Review Summary: A girl worth fighting for.
Revisiting a Walt Disney movie from one's childhood is always an incredibly amazing experience, mainly as the number of things that one misses at an early age is truly bewildering and often quite pathetic. For example, if the joke didn't involve a character getting decked clean in the face with a baseball bat, or if it had the subtlety of a well-staggered fart, then the you of a decade ago probably missed it. If the movie had some subliminal irony or a well-subsumed political overtone, then you were likely clueless about that too. Yet, above and beyond the uncovering of all these is the rediscovery of some amazingly catchy songs, for which a healthy serving of six or seven per movie is the Disney tradition. God knows good character exposition or development cannot happen without them.
Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best Disney animations to have a second viewing of is the company's 1998 featurette Mulan. The story of young Fa Mulan, who selflessly takes up her father's sword to shield him from having to go to war at an old age, was recently ranked as the 17th best Disney flick of all time (which is no mean feat considering the company it's in). The movie also marks Disney's great stand against the evils of societal patriarchy, and its accompanying soundtrack furthers the cause by doing a phenomenal job at sustaining the movie's momentum. Indeed, it is virtually impossible to listen to any of the album without having stills from the movie flit through one's head.
The soundtrack is essentially divided into two parts, the latter half of which is an unbroken medley of orchestral compositions by conductor Jerry Goldsmith. Now, as sweeping and majestic as Goldsmith's score undoubtedly is, the real strength of the soundtrack clearly rests in its six pop songs, one of which is the Christina Aguilera reprise of "Reflection". "Honor To Us All" opens and recounts the massive struggle that girls in the Han Dynasty had to face due to the repressive cultural norms of that age. The song is peerless in creating an atmosphere of burdening expectations, and just by listening to it you know
that Mulan is on the verge of single-handedly chopping down ten generations' worth of family tree honor. The Lea Salonga version of "Reflection" is decent, but it is quickly blown out of the water by the vocal strength of pre-Stripped
Aguilera, whom you just wonder what her reflection showed when she was still singing about genies and what a girl wants.
"Man Out Of You" is from the scene where Captain Li Shang is trying to turn his squadron of incompetent buffoons into a team worthy of the Imperial Army. Even today, there hasn't been a single chorus in all of post-Mulan pop music that has managed to rival the roaring power in the refrain of, "You must be swift as the coursing river/With all the force of the great typhoon/With all the strength of a raging fire/Mysterious as the dark side of the moon". The constant chant of "Be a man!" by the choir in the background is also an instant pos, and would no doubt bring down the wrath of feminists like flies descending on exposed, week-old mustard if unwittingly released on radio today. The song is also worth remembering as the backing music to the most under-appreciated, yet incredibly pivotal scene in the entire movie: had Li Shang averted his gaze just a wee bit downwards as he was grabbing Ping/Mulan by the collar, the movie would have been a lot shorter. "A Girl Worth Fighting For" somehow manages to squeeze all of modern civilization's sexist stereotypes into an epic two and a half minute skit, and the fact that it influenced the pick-up lines of a generation's worth of ten year-old boys is of no doubt. The chorus of men booming, "You can guess what we/Have missed the most/Since we went off to war" in the background would bring peals of laughter from any teenage kid worth his or her hormones, but invariably kids were more impressed by the character Yao mumbling that, "The only girl who would love him is his mother". 98 Degrees and Stevie Wonder's "True To Your Heart" fulfills the mandatory Disney requirement of having a cheesy pop song with the word "heart" in it somewhere in the soundtrack. Although forced and quite contrived, it imparts a feel-good vibe to the album, which is ultimately all that counts.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this collection of songs is the way it reflects the staggering amount of cultural faux pas
that Disney was able to get away with back in 1998. The lyrics alone are pure gold
and worth signing away your family jewels for. In addition to the above, take, for instance, lines like, "I couldn't care less what she wears or what she looks like/It all depends on what she cooks like", which sounds like it was designed to take the equality movement all the way back to the 19th century. Then there's the cool-as-a-cucumber delivery of, "We all must serve our Emperor/Who guards us from the Huns/A man by bearing arms/A girl by bearing sons". Yet, the true value of the Mulan soundtrack lies in its capability to effortlessly evoke memories of much simpler days, when 3D, explosions, or even transforming robots weren't necessary to keep one entertained. Like all good cartoon flicks, Mulan is timeless, and even the simple recollection of our heroine successfully taking out an entire army of Huns with a single Eddie Murphy-powered cannon will likely bring some warm feelings to one's heart. As with all good things, it will ultimately be shared; so if you think group sing-a-longs with all of your housemates is what you've been needing all this while, then that's all the more reason to go pick up the soundtrack to Disney's Mulan.
For when you're through, boys will gladly go to war for you.