“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Mulan

June 19, 1998

MULAN is the Disney animated feature of summer ’98. It’s another Broadway-style musical loosely based on an old tale, in this case the legend of Chinese warrior Hua Mulan, as described in The Ballad of Mulan. Fa Mulan – voiced by Ming-Na Wen (STREET FIGHTER), singing voice Lea Salonga (NINJA KIDS) – is a young woman in Han dynasty China in the midst of training to be a great warrior. Oh, whoops, that’s a typo – in the midst of training to be a great wife. She gets all painted up and tries to walk in confining clothes and know all the etiquette for tea drinking and what not. But she’s not up to it, even has to write notes on her hand before a test, and completely fucks it up.

Luckily there is another option. The Huns are invading and every family must provide a man or boy to fight in the army. The only male in her family is her dad Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh, STEELE JUSTICE, DEATH WISH 4), a war vet who is all for going again but he’s an old man who can barely walk and she’s sure he’s gonna get fuckin killed in like two seconds so at night she steals his armor and conscription notice and runs off to pretend to be a dude and fight in the army on his behalf.

Which she’s actually worse at than being feminine. There’s lots of, you know, humor about how she says something in a normal voice and then says “er, I mean” and repeats it in a not even remotely convincing fake-masculine voice. She starts to pick up other things like to spit and do gross things to be accepted as a man. It’s like JUST ONE OF THE GUYS I guess but when they see her boobs it’s off screen.

One element that’s not in most of the other gender-switch romps: a small, shit-talking dragon named Mushu (Eddie Murphy, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME). Mulan’s grandma (June Foray [Rocky & Bullwinkle], singing voice of Marni Nixon [host of a local show I watched as a kid called Boomerang]) prays to her ancestors, who appear as ghosts and send Mushu to summon “the great stone dragon” to protect Mulan, but he accidentally breaks it so he pretends to be her guardian and tries to bullshit his way through this mess, Axel Foley style.

I don’t find Mushu as funny as I’m clearly supposed to, but he’s decent as far as these comic relief animal characters go, and probly my favorite part of the movie. Murphy made me laugh a few times, making “dishonor on you” sound like dragon for “fuck you,” for example, and the way they animate him as a sort of wobbly snake with legs makes for much more interesting physical acting than the other characters.

I like this poster better than any image in the movie

Unfortunately there’s another comic relief animal character, a cricket named Cri-Kee (come on dude, you cannot convince me that is an authentic Chinese cricket name). He doesn’t talk but he’s totally unnecessary, given to Mulan for luck and then they have to make up explanations for where she’s carrying him just so he can cause unfunny slapstick sequences like in the movie’s worst scene, where he causes Mulan to humiliate the comically fat matchmaker (Miriam Margolyes, END OF DAYS) by spilling tea on her and painting a goatee on her face.

I was not entirely surprised to learn that the both of these characters were sort of pushed on the crew by executives. Roy E. Disney convinced them to add a dragon, and the cricket is mostly Michael Eisner’s fault. Disney legend Joe Grant created the little bug, but lead animator Barry Temple admits the directors “felt Cri-Kee was a character who wasn’t necessary to tell the story, which is true.”

Anyway, there is training and eventually they fight or whatever, it’s hard to remember. I know she caused an avalanche to stop some of the Huns. The end. I wish I could pinpoint better what’s so underwhelming to me about this movie. I suppose it’s that they don’t really go full into the period military epic that the story suggests, and then the standard elements like the songs, the comedy, the father-daughter melodrama and especially the animation all seem uninspired compared to other Disney movies, including POCAHONTAS.

The directors are Tony Bancroft (animator going back to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but has not directed any other Disney movies) and Barry Cook (the Roger Rabbit short Trail Mix-Up, ARTHUR CHRISTMAS). Stephen Schwartz (POCAHONTAS) was hired to write the songs, and even took a research trip to China, but quit after being hassled for also accepting a job on Dreamworks’ PRINCE OF EGYPT. The three songs he’d written were abandoned. They replaced him with Matthew Wilder (a Bette Midler backup singer who produces for Hannah Montana and shit) and David Zippel (HERCULES), and I suppose their songs are memorable, because I remembered them, but personally I don’t like any of them. The big showstopper tune “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” is sung by Donnie Osmond, for christ’s sake. I guess the most influential song was “Reflection,” because the end credits version, sung by a former Mickey Mouse Club cast member, made it to #19 on Billboard’s adult contemporary charts, got the singer a contract with RCA Records and later appeared on her debut album, Christina Aguilera.

Earlier in the summer we saw how Warner Bros. Feature Animation tried (and spectacularly failed) to steal Disney’s thunder in the animated musical game. MULAN is the real deal… pretty much. It follows the same Disney formula that WB were trying to copy, at least, and the two movies ended up having a few similarities. Both have a female protagonist whose parents want her to do feminine things, but she wants to be a warrior and gets a chance to sneak off and do battle with a sword. Both are fixated on honoring their fathers. Both have a wimpy, comedian-voiced dragon comic relief sidekick. Both, obviously, prove themselves in battle and are finally accepted by their loved ones and allowed to own weapons. There’s also a falcon in this one, but it belongs to the bad guy, so it’s not the terartagonist.

MULAN is more elegantly animated and more competently structured than QUEST FOR CAMELOT, and is beloved by the generation that grew up with it. Though it wasn’t a hit on the level of Disney’s early ’90s favorites like ALADDIN and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, it was the #7 movie at the box office in 1998 and made more money than its Disney predecessors THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and HERCULES. But I have to say, it didn’t really appeal to me much then and it hasn’t grown on me.

I don’t know if this is related, but it was not created at the same Disney studio as THE LITTLE MERMAID and shit. Instead it was made at Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida, which opened in 1989 as a theme park attraction devised by CEO Eisner. Located on the backlot of the Disney-MGM Studios, park guests could watch these poor zoo animals behind glass as they created the Roger Rabbit shorts Tummy Trouble, Roller Coaster Rabbit and Trail Mix-Up. To promote upcoming features they’d also be seen doing little chunks of them: 10 minutes of THE RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, 22 minutes of THE LION KING, 18 minutes of POCAHONTAS, etc. MULAN was the first of only three features produced entirely at the Florida studio, the others being LILO & STITCH and BROTHER BEAR.

Maybe that’s why the animation, other than a couple shots of a devastated village and a CGI crowd outside of the emperor’s palace, feels small and underwhelming compared to previous Disney movies. The subject matter calls for the grandeur of a Zhang Yimou epic, but they settle for better-than-a-TV-cartoon. I don’t care for a few of the designs, particularly Mulan’s sheep dog with dots for eyes, a character who’s more crudely cartoony than the others but not (to me) in a stylish way.

On the positive side there are some nice, restrained colors and her horse has a sharp look to it.

My favorite scene is the montage of Mulan cutting her hair (with a sword, of course) and putting on her dad’s armor to run away and join the army as a male. The angles and edits are all clearly modeled after live action filmatism, and the bombastic keyboard/drum machine scoring would sound at home in an ’80s or ’90s Hong Kong action movie. I read that this was called “Sequence Six” and had replaced a musical number. It was originally cut to the score of an unnamed live action movie and was a breakthrough in the production that led to what they considered more of a silent movie approach, using visual storytelling without the crutch of dialogue or lyrics. (But I didn’t notice any other big sequences like that.)

There are some pretty cool shots of the army practicing kicks and punches together, and Mulan does a little bit of kung fu, but the fairly simplistic character designs don’t allow for very sophisticated movements or poses.

I do appreciate that the climactic fight, though not particularly exciting, takes place partly on a rooftop, a nod to Chinese cinematic tradition.

As in QUEST FOR CAMELOT, the best designed character is the broad-shouldered villain. Shan Yu is a Hun warlord voiced by Miguel Ferrer (THE NIGHT FLIER). He’s generally draped in shadows, his pupils are yellow and his eyeballs are black instead of white. In the scenes with just him and his men the entire frame is colored with grey, black, and beige. His tank-like body probly has 5 or 6 times the mass of Mulan’s, but in one scene he nimbly hangs upside down like a monkey.

Despite all these strengths, I couldn’t say much about his personality outside of being evil. If you went around for a couple hours asking people to list every Disney villain they could think of I bet you wouldn’t find one person that said Shan Yu, and if so there’s a reason for that.

At the end all the sudden the cricket is wearing sunglasses playing drums and I thought “oh jesus” but then they try to appease me by having him be playing a new Stevie Wonder song called “True To Your Heart.” Then I realized it was Stevie with the boy band 98°, but luckily it mostly sounds like Stevie. So, you know, it’s a little bit of a reward for getting through to the end.

I wasn’t the only one who didn’t think MULAN was that good, but I cannot say I was in good company. One critic was homophobic radio kook, future universally unpopular governor of Indiana and conspirator against the United States Mike Pence, who wrote on the The Mike Pence Show websight, “I suspect that some mischievious liberal at Disney assumes that Mulan’s story will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat and they just might be right. (Just think about how often we think of Bambi every time the subject of deer hunting comes into the mainstream media debate.)”

(Because we all know how often “the subject of deer hunting comes into the mainstream media debate.”)

Pence cites the Tailhook scandal as proof that the victims of that sexual harassment should not be allowed in the military with the perpetrators. Then, in classical Pencian sexual frustration he laments “that young, nubile, 18 year old men and women were actually being HOUSED together during basic training” when “Housing, in close quarters, young men and women (in some cases married to non-military personnel) at the height of their physical and sexual potential is the height of stupidity.”

I think if twenty-years-older Pence – whose administration has launched a cruel and purposeless ban on trans soldiers – were to take time out from ducking the spotlight in hopes that people forget he was the head of the Trump transition team and should be in jail to write an updated moronic take on MULAN, he would focus on the movie’s gentle nudge at gender roles. None of the characters qualify as what we now know as trans, but Mulan has to pass as male to do what she wants in life, and her pals later take a turn dressing as women to achieve a military objective and they seem very comfortable with it. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it’s at least showing that it’s not embarrassing to not conform to traditional ideas of how men and women should dress. So I hope Pence is able to check out the movie again and pretend to be very upset about it before he faces justice.

As is traditional for Disney animation, MULAN received a big merchandising push, including posable action figures, McDonalds Happy Meal toys, fashion dolls with combable hair, plush animal dolls, etc. It also inspired at least three straight to video knockoffs in 1998: MU LAN (from Australia), THE LEGEND OF MULAN (from the Netherlands), and THE SECRET OF MULAN (from the makers of THE SECRET OF ANASTASIA , THE SECRET OF THE HUNCHBACK and THE SECRET OF A SCANNER DARKLY [I wish]). And I noticed another one on ebay just called MULAN (left), but I have no information about it, so it could be the same as one of the other ones I listed or it could be from a different year. It seems to have a monkey, a panda and a chicken involved somehow. In SECRET’s interpretation, Mulan is a caterpillar.

Disney’s human version of Mulan is officially designated a Disney Princess, though she is not any sort of royalty in the story. She returned in 2004 for the DTV sequel MULAN II. Much of the voice cast stayed the same, but Eddie Murphy was replaced by voice impersonator Mark Moseley, who reportedly also did some of Murphy’s lines for The P.J.s and definitely voices his total-ripoff-of-Mushu-donkey-character in the SHREK video games. Moseley is also known for the novelty song “Ronnie’s Rap” by “Ron & the D.C. Crew.”

The sequel did not go over well, but it didn’t ruin the movie’s good name. Like ALICE IN WONDERLAND, THE JUNGLE BOOK, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, DUMBO, THE LION KING and ALADDIN, the studio is about to reimagine MULAN in a live action sort-of-remake. The director is Niki Caro (WHALE RIDER) and the cast includes Jet Li, Donnie Yen and Gong Li, but from the details released it doesn’t sound like there’s a Mushu or anything else specifically taken from the animated version.

There were a couple surprising names I noticed in the credits. First of all, Conan Lee, the martial artist from NINJA IN THE DRAGON’S DEN, TIGER ON BEAT and LETHAL WEAPON 4 is listed in “additional voices.” Much weirder than that, though: Alan Ormsby was one of several writers credited for “additional story material.” Yes, the co-director of DERANGED, star of CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, and writer of PORKY’S II, POPCORN and THE SUBSTITUTE apparently helped out with a G-rated Disney movie.

Anyway, Disney’s MULAN – from the makers of PORKY’S II may be the best animated feature of summer 1998, but I don’t consider it one of the great Disney movies. Still, I think it’s a good thing that they made it. An interesting thing about Disney animation is watching them get more progressive and inclusive through years of baby steps. As I often like to remind people, when BEAUTY AND THE BEAST came out it was considered a huge breakthrough that Belle read books. They always end up offending people anyway, but I think they make a genuine effort to improve their depictions of women and to reflect genuine elements of the cultures they’re representing.

If Mulan was going to be an American kid’s sole idea of Chinese history that would be a shame, obviously. The women besides Mulan don’t end up looking so good, they only care about finding husbands. On the other hand, take a look at this clip from that Disney movie they discussed in THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO, LADY AND THE TRAMP:

First thought: WOW, that scene is such a galactic leap ahead of anything in MULAN when it comes to animated performances and visual design, even though it was made 43 years earlier. Second thought: the unflatteringly exaggerated teeth, eyes and accents of those cats were pretty much the sum of East Asian portrayals in Disney animated features before MULAN came along. The “Asian characters” Disney wiki  includes the ones from MULAN, both human and animal characters from THE JUNGLE BOOK, and some more recent characters, like somebody from BIG HERO 6. They have Edna Mode from THE INCREDIBLES, which I didn’t think was correct but it turns out Brad Bird says she’s German-Japanese.

But that was later, and it’s a pretty big step to go from those cats to a movie of all Chinese characters, with the majority of roles voiced by Asian-American actors. I’m not sure if it did or should bother anybody that many of the supporting players – Gedde Watanabe, Pat Morita, George Takei, James Shigeta – are of Japanese descent, or that Soon Tek-Oh is Korean-American. It’s still an impressive lineup. I have to respect the effort.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 10th, 2018 at 10:54 am and is filed under Cartoons and Shit, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

47 Responses to “Mulan”

  1. I liked it, but haven’t seen it in a while. Also I should not that even back then it was for me a kinda uninspired Disney musical, although I appreciated that the movie was progressive enough to show a battlefield full of dead soldiers and have a plot point involving boobs.

    In the German version, Fa Zhou is voiced by Horst Buchholz, btw!

    Okay, about that weird knock off: Seems like one of those pesky Dingo Pictures productions. For those of you who don’t know: They were a German company, that specialized on extremely cheap and shitty animated Disney Mockbuster! That was before the term “Mockbuster” was even invented. A small group of dedicated “fans” called them “Diz-Nee Movies”.

    In all fairness, they didn’t rip off only Disney movies, but every animated movie that was popular! For everybody who is into internet memes (Griff?): The LAND BEFORE TIME knock off, that started the “Yee” meme, is as far as I know from them!

    “But CJ, how bad can their movies be?”

    Well, here is their MULAN movie (Unfortunately only the Italian dub):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOjz6kpyVhE

  2. Impressed at the discipline of not mentioning Szechuan Sauce once.

  3. Crushinator Jones

    July 10th, 2018 at 11:40 am

    I actually enjoy the songs for how terrible they are. They’re off-off-off Broadway in the best possible way.

    There’s one where all the soldiers are singing about how horny they are and what kind of lady they want to get with, and the one fat soldier warbles out that “he doesn’t care just what she wears or what she looks like…it all depends on what she cooks like!” and then wistfully intones “beef…pork…chicken” as he imagines the culinary skills of his (ink-painted) thicc Chinese fantasy. That endeared the movie to me.

  4. Crushinator Jones

    July 10th, 2018 at 11:42 am

    What I’m saying is how many movies have horny soldiers singing about it to a woman in drag? Not many. How many Disney movies have absolute stinker lyrics like “mysterious as the dark side of the moon?” How many movies have Eddie Murphy essentially doing the draft version of the character he plays in Shrek? Mulan is interesting. Not very good, but interesting.

  5. Should have watched it with the Mandarin dub like I do, it has Jackie Chan singing ‘To Be a Man!’

  6. The Undefeated Gaul

    July 10th, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    Well, I still love it. Have watched it a bunch of times in recent years as it was one of the ones my daughters wanted to see all the time, and I was always happily watching along if I happened to be in the room. The songs aren’t great (outside of “I’ll make a man out of you” which is gold) but it’s got a fantastic score. Indeed the music that accompanies the hair-cutting moment in particular is just outstanding. I love the animation style as well, where just the right amount of CGI was used to get this super smooth, silky style that is a joy to watch imho. And the big avalanche battle scene is one of the all time great Disney set pieces. Couple years ago I edited a version of that scene with the music replaced with Battle of the Mounds from Conan, just to see if it would work, and that shit was good. Almost as good as when I put Adagio in D Minor from Sunshine underneath the stampede scene from The Lion King.

  7. grimgrinningchris

    July 10th, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    As the resident Disney nut (when I pop out of hiding here and there) here, I feel I must comment.

    Okay… yeah… Mulan…

    A well intentioned and risky swing and miss (creatively, at least… though as Vern pointed out, the movie did quite well and has tons of fans to this day).

    I’ll say that Roy was right, at least in theory… to suggest adding a comic sidekick- and of course it should be a dragon. Murphy’s performance is a bit iffy (though FAR better than Donkey) but the character isn’t a Jar Jar and I like his design.
    The cricket on the other hand… Just useless.

    “Reflections” is some maudlin shit trying to capture the spirit of “Part Of Your World” and failing.

    I actually do love “I’ll Make A Man Out Of You”…
    Lyrically, it could have used the deftness and wit of Stephen Schwartz (RIP). It also could have used Alan Menken’s gift for adding in culturally appropriate instrumentations and melodies. But I think it is a ridiculously catchy song and underlines the best scene in the movie (followed closely by the suiting up sequence then the final fight). And I don’t know what the problem with Donnie Osmond singing it is. Yeah, he’s a mormon and a cheeseball, but he has a perfectly good voice and being well past his expiration date, I think he was hired because of his voice more than his name or his glimmering teeth. Given the number of Asian and Asian-American actors that were given major speaking roles in this one, I don’t really have an issue with them giving a (admittedly VERY) white dude, this song.
    Also, would anyone during the Han Dynasty have even known that the moon HAD a dark side? Ha.

    Storywise it is middling, sadly.
    I would still count it as part of the Disney rennaissance, though obviously a lesser entry during the last gasps of it. It was far more ambitious than something like Hercules, but also far less fun. Though it did pick things up a bit after the depressing (beautiful in many ways, but depressing nonetheless) slog of Hunchback… though.

    I think it went further than anyone would have expected Disney to go (even after Pocahontas), but still didn’t go far enough- if that makes sense.
    All in all I would

  8. I haven’t seen this since I was young, but I do vaguely remember how I thought at the time that the cricket was unnecessary. The most recent Disney Princess movie, Moana, also had one too many animal sidekicks between the rooster and the pig. Probably good for Disney for toy-related reasons, though.

  9. I really like MULAN. In fact, it’s my fave of the Disney Renaissance after ALADDIN. One of the action scenes is beautifully animated, and Eddie Murphy is funnier in it than in most of his other ’90s films (BOWFINGER being an obvious exception).

    I also have to give it props because when a date came over one night, it’s the movie I put on–a romantic move SO cute that we were together for a while. She’s my ex now, but that’s irrelevant. #MulanPower

  10. I feel sad about Eddie Murphy. Is he just no longer interested in comedy anymore?

  11. I’ve often suspected that Murphy had some sort of break at the height of his extreme fame. You can sort of sense it happening in the standup film RAW. I’ve still liked him in other things (BOOMERANG, VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN), and he got an Oscar nom for DREAMGIRLS, but something switched in his firebrand energy in the late ’80s. He’s still a legend to me.

    I think Mike Myers went through something similar around AUSTIN POWERS 3 (though expressed less reclusively), where his feet just lost touch with the ground.

  12. He was great in BOWFINGER as well.

  13. I always chalked Murphy’s downward slide and disinterest in the massive regretion of the very under-rated HARLEM NIGHTS.

    I think kinda like Lucas with EPISODE I, he poured his all into and everyone, audiences AND critics, regretted it and made it a punch line. Think after that he just didn’t care as much anymore.

  14. But maybe DOLEMITE IS MY NAME will be his comeback?

  15. It’s been ages since i saw HARLEM NIGHTS. Is it worth a re-watch?

  16. I remember liking this but have never revisited. I saw the dtv Mulan 2 and it was one of the most painful bad dtv sequels ever. I can take a Return of Jafar or Kronk’s New Groove but Mulan 2 was brutal.

  17. Wasn’t 2 MU 2 LAN about her and soldier friends from part 1 becoming human traffickers and having to delivers hookers to a king?

  18. Vern: I really hope so, really psyched for that one.

    Felix: I rewatched it last year and enjoyed it still. Don’t know why it was considered a ‘What were they thinking!?’ movie that everyone, even critics, decided Murphy needed to be shamed over. Luckily they got NUTTY PROFESSORs and NORBIT and PLUTO NASH so at least they got what they wanted.

    Fred: I concur

    CJ: YES!!

  19. grimgrinningchris

    July 11th, 2018 at 9:09 am

    And Vern-

    The animation studio tour at WDW was one of my favorite things ever. Never felt like a human zoo to me, though I’m sure the experience was at least slightly different for the working animators themselves. Most of the features they had total control over there were some of Disneys lesser efforts- but they also worked on more popular characters in other avenues (commercials etc…) and it was endlessly fascinating to watch them work.

    Also, you might like to actually give Brother Bear a look. It’s really two very different movies (visually and tonally) crammed together- the talking animal stuff is definitely below the standards of even middle of road Disney, but the human, native American stuff is pretty stunning and a much better representation than even Pocahontas attempted to be.

  20. I think this was the last animated Disney film I saw on the big screen – and I don’t think I’ve seen it since. I certainly don’t remember anything from the movie, but I friend of mine once showed me a DVD extra – a Jackie Chan music video. As he lent his voice to the dub, I guess they also put out his song as single in some territories.

  21. Morty! I want that Szechuan Sauce, Morty!

    Anyway I saw this as a young’un in theaters, but I’ve never seen it again in the 20 years since and frankly don’t remember a ton about it.

    I do remember it being a bit underwhelming (it says it all that I forgot about the cricket) but Mulan was cute and I had a growing interest in Asian culture at this time, so it wasn’t an unpleasant time at the theaters either.

  22. I liked this one alright. I missed it’s initial run but saw it maybe 3 years ago. My girlfriend was high on it (she’s of asian descent but not chinese), so I watched it with her I was pleasantly surprised since I’d not heard much about it. (To me, the Disney renaissance was dead post-Lion King, I didn’;t like Hunchback or Hercules at the time, didn’t see this one…and Tarzan I hated and swore them off.) Anyway, on the negative side, the villain was certainly by the numbers and the crickett was completely unnecessary. But I must’ve enjoyed Eddie Murphy more than most seem to now, and looked at it as a strong forerunner to his run as Donkey in Shrek, plus it hit me as a big corrective in many ways to Disney’s poor racial politics from movies even as recent as Aladdin, which I loved and still loved, but there’s lyrics in the songs or portrayals where the racism just hits you right in the face and it’s not like Dumbo, which while also not defensible really is also much older. I get hammering some of the sexual politics stuff now and what we’d look at as ethnic-washing, but I think that’s overplaying things. This movie stands out as progressive for its time, which is the same argument I’d extend to a number of 50s classic westerns that also arguably age poorly if you’re not accommodating. MULAN defintely isn’t the most woke movie ever, but I think it works on it’s on terms well enough–definitely not deserving of a hammering compared to HERCULES–and savaging it’s politics strikes me as somwhat ahistorical/present bias.

    I’m not buying the Eddie comeback narrative. Does he have a lot a followup projects scheduled? We heard the same thing around TOWER HEIST and nothing followed it, and Eddie has more or less been doing the John Travolta renaissance type cycle to diminishing returns since the 90s.

  23. Anyone interested in the live-action MULAN that is coming out next year?

  24. Felix, I’ll wait till the first trailer hits. I can imagine that they will try really had to make it a respectful representation of Asians in cinema and because of that it could turn out to be just another boring history epic. However after a bumpy start, Disney seems more or less to know how to turn their cartoons into watchable live action movies, so I stay optimistic that the new MULAN will be what BLACK PANTHER was for African Americans.

    BTW, I was a bit weirded out when I saw this movie pop up in Vern’s summer retrospective. Back in the days, when you had to wait months until a Hollywood movie started in Germany, those Disney movies traditionally came out around christmas.

  25. grimgrinningchris

    July 12th, 2018 at 10:23 am

    Man… some HERCULES hate up in here.

    While I will admit it is a pretty milquetoast version of the character and his story and aside from some early attempts at integrating CGI animation with traditional hand drawn- maybe the first actual character (and not just a background) to do so with the Hydra… I still think it is a fun, lighthearted movie. And is able to mostly get by on the strength of James Woods’ Hades (before we knew he actually IS the devil) and three of the best songs of the post-Lion King era with Go The Distance, I Won’t Say I’m In Love (my personal favorite of the era) and Zero To Hero.
    Also Megara, while not like groundbreaking or anything, was the first female non title character to really shine and have some depth (yeah, Jasmine had some sass and is admirable for her strong will- but though Aladdin is a far superior movie overall, I think Meg trumps Jasmine.

  26. The Undefeated Gaul

    July 13th, 2018 at 3:36 am

    Gotta agree with everything you said Chris, Hercules is one of the good ones. Wish they still made ’em like that.

  27. I liked HERCULES quite a bit at the time, but I don’t think it’s aged well, and this being me I’m pretty sure it’s not just a case of no longer being 11. Like much on ANIMANIACS, what seemed novel and refreshing back then seems like slightly hacky proto-SHREKery now.

  28. The Undefeated Gaul

    July 13th, 2018 at 5:53 am

    There is a bit of that, sure. But it’s still a fun little adventure film with lovely animation, good songs and score that remains pleasant to watch. Because of my kids this is another one that I’ve seen A LOT this past year and I just never seem to get sick of it. So def still holds up imho.

  29. grimgrinningchris

    July 13th, 2018 at 7:04 am

    What I had meant to say was that despite the novelty of HERCULES’ early attempts at blending CG animated characters with hand drawn, that the overall animation quality is only good, not great and not nearly as lush as like a Tarzan or a Beauty & The Beast.

    I guess I can see the proto-Shrek thing, though it’s not nearly as offensive (to say nothing of not having Smashmouth music in it)… really the only super meta thing in it are the jokes about Hercules merchandising.

    For me, a lot of Disney joints can live or die on the strength of the songs and the characters and while Hercules stumbles on both at times- it has three great songs and two great characters… That and its pace outweigh its narrative blandness and the relative blandness of its lead (when he isn’t singing).

    Funny thing… though Tate Donovan is the speaking voice of Hercules… you know that his singing voice (on GO THE DISTANCE) is the dude that got his dick cut off in HOSTEL 2…

  30. Yeah I like HERCULES as well even if only really comes alive when the bad guys are on screen. I will also concur that Meg was a much better than average female lead in these things.

    Chris: Thank you for the HERCULES/HOSTEL trivia I never knew and never knew I needed!

  31. grimgrinningchris

    July 13th, 2018 at 10:28 am

    Ha… yeah… Roger Bart started on Broadway and in voiceover before films and television. He’s been in tons of stuff, but he’ll always be “the singing voice of Hercules that got his dick cut off in Hostel 2” to me…

  32. Non title is pretty key to putting Meg that far up on a pedestal because let’s you get past Ariel, Belle, and Pocahontas. I’d agree that she has more depth than Jasmine. I don’t recall enough about Esmeralda in HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME to compare those two.

    I’d agree that the songs were good though, so maybe I was too harsh.

  33. The German voice of Hercules was Til Schweiger, btw. And Hades’ sidekicks Panic & Pain were voiced by Mirco Nontchew and Stefan Jürgens, who came from the same German SNL copy, that the voice actors of the two-headed dragon from QUEST FOR CAMELOT came from. (Also Hades was the recently deceased voice acting legend Arne Elsholtz, who managed to absolutely match James Woods great performance!)

    Anyway, put me on the HERCULES love train. It’s an odd mix of traditional Disney stuff (Classic story that is robbed of all dark elements to make it family friendly, lots of songs, funny animal sidekicks…) and a for that time pretty innovative fast-paced comedy style that has aged much better than most Dreamworks movies of the 00s.

    Also I wanna give a shoutout to the spin-off series, that came after the movie. (I wonder why they never made a Mulan series. Even Tarzan got one!) Its showrunners were Bob Schooley & Mark McCorkle, who later rose to fame as the creators of KIM POSSIBLE and writers of SKY HIGH, so of course it was incredibly watchable and often downright hilarious.

    My favourite episode was probably the one where Hercules met a young Hippocrates, who (in that story) was the first doctor. Then a pandemic struck Greece and he tried to find a cure, but, in an unexpected twist he got sick himself and died! But Hercules knew how much Greece needed him so Herc went to the underworld to get him back. When he arrived, Hades basically just kicked Hippocrates out, because he was healing the dead!

    Another great moment was the episode about Prometheus, who, as you might know, was punished by the gods for bringing fire to the mortals, by being chained to a rock and having an eagle eat his liver every day, which was in that show much funnier than it usually is. (“Is that an onion? Are you seriously eating my liver with an onion!?”

  34. grimgrinningchris

    July 13th, 2018 at 11:20 am

    Y’know, Disneyphile though I am, I have never seen a single episode of any of the series adaptations of the movies (and have also avoided every single DTV sequel). Obviously I have seen and loved all of tv-original series (your Duck Tales and your Rescue Rangers)… but always assumed the movie tie in series were creatively bereft cash ins like the DTV sequels. Might have to give Hercules a shot!

    And BrianB… I might give you Esmerelda. She’s a pretty strong character. Hunchback is probably the movie I have seen least from that era though as it really is pretty fucking depressing (likely why they followed it with the far more light-hearted HERCULES) and Esmerelda’s song particularly so. So my frame of reference may be off.

    Meg was definitely stronger than Jasmine or Nala (who is pretty much an afterthought character- probably to reassure audiences that Simba didn’t catch the gays from Nathan Lane).

  35. grimgrinningchris

    July 13th, 2018 at 11:29 am

    Even though she is officially a “DISNEY PRINCESS”, you only ever find Mulan walk-around characters in Epcot in the China pavilion. Which is either a testament to Disney trying to remain culturally and thematically appropriate or a testament to the character not being particularly popular. Maybe both? I will say that they always get the most stunningly beautiful women to play Mulan in the park.

    Not that I notice such things or that such things… like MATTER or anything… but the Mulans, the Pocahontases and the Ariels are always the most beautiful women. With Snow Whites and Mary Poppinses a close second. Aurora from Sleeping Beauty seems to be the day-shift stripper slot for some reason though.

  36. The TV spin-offs were definitely of varying quality, but all in all much better than most DTV sequel movies. It helped that I was a kid when they came out, so I liked most of the TV shows, but not all of them really hold up, at least judging by the few episodes that I caught on our Disney Channels over the last few years.

    The LITTLE MERMAID show was a bit boring, but I can imagine it plays pretty well with little girls (Bonus point for having a few episodes that focused on her sisters and Tim Curry voicing a stingray demon or something.) ALADDIN, which seems to be the only show that isn’t a prequel or takes place during a timeframe that is skipped in the movie, is mostly about him and his friends fighting magic villains and monsters, with the Genie (Here voiced by Homer Simpson) doing typical Genie jokes. TIMON & PUMBAA is downright insane and one of Disney’s first (and maybe their most successful) tries of making a more zany, “creator driven” cartoon like WB, Nickelodeon and Co. (That chapter, that includes the anthology show RAW TOONAGE and way too Nickelodeonesque THE SHNOOKUMS AND MEAT FUNNY CARTOON SHOW, is a whole different topic.) I never saw the TARZAN show, because I didn’t care much for the movie, and LILO & STITCH lacked everything that made the movie great, but was kinda watchable. (Also it had a bunch of crossovers with other shows, including RECESS and KIM POSSIBLE.)

    I only saw a few episodes of the new BIG HERO 6 show (which marks the return to Disney of Schooley/McCorkle, who seem to be typecast as “the tv spin off guys”), but that one had already more laughs than the movie had. (Including a tough gangster named “Felony Carl” and his pink bike.)

    It’s a sunny Friday evening and I’m talking about Disney cartoon spin-off shows on the internet. I regret nothing.

  37. I knew the KP guys did HERCULES (the Disney one, not the Rob Tappert/Sam Raimi one) but never gave it a shot for reasons Chris mentioned. I too will have to change that. I was young enough to where I watched the ALADDIN one but I can keep that in my childhood. I didn’t watch the TARZAN one but I did catch an episode with Velociraptors which was so dumb I couldn’t stop watching it. If that DTV ATLANTIS thing was any indication we dodged a bullet with that not going to series. I never gave any thought to MULAN not getting a series and now that makes me sad.

    Haha I totally forgot Nala existed.

    Oh yeah, I should mention that I DO like MULAN. Way more than most people it seems. I find it entertaining and gets the job done even if it is not as epic as it feels it should be. Whenever I watch it now, I default to Mandarin dub that is on the Special Edition DVD but NOT the Blu-ray!

    Is this a good place for me to openly ask why I keep giving the new DUCK TALES a shot when I have not really liked a single episode yet and it lacks the cleverness and imagination that made the original show stand out? Trying to not be a nostalgic grump but, while not awful or even bad, the new one is just there being like every single other cartoon on right now.

  38. That’s the best description I ever saw for LILO & STITCH THE SERIES, ‘lacks everything that made the movie good, watchable though.’ STITCH also has an anime that is dull. Didn’t know the KP guys were making BIG HERO 6, I’ll actually check that out now which I wasn’t because I was like the only guy who didn’t care for that movie (just like I didn’t care for TANGLED or WRECK-IT RALPH and thus was totally shocked I kinda loved FROZEN).

    Since this is now a Disney TV cartoon thread, there only recent shows I’ve enjoyed were Craig McCraken’s WANDER DOWN YANDER (canceled but the over-plot wasn’t so much that it feels unfinished) and I kinda sorta love STAR VS THE FORCES OF EVIL. Get made fun of by my brother and nephew because I relate to the male lead so much.

  39. Vern: If possible could you change the prior post from my really-real name to geoffreyjar so I can protect my identity at all cost!

  40. I was actually surprised when I noticed a few days ago that I own BIG HERO 6 on DVD, because I can’t remember anything about it, but it seems that I liked it. I might rewatch it. I never saw an episode of the TANGLED show, btw, but it seems to be well liked.

    Disney recently cranked out a bunch of really good cartoons after a longer slump, including WANDER OVER YONDER (which I unfortunately haven’t seen in full yet) and MILO MURPHY’S LAW (from the creators of PHINEAS & FERB, starring Weird Al Yankovic). MILO is especially noteworthy, because it starts out as funny, but nothing special, but then a running gag about two pistacio obsessed side characters becomes more and more important, until the first season ends as damn great science fiction time travel comedy extravaganza.

    I was never able to get into STAR VS THE FORCES OF EVIL (although I love the theme song), because it looked too much like Disney tried to jump on the ADVENTURE TIME bandwagon.

    Of course we NEED to mention GRAVITY FALLS too, which will go down in history as one of the greatest cartoons ever!

    And yeah, I struggle with DUCK TALES 2K18 too. It’s not bad, but it’s also kinda blah and often seems like it was done by people who hated the original show. (They killed Scrooge’s butler, for fucks sake!)

  41. grimgrinningchris

    July 13th, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    I feel about the new Duck Tales, the same way I feel about the new MST3K. All the ingredients are there and the people behind it are obviously smart people and huge fans of the original… but it just doesn’t work. And I can’t put my finger on why in either case.

    I like FROZEN fine, though much prefer BIG HERO 6 and WRECK IT RALPH (and ZOOTOPIA for that matter). But in terms of animated fairy tales, I think that in terms of character and story, TANGLED has it ALL over FROZEN… but FROZEN’s music connected with people in a way that I don’t think had happened with a Disney musical since the height of the renaissance and that went a long way in making it as popular as it was. TANGLED’s music is fine- very good even, but FROZEN’s music is fantastic. As sick to death of “Let It Go” as I am sure we all are- I will admit to pretty much being totally jaw-dropped the first time I heard it (and it doesn’t hurt that I have had a huge Broadway-crush on Idina Menzel for 20 years).

    Funny it took two quirky dudes who started off-Broadway (Menken & Schwartz) with Little Shop of Horrors to kick off the renaissance and guide it through its first few years, just getting better and better in the process… to flash forward a generation and it took a quirky couple who started off Broadway with Avenue Q and Book Of Mormon to come in and give Disney music a kick in the pants that sent it into a whole ‘nother realm with the general public.

  42. Nala is definitely forgettable. I didn’t list her for a reason haha. I also didn’t like HUNCHBACK when it came out (granted I was young and didn’t expect something so dark in theme and subjects at points). I don’t think I’ve watched it completely from start to finish since, though I’ve seen a bunch of chunks of it over time, effectively meaning I’ve re-seen it. Frollo great song; my roommates in college made me re-watch it and I had to give some begrudging respect:

    The hunchback of notre dame - Hellfire HD

    By far the best villain song ever.

    I liked THE LITTLE MERMAID show alright as a kid, and it was very popular with girls. Kids had aged out of watching disney cartoons when HERCULES the series came out, but I did notice in bits that I’d see with my friends’ younger siblings or with younger members of my family that it seemed much better than many of the movie spinoffs. The Aladdin follow-up show and DTV stuff, I thought, was really bad.

  43. grimgrinningchris

    July 14th, 2018 at 6:34 am

    Despite my wishy-washiness on HUNCHBACK… 1) I am going to see a live performance of it at University Of West FL next week and am stoked about it… maybe seeing it in that setting and hearing the songs performed live will turn me around on it… and 2) I am pro ANYTHING that gives Tom Hulce work.

    More excited about seeing my local community theater production of the Mary Poppins Broadway show at the end of the month. I really love that adaptation and haven’t seen it live since it first opened on Broadway like just over a decade ago. Ashley Brown, who originated the Mary Poppins part on Broadway was actually in my high school theater troupe and is a fucking rockstar as far as I’m concerned. And I am endlessly pleased by the fact that someone I know knows Richard Sherman.

  44. I feel like I addressed my issues with the new DUCKTALES somewhere here previously, but can’t find it. As a fan of the ’80s cartoon and especially the Carl Barks comics, it just feels too modern-generic. I had a sinking feeling once the indie star voice casting was announced, because that starpower isn’t something anyone should prioritize, and then the drawing style is just flat and ugly to me. It has the broad-outline geometric look of RICK & MORTY or something, and this visual transition feels as dramatic as when Kaminski took over from Slocombe as Indiana Jones DoP. There’s also just too much dialogue in the damn thing. This is a problem I have with a lot of cartoons these days. There’s no economy of words, and it becomes exhausting to listen to. DUCKTALES 2.0 is too much the standard of things to be worse than mediocre, but it could learn to shut up for two seconds.

  45. grimgrinningchris

    July 17th, 2018 at 8:16 am

    Somehow it never registered with me until just seeing something like JUST now about this, that Mulan’s singing voice is the same as Jasmine’s.

    I take goofy pride in knowing all the voice (and singing when they are different than speaking) actors in these movies… and knew Lea Solonga as Jasmine’s singing voice- but had no idea she did “Reflection” for MULAN too. Likely cuz I don’t like the song, but still…

  46. It’s funny how easy it is to accept separate singing voices in animated musicals. I usually don’t even notice it. The funniest one I think is NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, because Danny Elfman has a bunch of spoken lines during the songs and even though it’s clearly a different voice than Chris Sarandon I never think about it while watching it.

  47. grimgrinningchris

    July 17th, 2018 at 11:24 am

    Vern,
    Yeah, it’s definitely easier to accept in animation versus live action, like “uh, yeah… that is so obviously not Michael J Fox singing”.

    Similar to what you are talking about with NIGHTMARE…, there are spoken, spoken/sung parts of both of Aladdin’s songs (“One Jump Ahead” and “Whole New World”) but Scott Weingard (speaking… from Full House) and Brad Kane (singing… now a producer on shows like BLACK SAILS and shit) have such similar speaking voices that the integration is totally seamless. In fact, until I finally verified differently, I was convinced that Weingard had actually sung “One Jump Ahead” and they’d just brought Kane in for “Whole New World” since its a far harder song to sing.

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