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Mulan (1998)/Mulan II (2004)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/12/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/9/2013
Ever since the renaissance of the Disney animated film with The Little Mermaid, we have seen a parade of films from the company which represent a wide range in quality. While some, like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King are considered classics, others, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, are merely passable. Throughout the 90s, Disney would treat us to these animated goodies on a (nearly) annual basis, and it reached the point where most were taking them for granted. That's why I feel that 1998's Mulan got lost in the shuffle and has never received the credit which it deserves. Therefore, it's great to see the film get the Blu-ray Disc treatment...along with its sequel.
Mulan is set in ancient China, and as the film opens, we are greeted with two distinctly different images; first, we see the Huns, led by Shan-Yu (voiced by Miguel Ferrer) ascend the Great Wall as they begin their invasion of China; secondly, we meet a teenaged girl named Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na), who is being prepared for her meeting with the matchmaker (who will aid her in finding a suitable husband). But, Mulan's rebellious nature gets the best of her, and her meeting is a disaster. Because of this, she fears that she will never bring honor to her family.
Things change abruptly when word comes from the Emperor that the Huns have invaded China and that every household must send a man to do battle. Mulan's father, Fa Zhou (voiced by Soon-Tek Oh), takes the assignment, but as he was wounded in a previous war, and walks with a cane, Mulan fears for his safety. This is when Mulan decides to take matters into her own hands. She cuts her hair, disguises herself as a boy, and takes her father's place in the army. Her ancient ancestors, seeing her plight, decide to send a mighty guardian after her. Unfortunately, this plan backfires, and a very small dragon named Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy) is the only one available to fetch Mulan. Mulan soon finds herself in training camp, where she must not only attempt to fit in as a male, but also impress Captain Li Shang (voiced by B.D. Wong), the group's commander. With the aid of Mushu, and a lucky cricket given to her by her grandmother, Mulan tries to not only prove herself, but save China as well.
Every time that I watch Mulan, I ask myself, "Why don't I hear more about this movie?" For, in my opinion, Mulan is not only one of the best Disney animated films ever, it may be the one which is perfect for any audience. The movie has so many things going for it that they are difficult to list. For one thing, the story is quite simple and accessible. Mulan is an awkward teenager who wants to impress her family and prove that she is worthy of their respect -- this is something that many can relate to. The film offers some historically accurate moments, but it doesn't shove history down your throat. As long as you understand that the Huns are invading China and that women were treated as second-class citizens during this time, the film will be easy to follow. Some may be tempted to avoid the film simply because the main character is female. However, this doesn't make it a "chick flick". The movie still offers a great deal of action and intrigue, as Mulan follows her comrades into war. The film balances these scenes with Mulan's attraction to Li Shang. The animation is the film is colorful and engaging, as it falls somewhere between semi-realistic drawings to very cartoonish (Mulan's dog looks as if he's escaped from another movie entirely).
The Disney animated films of the 90s often walked a fine-line between traditional to hip. Beauty and the Beast and Tarzan kept things very somber, while Aladdin and Emperor's New Groove almost play as flat-out comedies. Mulan lands somewhere in-between these two extremes. The movie offers a semi-accurate account of a war which actually happened and it's clear that people die in this war. Also, Mulan's plight is more of an emotional struggle, than a fight against a clear-cut antagonist. However, the movie also offers some incredibly funny moments. While the use of Eddie Murphy as Mushu may be a bit over-the-top, there's no doubt that he and the Cricket have some incredibly funny moments. (The scene in which Mulan's horse first sees Mushu still makes me laugh.) This makes for a very satisfying film. In fact, the only real flaw in Mulan is the villain. Shan-Yu may be a menacing figure, but his agenda is too blasé. He wants to invade China...and? Ferrer does a great job with the voice, but the character is very one-dimensional. Mulan is a very well-rounded film which shows just how engaging an animated film can be.
Mulan invades Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is extremely sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, especially the deeper tones. The movie contains several dark scenes, but the image is never overly dark and the blacks look true. The level of detail is very good, but it doesn’t reveal any flaws in the animation. The depth is good as well, and we get a good sense of the work which goes into multi-plane animation. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a very active track. The battle scenes sound great, providing dynamic surround and subwoofer effects. We get a sense of being in the thick of things and the rockets really set off the subwoofer. The stereo effects are good as well, and show detailed separation. As one would hope, the songs sound very good.
The Mulan Blu-ray Disc contains a number extras, all of which appear to have been taken from the previous DVD release. We start off with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from producer Pam Coats, and directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook. This is a good commentary as the trio splits there time between talking about the animation and the technical work which went into making the movie, and the behind-the-scenes lowdown on the story and the actors. "Mulan Fun Facts" is an odd 2-minute short which offers facts about the film. The Disc contains 7 DELETED SCENES, which total 22 minutes. They are mostly made up of storyboard images, and contain introductions from the directors and others. (There are many aspects of aborted openings for the film here.) We also get a Music Video section, which contains; "Ill Make a Man Out of You", performed by Jackie Chan in Mandarin (what?); "Reflection", sung by Christina Aguilera, before she got skanky; "True to Your Heart", from Stevie Wonder and 98 Degrees (does Nick Lachey know that he used to do those dumb moves?); "True to Your Heart", by "Miss I'm involved in every Disney Project" herself, Raven; and "Reflejo" performed in Spanish by Lucero. (Note that this is the exact same video as the Aguilera version, but with a different singer.) The remainder of the extras are brief featurettes which are devoted to various aspects of the film's production -- "The Journey Begins", "Story Artists' Journey", "Design", "Production", "Digital Production", "Songs of Mulan", and "Mulan's International Journey". These are all quite in-depth, offering interviews with the filmmakers and a nice amount of production art.
Disney's track record with their direct-to-video sequels to animated films is as spotty as those Dalmatians they seem to release every few years. From the pleasant (Little Mermaid II) to the unwatchable (The Return of Jafar) these sequels vary greatly in quality and none have lived up to the reputation of their predecessor. But, they doesn’t stop Disney from making them, and Mulan II is another entry into this line.
Mulan II begins a short time following the conclusion of the first film. Following her success in a the battle which saved China from the Huns, Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na) is once again living with her parents. Her dreams are seemingly fulfilled when Li Shang (voiced by B.D. Wong), her true love and partner in battle, proposes to her. However, just as they are planning the wedding, Mulan and Shang are summoned by the Emperor (voiced by Pat Morita). They are asked to escort the Emperor's three daughters -- Mei (voiced by Lucy Liu), Su (voiced by Lauren Tom), and Ting Ting (voiced by Sandra Oh) -- to a neighboring country, where they will be wed in an arranged marriage. These marriages will bring peace to the countries involved. Shang and Mulan decide to have their army buddies, Yao (voiced by Harvey Fierstein), Ling (voiced by Gedde Watanbe), and Chien-Po (voiced by Jerry Tondo) accompany them. Mulan doesn't like the idea of arranged marriages and she begins to question the princess' about their futures. Meanwhile, Mulan's mystical guardian, Mushu the Dragon (voiced by Mark Moseley...didn't he used to kick for the Redskins?) learns that if Mulan and Shang get married, he'll lose his place in the ancestral shrine. Therefore, he attempts to sabotage their relationship. These situations make the already perilous journey even more of a hazard.
Given the fact that the "Disney Princess" line of products has been a major boost to Disney's marketing in the past few years, and that Mulan is a great movie, it's not surprising that Disney decided to make this sequel. What is surprising is the fact that they've taken everything which was charming and endearing about the original and thrown it out the window. Mulan was an amazing film which touched on the themes of family, loyalty, bravery, and feminism, all the while offering great action scenes and humor. Mulan II attempts to retain some of that feeling, but simply goes about it the wrong way.
For example, the feminist aspects of the story are certainly there, as Mulan tries to convince the princess' to abandon their arranged marriages, but the message simply rings hollow in this film. There is only one action scene in the film, and it's very ho-hum. The songs in Mulan II aren't memorable at all. The characters of Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po made for nice comic relief in the first film, but there's simply too much of them here. Come to think of it, there's too much of everyone except for Mulan, who takes a back-seat to all of the other subplots. But, the film's biggest mistake was taking Mushu, who provided some incredibly funny moments in Mulan, and essentially making him the villain. How is the audience, which will be comprised mainly of children, supposed to react when one of the most beloved characters from the first movie is suddenly evil? It's extremely odd. The fact that Eddie Murphy didn't reprise his role as Mushu isn't surprising. Not only from a financial aspect, but I wouldn't blame him for not wanting to take Mushu in this direction. These problems aren't helped by the fact that the animation is quite stiff at times and lacks the luster of Disney's theatrical animated releases. Mulan II isn't really a bad movie, but it truly pales in comparison to the original and makes far too many changes to the story and characters.
Mulan II attempts to get hitched to Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 23 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good (although very pastel) and the image is never overly dark or bright. However, this HD transfer shows just how “cartoony” and stiff the animation is, and it looks very flat -- the characters are cutouts lying on top of the backgrounds. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely-done and we sometimes get a sense of sounds coming from off-screen. There are some occasional ambient surround sound effects However, when compared to the first film, this track is somewhat dull. This may be due in part of the lackluster events portrayed in the movie.
The Mulan II Blu-ray Disc contains a handful of extras. We get 4 DELETED SCENES, all of which are in storyboard form. These scenes are introduced by co-directors Darrell Rooney & Lynne Southerland and producer Jennifer Blohm -- with the scenes and the intros, this segments runs about 12 minutes. We have the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "(I Wanna Be) Like Other Girls" performed by Atomic Kitten. Yet, we never get to see these kittens, as the video contains only clips from the film. "Voices of Mulan" (3 minutes) is a brief segment which glosses over the voice actors in the film and actually draws attention to the fact that Eddie Murphy didn't come back for the sequel.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.