Much has been made of Mulan's unconventional heroine (a young Chinese woman, voiced by Ming-Na Wen, who poses as a man to fight in a war and honor her family) and source material (it's based on an ancient Chinese legend). Though Disney's animation department does deserve credit for shaking up its formula and delving into relatively mature drama, the movie is flawed in numerous aggravating ways. Its beady-eyed hun villain (Miguel Ferrer) is as one-dimensional as an enemy soldier in a G.I. Joe cartoon, and its plot is ludicrously predictable. (Gee, think the scene in which Mulan learns how to climb a pole will come into play later? And could her strong-jawed, honorable commanding officer evolve into a love interest?) That sort of stuff is forgivable, but Mulan's five songs (co-written by No Doubt producer and "Break My Stride" singer Matthew Wilder) may just be the worst ever to appear in a Disney movie. Every time one pops up—fortunately, most appear in Mulan's uneven first half—the film grinds to an eye-rolling halt. Somehow, though, Mulan as a whole transcends those cumbersome moments, surviving slow exposition by eventually piling on crowd-pleasing elements like a riveting battle sequence (recalling the stampede in The Lion King) and much-needed comic relief in the form of a sass-talking dragon with the voice of Eddie Murphy. Murphy is basically reprising Robin Williams' fast-talking genie act in Aladdin, and his presence at first seems to serve little purpose besides placating bored kids and moving a few plush toys at the Disney store. But he injects energy into Mulan when it needs it most, and ultimately helps rescue the film from staid mediocrity. Subtract from Mulan's 87-minute running time the boring exposition, lousy songs, and what seem like 15 minutes of closing credits, and you still have a solid hour of fast-paced adventure, likable characters, and beautiful scenery. In what has so far been a disappointing summer-movie season, it's one of the few big-budget films worth the price of admission.
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