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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Mulan I & II 2-Movie Collection Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Full of daring action and hilarious characters, the fun-filled Mulan Special Edition celebrates honor, courage, and the importance of family.  Clever Mulan proves her worth outside of her tradition-bound society when, disguised as a male soldier, “Ping,” she bravely takes her father’s place in the Imperial Army.  Helped by her outrageously funny guardian dragon Mushu and a lucky cricket named Cri-Kee, Mulan strives to earn the respect of her fellow warriors and their courageous Captain Shang.  Mulan’s adventures lead to a climactic battle atop the Imperial Palace, where her family’s honor and the fate of the Emperor and all of China rests in her hands!  

Film (3 out of 5 stars) 


Mulan (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)         Mulan II (2 out of 5 stars) 

Disney is famous for their fairy-tales that involve princesses, cuddly animal sidekicks, and someone to watch over and help them overcome evil.  Whether it’s the Fairy Godmother or the three fairies from Sleeping Beauty, these princesses usually have some backup before they can get their happily ever after ending.  With Mulan, Disney tried to mix things up a bit by basing the story on a Chinese folk-tale  where the heroine is a very modern woman living in unmodern times.  Of course, they don’t abandon their winning formula completely as *spoiler alert for anyone that hasn’t seen a Disney movie* Mulan still ends up with a handsome suitor, has animal sidekicks, and essentially becomes a princess of sorts.  *End of unnecessary spoiler alert*.   But then again, Mulan isn’t a damsel in distress at all.  In fact, the whole reason the events happen as they do is because she takes her father’s place in the army once the ruthless Shan Yu (Miguel Ferrer) invades China.
The Chinese Emperor conscripts one man from each family to join his army to counter Shan Yu and Mulan’s father (Soon-Tek Ho) is handicapped so she takes his sword and joins the army in his place.  Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) wanted to help her father but she also didn’t have a lot going on either as her family was pushing her to marry someone she didn’t love and she failed to impress the local matchmaker too.  When her father learns what Mulan has done, he goes to the family shrine and asks their ancestors for help who order than their “Great Stone Dragon” go to protect her.  They don’t realize that the messenger sent to wake the Great Dragon, a small dragon named Mushu (Eddie Murphy), failed to wake the dragon and that he went in its place.  Mushu wants to become an official guardian and is determined to help Mulan so he can be promoted.
Before that can happen, Mulan must learn how to act like a man and also learn how to become a soldier.  Things don’t start off well but she eventually makes new friends called Yao (Harvey Fierstein), Ling (Gedde Watanabe),  and Chien-Po (Jerry S. Tondo) and under the leadership of Li Shang (BD Wong), they all become formidable warriors. Eager for glory, Mushu fakes an order from Li Shang’s father, General Li, which orders Li Shang to take his men to the mountains to support him.  When they arrive, they discover that General Li and all of his men have already been killed by the Huns.  To make matters worse, when they try to leave the mountains, they are ambushed by Shan Yu’s men and they are only saved at the last minute by Mulan’s quick thinking.  From this point on the pressure is on as Mulan’s secret is constantly on the verge of being discovered and Shan Yu’s Huns are getting closer and closer to capturing the Emperor and China.  Mulan will have to find a way to preserve her family’s honor, win over Li Shang, and to stop Shan Yu before it’s too late.
The second movie included here, takes a step backwards as it seems geared only for younger audiences and seems like a sequel in name only.  The first film with its melodic traditional sounding music is quite different than the score for the second that sounds like it belong in a different movie altogether.  The story isn’t as good either, as it focuses on Mulan’s friends trying to beat tradition by being able to woo the Emperor’s daughters.  Lucky for the three friends, the Emperor has three daughters which makes it real convenient especially since each of them is able to find a mate out of the other set of three. Mulan and Li Shang have the B story-line that makes Shang act out of character just to make the story work, but in all honesty, there’s really not much for the star Mulan to do here.
Another character that undergoes a transformation to propel this story is Mushu.  No longer voiced by Eddie Murphy, the character loses a lot of charm and humor and becomes a Machiavellian saboteur by taking every chance to ruin Mulan’s relationship with Chang just to keep his guardian position, which makes no sense since he already learned his lesson in the first movie and was willing to give up anything to make Mulan happy and successful.  This is just lazy storytelling and overall, the entire movie doesn’t feel like a sequel at all.  It feels like a cash grab and it’s one of the reasons that Disney took a hit on their reputation when they pushed out a lot of these substandard direct to video releases.  The only positive thing I can say about the sequel is that the animation looks a lot better than the other direct to video sequels they’ve done.
Mulan turned out to be a crossroads movie for Disney.  On the one hand, it’s their usual kind of princess fairy-tale that contains many of their usual formulaic elements. On the other, it also feels very modern despite its setting in ancient China.   Mulan herself perfectly represents those polar elements as she starts the movie off trying to adhere to her family and cultural traditions, but by the end of the movie she’s a thoroughly modern woman who feels out of place for her time.  This movie also feels a more adult than the usual Disney fare which fits in with that time period that includes other similar movies like Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame that really tried pushing the envelope of what an animated movie should be.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 


Mulan (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)       Mulan II (4 out of 5 stars) 

These 1080p presentations (with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and 1.78:1, respectively, look very good with vivid colors and lots of sharp detail.  From the opening watercolor opening all the way to the  firework filled finale, Mulan looks very fine with strong colors and deep blacks.  Mulan II also looks good but not quite as good as its predecessor, but the animation looks much better than you’d expect for a direct to video release.  The colors and hues may not be as vivid as the first movie’s but it still looks a lot better than I thought it would.  Neither film has any glaring digital defects or blemishes.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 


Mulan (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)       Mulan II (4 out of 5 stars) 

Mulan’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix is also as excellent as its video transfer.  The film’s dialogue is clear and clean and is never drowned out in all of the action or music.  The LFE channel is used frequently to great effect, while the rear speakers off some very accurate directional effects as well.  This movie’s sound mix does a nice job of putting the viewer into the action and it’s very satisfying to hear.  Mulan II also sounds fairly good but it doesn’t have the quality of sound that the first film does.  Both tracks are free from any sound defects.

Extras  


Mulan (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)    Mulan II (2 out of 5 stars) 

I was hoping that Disney might offer a lot more extras than their previous release of Mulan but alas, it didn’t happen. We get a couple of new additions and all of the previous material ported over, but I was really hoping for more.

Mulan:
  • Audio Commentary - We get a screen specific commentary from directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook and producer Pam Coats who talk about Mulan’s development, actors, style, themes, music, and more.  There’s a lot of good information in this track if you’re a fan of the movie but if you’re not then this may be a little dry.
  • Deleted Scenes - This set comes with seven deleted scenes that have been recreated through storyboards to show us what could have been.  Director Tony Bancroft introduces the following scenes: “Keep ‘Em Guessing,” “The Prologue Chronicle,” “Shadow Puppets Prologue,” “The Betrothal,” “Shan-Yu Destroys the Village,” “Mulan’s Dream”, and “The Emperor’s Dream.”
  • Classic Backstage Disney - As usual, Disney has nicely ported over almost an hour’s worth of extras from the previous release to help round up some extra goodies for viewers.  Included are:  ”Mulan’s Fun Facts,” “The Journey Begins,” “Story Artists’ Journey,” “Design,” “Production”, and “Digital Production.”  All of them are interesting and informative.
  • Classic Music & More  – Surprisingly enough, there’s almost thirty minutes of musical extras here.   Included within are: “Songs of Mulan,” “Mulan’s International Journey,” “Multi-Language Presentation” and five music videos, including :”I’ll Make a Man Out of You” in Mandarin by Jackie Chan, “Reflection” by Christina Aguilera, “Reflejo” in Spanish by Lucero, “True to Your Heart” by Raven, and “True to Your Heart” by Stevie Wonder.  I did like the Stevie Wonder song.
Mulan II:
Being a direct to video release means not having too many extras and that’s the case here.  But at least we got something!
  • Deleted Scenes – There’s four deleted scenes included but none of them are worth watching.
  • Classic Backstage Disney Featurette – If you’d like to learn more about the voice acting in Mulan then you should check out the “Voices of Mulan” featurette.
  • Classic Music – Here’s more info on the film’s music but since the music isn’t that good you can skip this one.

Summary (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

The first movie is an easy one to recommend as the animation looks fantastic, the voice acting is very good, and it has a fairly serious story that’s punctuated with some laughs, mostly from Eddie Murphy’s Mushu.  Mulan II on the other hand, is not recommended for all of the reasons I mentioned above.  While Mulan isn’t one of my favorite Disney movies, I still liked it more than some of their other releases at the time.  It can be serious at times, but not the fake solemnity that popped up a lot during this time period where it seemed that Disney was doing everything they could to get some awards by either making huge Broadway-esque productions or by making message movies that hammer their points home with a sledgehammer.  Mulan however, managed to get its points across subtly and with a dash of humor which is always welcome.
Order your copy today! 

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