Plot: What’s it about?
Mulan is a young, beautiful woman, in a time and place where young, beautiful women are to be seen and not heard. The trouble for Mulan is that she is so smart and adventurous, that she often gets into trouble for going against tradition. She is respectful and noble, but she is a tom boy, and her family’s only child. When the Emperor requires one male from each family to serve in battle, Mulan’s family has no choice but to send the aging father into battle. But Mulan’s cunning and bravery find a way to keep her father off the battlefield after all! Mulan assumes the persona of a male, and takes her father’s place in the battle. Mulan sneaks out late at night, and rushes to the meeting place. After her family asks their ancestors to look after Mulan in the war, the ancestors have a meeting of the minds, and decide the best way of protecting young Mulan. And just what is the best way? They think the great stone dragon is, but wise cracking Mushu, a small red dragon decides he is the best protection for Mulan, and fools the ancestors, getting the job. Joining him is Cri-Kee, Mulan’s lucky cricket. Will Mushu watch over Mulan? Will Mulan return to her family alive…or in a box?
Once again, Disney chooses a great back drop to one of their animated classics, this time around we are in ancient Japan, during a time when dynasties clashed for power for land. Just like always, Disney does a great job of bringing an authentic feel to our locale, with enough detail to choke a horse. But of course, choking is bad, detail is good…oh well. I really enjoyed taking in all the scenery in Mulan, which is rendered with breath taking accuracy. It really looks like the pristine Japanese countryside, although it looks even better than real life. I don’t know if that is good or bad, but for visuals in a film, it is very good. Just as well done is the look of the characters, they have a very unique look to them, with their awesome costumes and weapons. Very cool stuff, the samurai are very well done, with dozens of different sizes/shapes. Another great visually stunning movie by Disney.
The actual animation of these terrific characters is just as skillfully crafted as the stars themselves. While some people say the movement in Disney animated features is all the same, I don’t agree. Some of them are similar, but for the most part, they each have a distinct style to them. Mulan is no exception, with unique movement patterns and very unique look to the characters. The Asian characters in Mulan are very well done, not exaggerating the unique Asian features, but capturing a realistic look for them. As always, those kooky Disney artists gave each bit part character a look and feel of it’s own, giving the armies in Mulan a depth not just in sheer number, but in character. I was a tad worried when this came out theatrically that Disney would not capture the culture correctly, but they did a masterful job of doing so.
Mulan’s voice over work is also excellent. While the roster is not filled with constant blockbuster names, it has a nice assemble cast, although I must admit I am unfamiliar with most of them. Getting my vote as show stopper is Eddie Murphy, the voice of Mushu, Mulan’s dragon protector. Murphy is perfect for this role, and his brand of comedy suits Mushu to a tee. The non stop barrage of wise cracks and put downs from the sidekick is a Disney staple (Genie, Pain and Panic), and aside from Robin Williams in Aladdin, Murphy is the best performance as a comedy relief sidekick. Hey, maybe you don’t think it’s much, but to me, those roles are pivotal to the film, and hold intense importance. Also whipping out a super voice job is Ming Na-Wen, who voices Mulan, our heroine. She displays suprising skill in this role, and really brings depth to our lead role, which of course, is what makes a movie great.
As always, a talented supporting cast brings the remaining roles into prominence. Mulan sports some great back up voice overs, including B.D. Wong, Pat Morita, James Hong, Lea Salonga, June Foray, Gedde “What’s A Happenin’…Hot Stuff” Watanabe, and Miguel Ferrer. Ferrer is excellent, his voice reeks of evil, and he is evil in this flick. I also like his live action performances though, so maybe I am biased. Another notable voice over in Mulan is done by Harvey Fierstein, whose voice is so cool sounding. He plays a tough samurai, so it’s a stretch for old Harvey. Also, George Takei plays the eldest ancestor, so all you Star Trek fans should be happy…”Hi…I’m George Takei…” It’s also worth noting that the songs in Mulan are actually decent, much better than the usual sing along crap Disney pushes out. So, Mulan gets an edge there over most Disney classics.
Mulan has proven herself to be not just a strong woman, but a brave warrior and one just as strong as her male counterparts. She had to hide her feminine side in order to go to battle, but she took on the Huns with immense courage, even with her life on the line. In the end she prevailed and her nation was saved, but her adventure hasn’t ended just yet. Just when she thinks she can relax and settle down for a while, General Shang approaches her with another request. He doesn’t want her at his side in battle this time however, instead he wants her hand in marriage. The two can’t begin their future together yet though, as the Emperor has sent down orders that send them on a crucial secret mission. The couple is to escort three princesses safely to their destination, a mission that could be most dangerous. As the road is traveled, danger surfaces in various forms and Mushu even becomes a problem. If Mulan is married, Mushu loses his position as guardian and in order to avoid that, he seeks to break up Mulan and Shang’s romance. When Mulan wishes to help the princesses escape a wedding to men they don’t love, she and Shang collide. To do so would defy direct orders from the Emperor, but Mulan is more concerned with her conscience, not her orders. All the while, Mushu continues to drive the wedge between the two in deeper. As the fate of China hangs in the balance, can these two settle their differences or will this mission tear the two apart?
The trend of direct to video sequels continues for Disney, but is Mulan II just another inferior sequel, or does it buck the trend? Mulan wasn’t a smash success in theaters, but found an audience on home video and is one of the better releases from final run of Disney’s traditional animated features. Yes, the sidekicks lessen the atmosphere, but the story is good and on the whole, Mulan was a solid picture. Not even close to Disney’s best, but head and shoulders above fare like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pocahontas. So now we have this sequel, which to be honest, I don’t understand the need for, but that’s just me. Even so, I found Mulan II to be a fun movie, one that is sure to please younger audiences. The story lacks the emotion of the original, but the focus here turns to laughs, instead of more dramatic elements. In other words, the sidekicks take a more prominent role and instead of war, the central theme is romance. A number of cast members return, but an importance absentee is Eddie Murphy, who has been replaced as the voice of Mushu. A decent impersonation is present and given Murphy’s high asking price, perhaps this replacement was best. As expected, the animation is a step down, but still looks good, which is all we can ask in this case. I had a lot of doubts about Mulan II, but once you put the drama of the original aside, this sequel can be quite fun to watch. I can’t recommend a blind purchase, but if you or your kids love Disney, then Mulan II is well worth a rental.
Video: How does it look?
Mulan and Mulan II come from different times with the first movie being a big-budget affair and its sequel being a direct to video follow-up. Having said that, I have to say that both feature presentations look pretty darn good. Presented in an AVC HD transfer, Mulan sparkles with the Asian backdrop giving way to a very pristine and colorful palette. These are two fairly high-profile titles and I’m sure Disney is not going to miss an opportunity for them to look anything less than stellar. Mulan II looks a bit more muted than the original, but that’s not to say that it looks bad in the least. Let’s face it, the target audience here are children and I doubt they’ll find anything to complain about – adults either.
Audio: How does it sound?
Both titles have been re-mastered with a new DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack which makes way for a very stellar viewing. The soundtracks for both movies simply boom and resonate with sound, the surrounds are very active as are the LFE. Just to hear George Takai’s voice in DTS HD makes this worth the wait! Ok, just kidding there. These “classic” Disney films sound wonderful and with every one of your channels being active throughout, it certainly adds to the allure of not one, but both of these fine movies.
Supplements: What are the extras?
It’s been a while since I sat down and watched the standard DVD’s of either of these films, but I don’t think any new material has been offered up here. Rather this was a rather easy way for Disney to combine two films, compile the already-offered supplements, put it in a new shiny package and sell it to us again. Now that sounds rough, but to be honest, these movies do come with some supplements and they do add some value to the films. Starting off with Mulan, we find an audio commentary with the producer and directors who chime in from time to time offering up some history on the film, the characters and the backdrop. Seven deleted scenes are also included as are the previously-offered featurettes from the original DVD released way back in 1999. The trailer is also included. Moving onto Mulan II, we find four deleted scenes, “Voices of Mulan” which is a three minute featurette on, you guessed it, the actors who voiced the parts as well as a music video “I Wanna Be Like the Other Girls” by Atomic Kitten. Remember them? Me neither.