Mulan ★½

This originally came out as I was wrapping up college, so no, I never had a chance to check it in the theater. Didn't see Lion King until I had kids and I'm behind on pretty much every Disney-anything that happened after I turned 10 and before they were born.

The good news is that I apparently needn't bother. I figured it would be good to see this before the live-action remake comes out, but after 90 painful minutes I can only think that the remake is an attempt to bury this clumsy film and replace it with one that has something going for it.

I trust that the plot / script / characterizations were all run past Asian-Americans who signed off on it, but here just 20 years later it feels like an awfully shallow depiction of Asian stereotypes. And I'll grant that this was a very big story at the time about justice in gender roles, and being a hero no matter how you were born. But to get to that you have to navigate a lot of nonsense about how bad of a daughter Mulan is because of how unmarry-able she is, and how "dishonorable" all of this is. The Asian villains are... well, villains, but villains in the classic "inscrutable schemers" sense or "bloodthirsty brutes" sense. It just feels really gross.

You'll note I've left out Eddie Murphy's performance as Mushu, the obnoxious wisecracking animal sidekick. That's obviously a rich tradition now, and certainly Murphy borrows from Robin Williams in Aladdin (a clear missing link from Aladdin to Shrek I didn't know existed), but there's a problem: nothing Mushu says is at all funny. It's a manic Williams imitation with no heart, no brain, nothing to say. There's absolutely equal opportunity in non-funny laugh-lines - Mushu is far from the clunkiest clunk here - but it's all just so sad by the end, where we're having a big fireworks display to celebrate the plucky princess who it turns out is not dishonorable.

I watched this to check the streaming quality of Disney+ and it's fucking fantastic. (I get about 120mpbs down.) Shame, really.