Having exhausted the canon of classic European fairy tales and childrens books that provided the basic story material for five decades of animated features, the filmmakers at Disney have, in recent years, turned to the Middle East (Aladdin), colonial America (Pocahontas), and Africa (The Lion King). (They have also turned to the world of adult literature, leading to their ambitious, but misbegotten, version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.)
An Asian Classic
Now—and its about time—they've looked to the Far East, where there is a body of fable at least as rich and well-recorded as in Europe. The new Mulan cleaves relatively faithfully to the bare bones of the oft-told Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, a young woman who is supposed to have taken her ailing fathers place in the Emperors army during a fierce invasion.
Disney has changed her family name from Hua to Fa— which is no great sacrilege, since even the historical records of the real Mulan can't seem to agree on her name or even the century in which she lived. In Disney's version, China is threatened when an army of Huns, led by Shan-Yu (voice of Miguel Ferrer), breach the Great Wall. The Emperor (Pat Morita) demands that one man from each family in his kingdom join the fight. Elderly, infirm Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh), the only male in the Fa family, prepares to do his duty. To protect him, his doting daughter, Mulan (Ming-Na Wen), cuts her hair and goes off in drag in his place.