When I watched Mulan in the theater, it struck me as having the most memorable Disney animated film score since The Lion King. Unfortunately, the CD release suffers from Disney's Kids-R-Us syndrome, making it difficult for Jerry Goldsmith's quality orchestral work to stand out.
The first 15 minutes of the CD are Disney soundtrack hell. Normally I listen to all of a CD several times before reviewing it, but first impressions will have to suffice here as I refuse to listen to that first section any further. The first four tracks are the vocal numbers from the film. I don't have anything against vocals, but these are mostly just horrible. Childish in theme, childish in instrumental performance (the "ethnic" elements are cliched and weak), childish in lyrics, and often unbearably childish in vocal performance, it's truly a chore suffering through these tracks.
I realize the film is intended primarily for children, but that doesn't mean it has to forsake elder participants; unfortunately the vocal tracks do. Additionally, the mandatory pop release, this time "True to Your Heart" by Stevie Wonder, is bad pop, and the pop version of "Reflection" at the end isn't much better.
Fortunately the remainder of the CD is Goldsmith's orchestral score. The work here makes a case for redeeming the CD as a whole. Goldsmith implements some east Asian musical style into the arrangement and a bit into the orchestration as well, although not as much as I'd expected. The score is similar in quality to other Goldsmith music, a compliment as far as I'm concerned, while avoiding sounding like a rehash (although one segment is quite reminiscient of the main theme from Star Trek First Contact). The highlight of the CD is definitely "The Huns Attack", the entirely stirring music for the major battle scene, which utilizes the memorable main theme repeatingly but with consistently captivating variation.
Actually the most memorable moments in the score are usually the ones where the main theme surfaces. Also there is the "Suite from Mulan", which moves through some of Goldsmith's themes and also presents respectable implementations of the vocal themes (in orchestral form). On the negative side, the score tracks tend to wander on to various moods and melodies without really establishing the previous ones, something those listeners less devoted to film scores might find particular bothersome.
Although the orchestral tracks are certainly good film music, their limited presence (only about 30 minutes; surely several quality cues weren't included) as the only worthwhile material narrows the CD's appeal to only somewhat serious film soundtrack collectors.