Mulan was the 36th entry in Disney’s Animated Classics series. The film is based on the legend of Hua Mulan, a woman who, according to the story, lived during the Han Dynasty. For twelve years (while posing as a man) she practiced kung fu and fought bravely in the army, becoming a well-respected soldier before retiring to her hometown (with nobody suspecting the truth that she was a woman). The score was composed and conducted by the legendary Jerry Goldsmith, while the songs were written by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel.
I remember seeing the trailers for Mulan in the theater (the footage was taken from Mulan’s transformation into her male disguise), and this film certainly didn’t disappoint me once I saw it for myself. The animation is stunningly gorgeous, the colors are vibrant and the story is very well done. After nearly a decade of churning out great animated films, Disney was in peak form and it really shows here.
In Disney’s Mulan, the story starts at the Great Wall of China, built as a barrier to keep invaders out. While the guards patrol, invaders suddenly appear: it’s the Huns, led by the feared warrior leader Shan Yu! The Hun leader sees the Great Wall as a personal challenge from the Emperor and he’s more than happy to invade and prove that his Hun army is superior to anything the Chinese can throw at him. News of the Hun invasion is brought to the Imperial Palace, and the Emperor commands that all reserves be called up, as he puts it: “A single grain of rice can tip the scales; one man, may be the difference, between victory and defeat.”
At the same time, across China, a young girl named Mulan is practicing for some type of examination (she’s painting cheat notes on her forearm). Today is apparently a very big day: this is the day Mulan is presented to the local matchmaker to determine what sort of husband she will have. Being a girl in ancient China, making a good marriage is the only way that Mulan can hope to bring honor to her family. Well, for such a big day, it’s not getting off to a great start, because Mulan is LATE!!
Racing into town on her horse Khan, Mulan is ushered into a series of rooms where she is bathed, dressed and painted to look like a beautiful, traditional Chinese lady from a good family. This is the setting of “Honor to Us All.” Each section of Mulan’s preparation constitutes a different verse of the song, and each verse sings of how obedient girls should be, how finding a great husband is everything, and being the best wife one can be brings great honor to the family and honor is EVERYTHING.
During this entire sequence, there are already hints that Mulan is not your average girl. For one, she has no qualms about riding a horse into town, hair all askew. For another, she appears to have a mind for strategy: in between rooms, she passes by two men playing a game called Go. After observing the board for a moment, she makes a move that apparently wins the game for one of the players (though neither of the men playing could see the move themselves).
Mulan looks distinctly uncomfortable throughout the process of being dressed up (she makes a face when she sees her painted face), and deep down she is terrified of disappointing her family (whom she wants to please very much). As a finishing touch, Mulan is given a beautiful jade necklace, a yin-yang pendant and a “lucky” cricket by her grandmother. Mulan is barely finished in time and must go racing after the other girls who are already en route to the matchmaker.
“Scarier than the undertaker, we are meeting our matchmaker!!”
In the nick of time, Mulan is able to join the other girls and comport herself so that she too looks like a perfectly behaved young lady. But while the other girls in line seem quite happy to be meeting the matchmaker, Mulan still isn’t quite sure about the whole affair, but it’s too late to back out now, because they’ve arrived at the matchmaker’s house.
Random thoughts and trivia!
- I LOVE the reveal of who “Little Brother” really is. You absolutely expect a human, only to find that it’s really….a dog!
- Mulan’s singing voice is provided by Lea Salonga, who was also the singing voice of Princess Jasmine.
- Mulan’s SPEAKING voice is provided by Ming-Na Wen, aka Melinda May in Agents of SHIELD
- Grandmother Fa is voiced by June Foray, better known for voicing Granny and Witch Hazel in the Looney Tunes cartoons, amongst many other roles
- Mulan is the final film in the Disney Renaissance to be presented in the format of a musical.
I hope you enjoy listening to “Honor to Us All”!
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