on June 19, 1998 by Bridget Byrne
   The physical beauty and dramatic energy of both Mulan, the warrior maiden, and "Mulan," the animated movie which tells her story, almost triumph over the old-fashioned forces of Disney tradition. But alas, amid the newfound sophisticated sensibility and sensational visual style, there remain talking animals, tiresome songs and a touch too much trepidation about the complex age-old conflict of the sexes' struggle for perfect equilibrium.
   This very "now" once-upon-a-time tale depicts a young Chinese girl breaking ancient cultural bonds to become an action hero, but not without the inevitable cute creature as a sidekick. Mushu, a tiny hustler of a dragon, does provide some witty moments and salient plot points, but he's played as too much of a scene stealer and, as voiced by Eddie Murphy, is simply too Hollywood for a movie which seems created with a higher ideal in mind. Much more satisfactory is Mulan's splendid horse which is depicted as a true equine and doesn't have to make a noisy jackass of himself to get noticed and help out.
   Mulan, embodied by the voice of Ming-Na Wen, has pride, charm, spirit and aesthetic appeal which prevents her from being upstaged by the vigorous and exciting action in which she participates full throttle. These sequences--particularly the battle in the snowy mountains created by combining traditional animation with computer technology-- have a sweep, boldness and majesty which evoke the awe and excitement of classic Westerns and modern special effects movies.
   The invading Hun leader Shan-Yu, voiced by Miguel Ferrer, has the stature and single-mindedness necessary for an arch villain. A little more problematic is Shang, the army officer whom Mulan finds time to fancy despite being so busy doing a man's job. But the animators have rendered him with an attractiveness which is more appealing and less bland than the usual dud Disney suitors, and B.D. Wong's voice gives him dignity and reserve. Starring the voices of Ming-Na Wen, B.D. Wong, Miguel Ferrer and Eddie Murphy. Directed by Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft. Written by Rita Hsiao, Christopher Sanders, Philip Lazebnik, Raymond Singer and Eugenia Bostwick-Singer. Produced by Pam Coats. A Buena Vista release. Animated musical drama. Rated G. Running time: 88 min
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