Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Mulan (1998) at the El Capitan Theatre

Today was a really special experience, seeing Disney's MULAN (1998) for the first time ever, on the big screen at the beautiful El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.

When MULAN originally came out I had a newborn baby and thus missed seeing it in a theater, and although I bought the DVD for my children years ago, somehow I'd never taken the time to see it myself. I'm actually rather glad I hadn't previously caught up with it, because seeing the movie perfectly projected on the big screen at the El Capitan was an absolutely ideal viewing experience. I've loved the score for years, and now I can say that I love the movie as well; it's surely one of the finest films from Disney's "Second Golden Age of Animation."

The story, based on Chinese folktales, tells of Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen, sung by Lea Salonga) who doesn't quite seem to fit in when it comes to being a perfect lady for whom the local matchmaker can find a suitable husband.

When the fearsome Huns, led by Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer), invade China, Mulan's elderly father (Soon-Tek Oh) is called for military service. Mulan is certain her frail father will die and decides to disguise herself as a man and take his place. She trains under Shang (BD Wong, sung by Donny Osmond) and proves to be a brave warrior whose actions save China.

The story and Chinese setting were intriguing and unique -- I note that while I generally don't like cross-dressing characters, I didn't mind it here -- but it's the artistry with which MULAN is told which makes it so memorable. MULAN is an incredible visual experience, from the pastels of Mulan's family garden to the terrifying sight of the Huns racing over the crest of a snowy hill to the shimmering beauty of the imperial city.

MULAN is also an especially wonderful musical experience. The film's excellent songs are by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel; "Reflections" is one of my all-time favorite Disney songs. The film is additionally distinguished by a stirring musical score by the great Jerry Goldsmith, which adds tremendously to the film's pageantry and emotion.

If I have one quibble, it's that some of the jokey humor and the voicing of Mushu by Eddie Murphy don't really fit in. Disney was doubtless wanting to recreate the magic of Robin Williams' work on ALADDIN (1992) with the casting of Murphy as the ancestral dragon looking out for Mulan, but while he's funny, his voice and the "Genie-esque" humor belong in another movie. And the ancestors doing the disco at the end?! Oh, my. The sweeping story of MULAN is so beautifully portrayed that it really didn't need all the comedy routines, some of which were a bit jarring. It's a minor complaint, however, and didn't distract overly much from my overall enjoyment of the film.

The amazing June Foray voices Grandmother Fa, with another great, Marni Nixon, providing her singing voice. Pat Morita voices the Emperor. The cast also includes Harvey Fierstein, James Hong, James Shigeta, George Takei, and Corey Burton. I have fond memories of another cast member, Edie Lehmann, from her role as pianist Katherine Delafield on GENERAL HOSPITAL in the '80s; since leaving the show, Lehmann has worked steadiily as a voice artist and singer.

A fun note of trivia is that Miguel Ferrer, who voices villain Shan-Yu, is the son of Rosemary Clooney and Jose Ferrer, and he's also the first cousin of George Clooney. He's a busy working actor who's recently been on NCIS: LA and is scheduled to star in the new NCIS spinoff series.

MULAN was directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook. It runs 88 minutes.

MULAN has had multiple DVD releases, including a "bare bones" Gold Edition, a 2-Disc Special Edition and an upcoming Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack due out on March 13, 2013. The DVD can be rented from Netflix.

It also had a VHS release and can be rented for streaming via Amazon Instant Video.

The El Capitan continues to provide an excellent moviegoing experience. Today's screening was preceded by a personal appearance by Mulan, which seemed to delight the children in the crowd, and the El Capitan's traditional pre-movie organ music and confetti drop. It's very much worth making the extra effort to go see a Disney film in this environment.

Previously: Tonight's Movie: Lady and the Tramp (1955) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Cinderella (1950) at the El Capitan Theatre; and Peter Pan (1953) at the El Capitan Theatre.


Blogger DKoren said...

How lovely! This is one I've also never seen, and if I was going to see it, I wish it could be like this. I love the Goldsmith orchestral score, though I'm not familiar with the songs. Sounds like a fantastic evenin.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I have a feeling you would like this one, Deb, with the female lead being such a brave and adventurous character, plus the Goldsmith score. If you have any time to see it before the run ends in March, I recommend it!

Best wishes,

6:46 PM  

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