly leave the mountains, they are ambushed by the Huns, but the clever use of a rocket by Mulan creates an avalanche which buries most of the Huns. Mulan is slashed in the chest by an enraged Shan Yu, and her deception is revealed when the wound is bandaged. Instead of executing Mulan as the law requires, Li Shang relents and decides to spare her life for saving him, but expels her from the army, stranding her on the mountain as the rest of the army departs for the Imperial City to report the news of the Huns' demise. However it is revealed that several Hun warriors including Shan Yu survive the avalanche, and Mulan catches sight of them as they make their way to the City, intent on capturing the Emperor.

At the Imperial City, Mulan attempts to warn Li Shang about Shan Yu, but he refuses to listen. The Huns appear to capture the Emperor, then they lock up the palace. With Mulan's help, Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po pose as concubines and are able to enter the palace and, with the help of Li Shang, they defeat Shan Yu's men. As Shang prevents Shan Yu from assassinating the Emperor, Mulan lures the boss Hun onto the roof where she engages him in solo combat. Meanwhile, acting on Mulan's instructions, Mushu fires a bundle of fireworks rockets at Shan Yu on her signal and kills him. Mulan is praised by the Emperor and the people of China, who all bow to her as an unprecedented honor. While she accepts the Emperor's crest and Shan Yu's sword as gifts, she politely declines his offer to be his advisor and asks to return to her family. She returns home and presents these gifts to her father, but he is more overjoyed to have his daughter back safely. Li Shang, who has become enamored with Mulan, soon arrives under the guise of returning her helmet, but accepts the family's invitation for dinner. Earlier in the film, Mulan was declared unfit for marriage, but this is not the case with her budding romance with Li Shang. Mushu is granted a position as a Fa family guardian by the ancestors amid a returning celebration.


From left to right: Cri-Kee; Mushu; Fa Mulan; Kahn

Kelly Chen, Coco Lee and Xu Qing voiced Mulan in the Cantonese, Taiwanese Mandarin and Mainland standard versions of the film respectively, while Jackie Chan provided the voice of Li Shang in all three Chinese versions and appeared in the version of promotional music videos of "I'll Make a Man Out of You".


Mulan originally began as a short, straight-to-video film titled "China Doll" about an oppressed and miserable Chinese girl who is whisked away by a British Prince Charming to happiness in the West. Then Disney consultant and children's book author Robert D. San Souci suggested making a movie of the Chinese poem "The Song of Fa Mu Lan", and Disney combined the two separate projects.[3][4]

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.[5] The filmmakers decided to change Mulan's character to make her more appealing and selfless[6] and turn the art style closer to Chinese painting, with watercolor and simpler design - as opposed to the details of The Lion King and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.[7]

To create 2,000 Hun soldiers during the Huns' attack sequence, the production team developed 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 open API 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.[8]


Critical reaction

Reception of Mulan was mostly positive. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a rating of 86%, based on 73 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The site's consensus reads, "Exploring themes of family duty and honor, Mulan breaks new ground as a Disney film, while still bringing vibrant animation and sprightly characters to the screen."[9] In a 2009 countdown, Rotten Tomatoes ranked it twenty-fourth out of the fifty canonical animated Disney features.[10] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 71 out of 100, based on 24 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11]

Kyle Suggs described the visuals as "breathtaking,"[12] and Dan Jardine described them as "magnificently animated."[13] 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". Negative reviews described it as a "disappointment." The songs were accused of not being memorable, and slowing down the pace of the movie.[14] Ed Gonzalez of Slant Magazine criticized the film as "soulless" in its portrayal of Asian society.[15]

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."[16] Nadya Labi agreed, 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 Mulan needed to become a boy in order to accomplish what she did. Kathleen Karlyn, an assistant professor of English at the University of Oregon, also criticized the film's portrayal of gender roles: "In order to even imagine female heroism, we're placing it in the realm of fantasy". Pam Coats, the producer of Mulan, said that the film aims to present a character who exhibits both masculine and feminine influences, being both physically and mentally strong.[17]

Box office performance

Mulan's opening weekend box office gross revenues were $22.8 million,[2] making it the second-highest grossing movie that week, behind only The X-Files.[18] It went on to gross $120 million in the U.S. and Canada combined, and $304 million worldwide, making it the second-highest grossing family film of the year, behind A Bug's Life, and the seventh-highest grossing film of the year overall.[19] While Mulan outgrossed the two Disney films which had preceded it, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules, its box office returns failed to match those of the Disney films of the early 1990s such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.[20] Internationally, its highest grossing releases included those in the United Kingdom ($14.6 million) and France ($10.2 million).[21]


Mulan won several Annie Awards, including Best Animated Feature and Individual achievement awards to Pam Coats for producing; Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft for directing; Rita Hsiao, Christopher Sanders, Phillip LaZebnick, Raymond Singer and Eugenia Bostwick-Singer for writing, Chris Sanders for storyboarding, Hans Bacher for production design, David Tidgwell for effects animation, Ming-Na for voice acting for the character of Mulan, Ruben A. Aquino for character animation, and Matthew Wilder, David Zippel and Jerry Goldsmith for music. (Tom Bancroft and Mark Henn were also nominated for an Annie Award for Character Animation.)[22] The musical score also received significant praise. Jerry Goldsmith won the 1999 BMI Film Music Award. The film was nominated in 1998 for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score, but was beaten out by Stephen Warbeck's score for Shakespeare in Love.[23] Matthew Wilder and David Zippel were nominated that year for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song for "Reflection". They were beaten by The Truman Show and "The Prayer" from Quest for Camelot, respectively.[24]

Reception in China

Disney was keen to promote Mulan to the Chinese, hoping to replicate their success with the 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.[25] China had threatened to curtail business negotiations with Disney over that film and, as the government only accepts ten Western films per year to be shown in their country, Mulan's chances of being accepted were low.[26] 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.[27][28] Box office income was low, due to both the unfavorable release date and rampant piracy. Chinese people also complained about Mulan's depiction as too foreign-looking and the story as too different from the myths.[29][30] By contrast, Dreamworks Animation's own effort ten years later, Kung Fu Panda, would be much more favorably received both for its artistry and cultural accuracy.

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 and 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 not being the "sophisticated lady" her society expects her to be. In the oldest version of the story, Mulan uses her father's name Li and she was never discovered as a girl, unlike the film.

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).[31] The fireworks featured in the movie indicate that the movie is set during the Sui dynasty. The film correctly omits foot binding, but includes numerous other anachronisms, such as the Ming era Forbidden City in Beijing (the Sui capital was near modern Xi'an). Though Mulan is set in northern China and employs her Mandarin personal name,[32] Disney gives her the Cantonese pronunciation (Fa) for her family name.


When Mulan masquerades as a man, her name is a Chinese pun. She takes the name "Fa Ping" (花平, Huā Píng), which sounds identical to 花瓶 (huāpíng), meaning both a literal "flowerpot" and figurative "eye candy". In Chinese versions, the joke is somewhat muted by the common practice of including subtitles to make the story easier to follow for speakers of China's many dialects. The subtitles simply read 平.

Chi Fu's name (欺负, qīfù) means "to pick on or ridicule".


In March 1994, Stephen Schwartz was attached to compose the lyrics and music for the songs for the film.[33] Following the research trip to China in June 1994, Schwartz was contacted by former Disney studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg to compose songs for The Prince of Egypt, which he agreed. Peter Schneider, the then-president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, threatened to have Schwartz's name removed from any publicity materials for Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Michael Eisner phoned Schwartz, and urged him to back out of his commitment to DreamWorks which he refused and left the project.[34] After Schwartz's departure, his three songs, "Written in Stone", "Destiny", and "China Doll", were dropped amid story and character changes by 1995.[35][36] Shortly after, Disney music executive Chris Montan heard Matthew Wilder's demo for a stage musical adaption of Anne Rice's Cry to Heaven, and selected Wilder to replace Schwartz. David Zippel then joined to write the lyrics.[35] The film featured five songs composed by Wilder and Zippel, with a sixth originally planned for Mushu, but dropped following Eddie Murphy's involvement with the character.[37] The film score of Mulan was composed by Jerry Goldsmith. The film's soundtrack is credited for starting the career of pop singer 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.[38] 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 2 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"), a Korean version performed by Lena Park 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. Salonga was originally also cast as Mulan's speaking voice, but the directors did not find her attempt at a deeper speaking voice when Mulan impersonated Ping convincing, so Ming-Na was brought in to speak the role.[39] 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 the limited edition CD.[40] Salonga, who often sings 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.

Captain Li Shang's singing voice, for the song "I'll Make a Man Out of You", was performed by Donny Osmond, who commented that his sons decided that he had finally "made it" in show business when he was in a Disney film.[41]


Video game

A PlayStation action-adventure game based on the film, titled Disney's Story Studio: Mulan, published by Ubisoft and developed by Revolution Software (under the name "Kids Revolution"), was released on December 15, 1999.[42][43] The game was met with generally positive reception and currently holds a 70.67% average rating at the review aggregator website GameRankings.[44]

Live action adaptation

Disney expressed interest in a live action and 3D adaptation of Mulan starring international star Zhang Ziyi. Chuck Russell was chosen as the director. However, the planned filming date of October 2010[45] was not met and the status of the project is still unknown.

Home video

Mulan was first released on VHS on February 2, 1999 after part of the Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection. It was then re-released under the 1999 Limited Issues line and 2000 Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection. The film was released on a 2 disc "Special Edition" DVD on October 26, 2004. Mulan and its sequel were released on a 3 disc Blu-Ray and DVD combo pack in March 2013 as part of the film's 15th anniversary.[46]

References in Disney media

Mushu in the game Kingdom Hearts

Although she is royalty neither by birth nor marriage (her husband is merely a high-ranking military officer), Mulan is part of the Disney Princess media franchise.[47] In the film Lilo & Stitch, Nani has a poster of Mulan in her room.[48] Mulan is also present in the Disney and Square Enix video game series Kingdom Hearts. In the first Kingdom Hearts and in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Mushu is a summonable character,[49] 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 characters (Sora, Donald and Goofy) and Mulan (both as herself and as "Ping") able to join the player's party as a skilled sword fighter.[49] Actress Jamie Chung plays a live-action version of Mulan in the second and third seasons of the ABC television series Once Upon a Time.[50]

See also


  1. ^ "Mulan". The-Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved May 14, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "Box Office Report for Mulan". Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  3. ^ Brown, Corie and Laura Shapiro. "Woman Warrior." Newsweek. Jun 8 1998. Vol 131: p. 64-66.
  5. ^ "Discovering Mulan" (Documentary film). Mulan DVD:  
  6. ^ "Finding Mulan" (Documentary film). Mulan DVD:  
  7. ^ "Art Design" (Documentary film). Mulan DVD:  
  8. ^ Mulan DVD Commentary (DVD).  
  9. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2014-10-13. 
  10. ^ "Disney Animation Celebration". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 28 November 2009. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ Suggs, Kyle (1998). "Review of Mulan". Christian Spotlight. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  13. ^ Jardine, Dan (1998). "Review of Mulan". Apollo Guide. Archived from the original on 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  14. ^ "Review of Mulan". Need Coffee. 1998. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  15. ^ Gonzales, Ed (1998). "Review of Mulan". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  16. ^ Nguyen, Mimi. "Negotiating Asian American superpower in Disney's Mulan". Pop Politics Media LLC. Archived from the original on 2008-02-18. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  17. ^ Labi, Nadya (1998-06-26). "Girl Power". TIME Magazine. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  18. ^ "Box Office Report for X-Files". Archived from the original on November 13, 2006. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  19. ^ "1998 worldwide grosses". Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  20. ^ Corliss, Richard (2002-06-24). "Stitch in Time?". TIME Magazine. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  21. ^ Woods, Mark (1998-12-07). "‘Bug’s’ bags bucks". Variety. Retrieved 2014-03-16. 
  22. ^ "26th Annie Award Winners". 1998. Archived from the original on 2012-05-25. Retrieved 2007-08-09. 
  23. ^ "1998 Academy Award Winners". 1999. Retrieved 2007-08-09. 
  24. ^ "1998 56th Golden Globe Awards". LA Times. Archived from the original on May 20, 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  25. ^ "Chinese unimpressed with Disney's Mulan". BBC News. March 19, 1999. Retrieved 2012-06-11. 
  26. ^ Michael Fleeman (1998). "Hollywood hopes more movies will follow Clinton to China". Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-06-23. 
  27. ^ Kurtenbach, Elaine (February 8, 1999). "China Allows Disney Film Screening". Associated Press. Retrieved 2007-06-23. 
  28. ^ Shelly Kraicer (August 14, 1999). "China vs. Hollywood : the BBC World Service talks to me". Retrieved 2007-06-23. 
  29. ^ "Chinese unimpressed with Disney's Mulan". BBC. March 19, 1999. Retrieved 2007-06-23. 
  30. ^ Langfitt, Frank (March 5, 1999). "Disney magic fails `Mulan' in China". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2007-06-23. 
  31. ^ J. Lau. "". Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  32. ^ "China Factbook". 
  33. ^ Gray, Tim (March 17, 1994). "Disney puts on a glitzy ‘Lion’ show".  
  34. ^ de Giere, Carol (September 8, 2008). Defying Gravity: The Creative Career of Stephen Schwartz from Godspell to Wicked.  
  35. ^ a b "The Music of Mulan".  
  36. ^ "Stephen Schwartz comments on Other Shows and Songs". 2010. Retrieved November 18, 2014. 
  37. ^ "Songs of Mulan" (Documentary film). Mulan DVD:  
  38. ^ Smith, Andy. "One talented teen". Providence Journal. 
  39. ^ Hischak, Thomas S. (2011). Disney Voice Actors: A Biographical Dictionary. McFarland. p. 186.  
  40. ^ Clemmensen, Christian (July 7, 2007). "Filmtracks: Mulan (Jerry Goldsmith)". Retrieved 2007-07-28. 
  41. ^ Scheerer, Mark (1998-07-08). "Donny Osmond rolls with the punches for 'Mulan' success". CNN. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  42. ^ "Disney's Story Studio: Mulan'".  
  43. ^ "Disney's Story Studio: Mulan'".  
  44. ^ "Disney's Story Studio: Mulan'".  
  45. ^ "Zhang Ziyi to produce and star in 3D Mulan film". Channel News Asia. July 27, 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
  46. ^ Review: Disney stays simple with “Mulan” I & II, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” I & II, and “Brother Bear” 1 & 2 on Blu-ray
  47. ^ "Disney Princess". Archived from the original on 2007-03-12. Retrieved 2007-08-18. 
  48. ^ "Lilo & Stitch Easter Egg Archive". Retrieved 2007-08-18. 
  49. ^ a b "Official Kingdom Hearts Website" (SWF). 2006-02-08. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  50. ^ Hibberd, James (July 6, 2012). Once Upon a Time' scoop: 'Hangover 2' actress cast as legendary warrior -- EXCLUSIVE"'".  

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