Harry Gregson-Williams’ Mulan score offers a decent main theme and several entertaining action cues, though it sadly doesn’t quite reach the same heroic heights as the composers’ excellent previous entries in fantasy action scoring.
The album kicks off with the quietly hopeful Ancestors, a cue that right off the bat introduces the composer’s new main theme for Mulan. Much like the cue overall its a light, hopeful melody that plays firstly on woodwinds before then transitioning to louder, more heroic-sounding strings. In the back half the music then really starts to take hold of the film’s Chinese setting, utilising a now full orchestra to great tonal effect in order to achieve this. This stylistic idea then continues into Tulou Courtyard with slow, pensive string instruments and woodwinds that (after a few seconds of tonal introduction) play a gently optimistic rendition of the main theme. The Desert Garrison then darkens the score somewhat, with ominous drums arriving alongside low-pitched, moody strings. The volume and intensity then picks up considerably in the cue’s second half, with the percussion becoming frantic and imposing brass also entering the fray. This ominousness continues in the rather short Böri Khan & Xianniang, with deep, villainous vocals then taking the musical forefront for much of the cue.
Gentle strings and wistful woodwinds form the stylistic centrepiece of the three minute The Lesson Of The Phoenix, playing Mulan’s main theme in quiet yet inspiring form throughout the track. Honor To Us All then reprises a few notes from the song of the same name from the original 1998 Mulan movie, with upbeat Chinese-esque instrumentation utilised here rather effectively as its medium. This style continues briefly at the beginning of Mulan Leaves Home in a rather melancholic setting before rapid strings, epic brass and triumphant vocals then loudly take over for a few seconds, hinting toward a more heroic and action-oriented score before then fading as quickly as they first arrived. In the final few seconds, Mulan’s theme plays in sorrowful form on strings before the track then draws to a close. Rising brass notes and hopeful percussion build up dramatically in Four Ounces Can Move A Thousand Pounds, before the score then finally, heroically unleashes its orchestra in Mulan Rides Into Battle, utilising the melody from Christina Aguilera’s Reflection song (which incidentally appears in both Mulan movies) in loud, epic action mode. At just over five minutes long this is the album’s first proper foray into action territory, and a properly good one at that. Harry Gregson-Williams has always excelled at writing action music, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here.
Ethereal woodwinds open and continue throughout the rather short Honghui, with hopeful brass and gentle vocals also quietly occupying the background. War-like drums then take over in Training The Men alongside rapid action strings and upbeat Chinese-esque instrumentation that keeps the cue firmly grounded in the movie’s setting. At three minutes long its a pretty entertaining action cue, and one that serves as an excellent introduction to the score’s action-oriented back half – which starts with Mulan & Honghui Fight. Here fast-paced percussion and determined-sounding strings start things off, with a rather grandiose rendition of Mulan’s main theme then establishing considerable tension towards the end of the cue. The pace then continues in The Witch, together with frantic strings and ominous punches of brass that overall make for an entertaining though sadly at times slightly dull action cue overall. Happily though I Believe Hua Mulan then livens the score up a bit, utilising a dash of heroic brass and epic vocals alongside a few dramatic playthroughs of the main theme. Dark, sinister vocals open The Charge, establishing quite a creepy musical tone before rapid percussion and loud stabs of brass take over at about the halfway mark to make for a few particularly frenzied action-centric minutes, with Mulan’s theme also making several distraught appearances before the track then ends.
The action continues in Chasing The Hawk, with tense strings hurrying along with dramatic brass as it in turn plays a rather determined rendition of Mulan’s main theme. Things then slow down about a minute in, with ominous vocals lingering for a few seconds before Mulan’s theme rolls back into the fray with a percussion-heavy vengeance. The six minute action setpiece Fight For The Kingdom is then up next, and it’s here that Mulan’s theme gets its loudest and boldest playthrough yet (at about 2 minutes in, FYI), this time interweaved between dramatic, fast-paced percussion and epic brass. To close the cue we then get a treat in the form of another breathtaking rendition of the Reflection motif on epic vocals. To finish up the action, Mulan & The Emperor gives us a poignantly triumphant rendition of Mulan’s theme on brass before things then quieten down for the album’s final two cues. The main theme plays gently and reminiscently a few times in the primarily woodwind-based Return To The Village before returning somewhat heroically in the final The Fourth Virtue, thus ending the album on a happily high note.
Overall, Harry Gregson-Williams’ Mulan makes for an enjoyable listen. It doesn’t quite reach the same epic heights as the composer’s Sinbad or Narnia scores, but its entertaining all the same. The main theme is well composed and recognisable, as is the use of the rather exquisite motif from Christina Aguilera’s Reflection song. I did find myself getting a little bored though about halfway through – the album does drag a bit and the score, while good, doesn’t really reach any high heights. There also weren’t really any tracks (even counting the standout Mulan Rides Into Battle) that intrigued me enough to warrant further listens, but of course that is just how I feel.
The score is good, don’t get me wrong, but for me it doesn’t really offer anything substantial that I would really want to listen to again in the future. It’s entertaining sure, but not particularly noteworthy.
Standout Cue: 10. Mulan Rides Into Battle