The Magic Kingdom takes on the Middle Kingdom in Mulan, Disney's animated feature about a young woman who poses as a young man in order to join the Imperial Army and fight the Huns who've breached China's Great Wall. Set long before the current regime came to power, Mulan is based on one of China's most popular legends, which Disney, as usual, has bent to its own purposes. I'm not talking about Mulan's fire-breathing sidekick, a miniature dragon named Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy). I'm talking about the movie's theme, summed up in the individualistic song "True to Your Heart," which blithely rejects 3,000 years of Chinese history. Mulan is Yentl if Yentl had been more interested in watching G.I. Jane than in reading the Talmud. The movie can't seem to get through a single frame without commenting on gender roles. Indeed, so intent is it on making a point that it barely takes the time to have any fun. (You can almost hear the strain in Murphy's voice as he tries to top Robin Williams' genie in Aladdin.) And yet, visually, Mulan is yet another masterpiece from some of the best animators in the world. This time, they've taken their cues from traditional Chinese art, though the most stunning shots are the computer-assisted ones of the Huns attacking.
American youngsters should like the movie just fine. How it will play in China (with its potential 1.2 billion Mickey Mouse fans) is another question. For Mulan is a rare example of Disney, that most conservative of studios, bucking tradition--China's.