June 19, 1998 – The 36th Animated Feature, Mulan, is Released to Theaters
“A single grain of rice can tip the scale. One man may mean the difference between victory and defeat.”
On June 19, 1998, the animated feature Mulan was released to theaters. The story was based on a 2,000-year-old Chinese folktale, and a select group of Disney artistic supervisors spent a three-week trip in China to study the culture and landscape. It was the first feature film to be predominantly produced at the Disney Feature Animation Studio in Walt Disney World, Florida. The film was directed by Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft, and stars Ming-Na Wen as Mulan, with Lea Salonga providing Mulan’s singing voice, B.D. Wong as Shang, Donny Osmond as Shang’s singing voice, Eddie Murphy as Mushu, Miguel Ferrer as Shan-Yu, and Harvey Fierstein as Yao. The film is also notable for its casting choices overseas, namely Jackie Chan playing the role of Shang in the Chinese version.
The movie begins with an attack on the Great Wall of China by the Hun Army. One brave solider lights the signal, then tells Shan-Yu, head of the Hun Army, “Now all of China knows you’re here.” Shan-Yu smiles evilly, takes the flag of the Emperor, burns it, and says simply, “Perfect.” The Emperor declares that troops are needed to protect his people, and sends out a message for new recruits. Mulan, the main character, is then seen writing words on her arm while eating her breakfast before realizing she’s late for her morning chores. Her father is seen praying to the ancestors to help Mulan impress the matchmaker.
Mulan steps forward, begging the Imperial Army to spare her injured father
Mulan hurries into town, with her mother watching anxiously for her arrival. When Mulan arrives, there’s a great many things that need to be done to get her ready to see the matchmaker. She’s rather nervous, and worried about bringing her family honor. Unfortunately, Mulan starts off on the wrong foot with the matchmaker, and she only stumbles into more problems, concluding with her setting the matchmaker on fire. The matchmaker declares, in front of the entire village, that Mulan will never bring her family honor. At home, her father cheers her up by letting her know that the late-blooming blossom will be the most beautiful of them all. Soon after, the Emperor’s declaration that one man from every family must serve in the Imperial Army is announced, and Mulan’s father, who was injured the last time the Emperor needed soldiers, decides to go to battle. Mulan shames her father by asking for her father to be spared. Knowing her father will never survive if he goes, Mulan steals his armor and takes his place, riding off to the Imperial Army’s camp, even though she knows if she is discovered, she will certainly be killed.
The Fa family’s ancestors awaken, deciding which guardian should go to protect her. Mushu, a dragon that used to be a guardian but was demoted for his bad service, has to go awaken the Great Stone Dragon, but accidentally destroys it. Fooling the family into thinking it’s awakened, Mushu meets up with a cricket (one that the grandmother declared lucky), who tells him that they should go and rescue Mulan. Thinking it’s a good way to get back in the ancestors’ good graces, Mushu decides to make Mulan a war hero. Mulan isn’t so convinced that “a little lizard” can protect her, but Mushu convinces her that he can do the job. When they enter the camp, however, Mushu proves himself to be more of a problem than a help; Mulan ends up getting the entire camp in trouble.
Shang’s troops make a grim discovery as they go through the pass
Shang trains his troops diligently, although the men are rather green to begin, and he reaches the conclusion at one point that Mulan (going under the name Ping) should go home. Determined to stay, Mulan proves her worth, and soon, the whole team is battle-ready. Mulan makes friends with Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po, who become her closest comrades. Mushu pretends to be an officer and gets the team sent out to meet the other Imperial Army troops. When they get to the pass, they find that the village there has been obliterated, including the Imperial Army section led by Shang’s father, the general. They then are caught in a surprise attack by the Huns, but Mulan saves the day by crushing the Hun Army with an avalanche. After she saves Shang from the fast-approaching snow, he realizes she’s been injured in her dealings with Shan-Yu, and a medical tent is set up for her. Unfortunately, her secret is discovered, and Shang is forced to kill her. He decides to spare her life, as she had saved his, and his debt has been repaid. Mulan is then deserted in the pass as the Army moves to the Imperial City.
As Mulan is left behind with her horse, Mushu, and the cricket, the four make the startling discovery that members of the Hun Army are still alive, including Shan-Yu, and are on their way to kill the Emperor. Mulan goes after them to warn Shang, but no one will listen to a woman. When the Huns surprise everyone with a sneak attack and kidnap the Emperor, Shang and his men are at a loss at what to do, but Mulan comes up with a plan: Ling, Chien-Po, and Yao dress up as concubines to infiltrate the palace. Shang joins their plan to help Mulan, and a fight ensues, with Mulan battling one-on-one with Shan-Yu. She manages to defeat and kill him with Mushu’s help, using the fireworks for the ceremony. The Emperor emerges, declaring, “I’ve heard a great deal about you, Fa Mulan. You stole your father’s armor, ran away from home, impersonated a soldier, deceived your commanding officer, dishonored the Chinese army, destroyed my palace, and…you have saved us all.” He gives her the sword of Shan-Yu and the crest of the Emperor in honor of her brave deeds, and everyone in attendance bows in respect. As Mulan leaves, Shang tries to say something profound, but can only say, “You fight good.” Disappointed, but relieved to go home, Mulan decides to return to her family. The Emperor tells Shang off for letting her go, telling him that “you don’t meet a girl like that every dynasty.”
The ancestors watch as all is well with the Fa family
Mulan arrives home with trepidation, unsure at what her father’s reaction will be. He embraces her, just glad to see her home alive. Her grandmother isn’t so happy, wondering why her granddaughter couldn’t bring home a man, when Shang appears, looking for Mulan, under the guise of trying to return her helmet. Mulan asks if he would like to stay for dinner, and a romance appears to bloom between the two. Mushu is reinstated as a guardian, and all the ancestors wake up for a celebration.