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Artwork copyright (c) 1998 Disney; review copyright (c) 2004 James Southall



Exceptional score of tremendous excitement, emotion


After Disney ushered in a new era of animated features in 1989 with The Little Mermaid, following it with a string of excellent pictures which proved to be huge successes on both critical and financial levels, it seemed that the studio could really do no wrong.  However, things have become somewhat turbulent over the last few years, with boardroom upheavals, its relationship with Pixar seemingly coming to an end, and above all its films (apart from, ironically, the Pixar ones) no longer getting the kind of box office they used to.  One of the last of their traditionally-animated movies to achieve the receipts the studio had become accustomed to was Mulan, a slightly odd movie about a Chinese girl who disguises herself as a boy and goes off and battles the huns.  It seemed that in trying to fit all of their movies into one formula - there will be songs, there will be comedy animal sidekicks, etc - they came unstuck here, with a story that was actually trying to be serious.

Those songs - this time by composer Matthew Wilder and lyricist David Zippel - are OK, though nothing like as distinguished as Alan Menken's for previous Disney movies, and similarly lacking the broad pop appeal of the ones by Phil Collins, Elton John etc from before and since.  There are four songs here, performed by the voice actors from the movie, along with a few pop versions, including one from Stevie Wonder and one from Christina Aguilera.  Unfortunately, the score is given scant time to prove itself on the album, with just 25 minutes of running time in addition to an orchestral suite of the song melodies; this is particularly unfortunate given that it's probably the finest score ever written for an animated movie.  Originally Rachel Portman was recruited to score, but when she got pregnant she had to pull out and so Disney made the sage decision of getting Jerry Goldsmith to write his second score for an animation, after The Secret of NIMH a decade and a half earlier.

So disappointing was the Disney Records release that when the studio pressed an album and sent it to voters around Oscar time, it became one of the most highly-coveted items in the world of film music fandom, with some fans spending hundreds of dollars buying copies.  Strangely, there seem to be various different versions of it floating around, but I've concentrated on what seems to be the most common (the tracklisting is below), with 28 score tracks followed by 8 alternate versions of cues.

It opens with the same orchestral suite of the song melodies (including brief versions of the two main Goldsmith-penned themes) that appears on the commercial release, then goes straight into the brief but gorgeous choral main title.  Dramatic action music - as good as any from Goldsmith during the 1990s - dominates the remainder, beginning with the sensational "Attack at the Wall", pure dynamite.  It's explosive stuff for an animation, with truly aggressive writing for brass that keeps the listener on the edge of his seat.  Other highlights include "Blossoms", "Shoulders Back / Avalanche", "The Huns Attack" and a couple of magnificent tracks later on, "Boo" and "A Lucky Bug" which, in all probability, rival anything the composer's written in terms of sheer thrills, packing a real wallop from start to finish with aggressive, enormous writing that is truly thrilling.

Of course, it isn't action music all the way.  There is some playful music for the comedic scenes (though in general Goldsmith plays it straight), and some really touching, emotional material elsewhere, particularly "The Burned-Out Village", six minutes long and featuring some truly gorgeous music for flute and oboe.  A particular highlight is "Mulan's Decision", which attracted much debate around the time.  Goldsmith scored the scene - pivotal to the movie - many different times before coming to an approach that was acceptable to both him and the filmmakers - and three of his attempts are included here.  Mostly, it is the middle section which differs; it is Goldsmith's original vision of the cue which appears on the Disney Records release, but the one in the film is marked as the second alternate on the promo, quite radically different really - different not only to Goldsmith's original version, but to pretty much anything else he's ever written, with some particularly impressive electronics taking centre-stage.  Also impressive is the stunning choral finale "Gratitude", a soaring and beautiful piece, followed by a gorgeous rendition of the main romantic theme in "The Sword", a cracking way of rounding off the score (before the alternate versions, at least!)

It really is a great pity that more of this wonderful score wasn't included on the commercial album, because it showcases Jerry Goldsmith at truly his very finest, delivering his most wholly satisfying score of the decade; there's not a moment which is less than impressive.

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Disney Records release

  1. True to Your Heart Stevie Wonder (4:16)
  2. Reflection Vanessa-Mae (3:00)
  3. Honour to Us All (3:03)
  4. Reflection (2:27)
  5. I'll Make a Man Out of You (3:21)
  6. A Girl Worth Fighting For (2:26)
  7. Suite from Mulan (7:06)
  8. Attack at the Wall (4:59)
  9. Mulan's Decision (3:23)
  10. Blossoms (6:27)
  11. The Huns Attack (4:30)
  12. The Burned-Out Village (5:53)
  13. Reflection Christina Aguilera (3:36)


Promotional release

  1. Suite from Mulan (7:01)
  2. Main Title (1:00)
  3. Attack at the Wall (4:55)
  4. The Matchmaker (1:48)
  5. Dishonour (:34)
  6. Mulan's Decision (3:18)
  7. One Chance (1:15)
  8. The Master Plan (:53)
  9. Shan Yu (:54)
  10. Blossoms (6:23)
  11. Shoulders Back / Avalanche (4:24)
  12. Ping (:55)
  13. The Real Work (1:43)
  14. Morning Assembly (1:05)
  15. Deserted Village (1:01)
  16. Bogus Letter (:52)
  17. Letter Delivered (:33)
  18. The Burned-Out Village (5:47)
  19. Save the Cannons (1:14)
  20. The Huns Attack (1:47)
  21. Imperial Palace (1:27)
  22. Penguins March (:38)
  23. Sword Snatcher (:38)
  24. Boo (2:23)
  25. A Lucky Bug (2:34)
  26. Gratitude (1:09)
  27. The Pendant (:39)
  28. The Sword (1:11)
  29. The Matchmaker (alternate) (1:49)
  30. Mulan's Decision (first alternate) (3:11)
  31. Mulan's Decision (second alternate) (3:55)
  32. One Chance (alternate) (1:19)
  33. The Master Plan (alternate) (:51)
  34. Ping (alternate) (:53)
  35. Avalanche (alternate) (2:23)
  36. A Lucky Bug (alternate) (2:23)