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STUDIO: Walt Disney Video
RUNNING TIME: Mulan: 88 minutes, Mulan II: 79 minutes
• Directors and producer commentary on Mulan
• Backstage Disney featurettes
• Deleted scenes
• Music videos
Boys Don’t Cry… they fend off Hun encroachment!
Ming-Na Wen. Eddie Murphy. International megastar B.D. Wong. Pat Morita. Miguel Ferrer.
Based on a classical Chinese ballad of the girl who saves China, with the mystical sidekicks and musical numbers of a 90s Disney film, the cross-dressing and forged letters of a Shakespeare comedy, and the big battles and dying fathers of a Shakespeare tragedy, this film packs a lot of craft into a surprisingly short (by today’s standards) running time.
The Huns, led by the vicious Shan Yu (Ferrer), breach the Great Wall and make their way toward the Imperial City. For its defense, China decides to draft one soldier from each family, and since Fa Zhou has no son, he must go. His daughter Mulan (Wen), seeing that the man is clearly too old to survive a campaign, steals his armor, cuts her hair and enlists. She was no good at being an obedient girl and prospective wife, anyway. Along the way, Mulan accumulates sidekicks (three human, three animal), earns the respect of General Shang (Wong), defeats the invaders, and becomes a hero to her country.
The acting is tremendous across the board. The two leads are charismatic and do a great job of showing the changes their characters go through. Ming-Na Wen slightly modulates her voice in and out of disguise and also as time goes on – you won’t notice it, but she sounds quite different by the end of the film. In addition, Murphy is legitimately funny, the old guys are legitimately old, and the lesser characters have enough personality to keep things interesting.
-“Apologies, boy, I didn’t catch all that. Was it something like ‘Ooh, look at me, I’m clean shaven and I maintain the world’s largest private collection of Kate Botello pics.’”?
-“Stay out of My Documents, and prepare for disaster in your stupid, stupid heart, old man.”
I must give special mention to the villain, voiced by Miguel Ferrer at his menacing best. Shan Yu is offscreen for huge chunks of the movie, but because of a few well-written early scenes, you never forget the character’s ominous, impending presence. Dude is so badass he doesn’t even sing.
Don’t worry, though: most of the other characters do sing. The music in this film is poppier than the songs from older, classic Disney films, but it’s also pretty darn good. I hadn’t seen this film since it was in theaters, when I was eleven, but as the songs came up this time I remembered each one. The best thing about them is that some complicated bits of plot, such as Mulan’s matchmaking preparation and her military training, are expressed through the songs, which condenses each sequence into one short montage. Instead of padding out the film’s running time, these songs shorten it.
Overall, as you can tell, I love the movie. It’s entertaining in the big battles, in the little moments of humor (Murphy is not as funny here as Robin Williams was in Aladdin, but he relies much, much less on the pop-culture references which seem so dated now), and most important, in the genuine emotion of the characters. Disney aimed to achieve a delicate balance between the film’s “feminist” leanings and its otherwise completely old-fashioned story, and I think they succeeded well. There had to be a romance, for example, but it’s played surprisingly – and admirably – low key. I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed by this film.
Mulan II (2005)
The three male supporting characters are back, and three female ones are added, and the story is about marriage! Just… just pretend that you’re surprised when it happens. Please.
Ming-Na Wen. Mark Mosely (taking over for Eddie Murphy). Galactic icon B.D. Wong. Pat Morita. Lucy Liu. Sandra Oh.
The tagline on the DVD case: “Saving China was only the beginning.” If you interpret that to mean that the sequel contains bigger and better action, or bigger and better anything than Mulan, you’d be mistaken. If you interpret it to mean that this film has the quality of an above-average story arc of your typical mid-level, low-budget, soon-to-be-canceled-and-forgotten children’s cartoon series, while having slightly better voice acting, then you’d be right, though probably not a master of reading comprehension in general.
General Shang asks Mulan for her hand in marriage, but before they can get too far into the proceedings, China is again threatened by invasion. This time, instead of fighting, seeing, or ever really mentioning the invaders, our heroes embark on a mission to bring three princesses to a neighboring kingdom. The emperor thinks he can, through their marriages to princes, solidify an alliance so powerful no one would dare attack.
Mulan is naturally not too keen on the idea of arranged marriages, while Shang clings to tradition in every way, and the film builds some nice tension early on when the characters begin to disagree on everything. This get worse when Mushu, Mulan’s dragon, realizes a melding of the families would make him lose his divine protectorship over Mulan, and he decides to sow discord between the betrothed. They get angry just once, however, and after an obvious fakedeath, everyone loves each other again, with the rest of the film spent going through the motions.
Several times in this film one of the characters will make a very simple joke, then laugh at that joke, for three or four seconds, usually by himself. Once you see this you realize that the movie is made for kids, and you learn not to expect too much. Everything is toned down from the original: the themes aren’t as sharp, the visuals aren’t as great, and the danger is nonexistent. This sequel’s a missed opportunity, but there’s nothing particularly offensive about it.
-“Well, I know you dragons only summon anachronistic Western cinema popcorn on certain occasions: either we’re making a cheap joke in a cheap sequel, or Faraci Dev-In has come out with another of his fantastic bait scrolls.”
Both movies come with deleted scenes, music videos, games, and backstage featurettes. None is great by itself, but kids and Disney aficionados will appreciate the amount and variety. Mulan includes a commentary track from producer Pam Coats and directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook, which I particularly enjoyed. There’s no awkward silence, little back-patting, and lots of insight into the little, professional moments of craft that help to make the movie so effective.
The physical package consists of two standard DVD cases – the special edition of Mulan and the only edition of Mulan II – placed together in a cardboard sleeve. This sleeve, plus a few trailers on the Mulan disc and some Disney Movie Rewards promotional points are the only truly new aspects of this collection. Therefore, I can’t recommend the double dip to fans who already own both films.
However, if you are looking to buy these movies for the first time, this is unquestionably the set for you. You can acquire everything Mulan in one fell swoop for one reasonable price. Even if you’re only interested in the first film, the price probably makes the collection your best buy – just think of the sequel as cheap, high-quality special feature. If you’re looking for that movie about the bovine gardening firm, that’s actually Moo Lawn, which comes out next week, and is a trilogy.