Mulan / Mulan 2
Over the last sixty years or so it seems that everything in the world has changed. Modern technology has radically altered just about every aspect of how we live, work and play. However, there has been one constant in all of this time. For generations now children of all ages have been delighted by the animated films from the Disney studios. You can just about tell what generation a person is from by knowing which Disney classic they loved as a child. For example my wife and I were from the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ generation while our daughter became infatuated with ‘The Little Mermaid’. One thing that Disney has always had in their animated films was the princess. These are always young girls that had to stand up to some sort of adversity and win the day as well as the handsome hero. These films are so loved by children and adults alike that there was a running joke starting in the eighties that Disney garnered a good deal of profits from parents having to replaced video tapes worn out by constant repeat viewings. Well, now we are in the digital age and Disney has been releasing their classic on DVD. One of the latest to get such treatment is Mulan and its sequel Mulan 2. Like many of these films Mulan has had repeated releases over the years. It was first brought to DVD in 1999 and again in 2004. The sequel was originally released in 2005. Now, you can get both of these movies in one special edition. Like most Disney works this one has a strong theme of female empowerment that provides a great role model for young girls. Admittedly the sequel does not come to the standards of the original movie but both are well worth owning and watching as a family. There is music and songs that are a delight to all ages and even a story that will not bore the adults in the room.
The first film was written by an unusually large group of authors. Many are listed as contributing to the story or providing additional material. The main script is credited to Robert D. San Souci and Rita Hsiao. ‘Mulan’ was their first screenplay for both although Hsiao has gone on to several other films including an upcoming feature length movie based in the sixties classic TV series ‘I Dream of Jennie’. The basic story is allegedly based on a two thousand year old folk tale from China. This in itself is a major departure for the Disney studio. This is the first time their story and characters reflected a culture different from the typical Euro-centric vantage point. Mulan, voiced by the very talented Ming-Na and Lea Salonga for the singing, is a simple girl who lives in a little village in China. When the dreaded Huns attack the call goes out for all able bodied men to take up arms and defend their country. Mulan’s grandfather wants to join in the effort but is old and injured. Mulan decides to defend her nation and the family honor by disguising herself as a boy and take his place in the army. Her family wants her to listen to the advice of a local matchmaker and find a nice man, marry and start producing offspring. This sets up a classic internal conflict. Mulan is feminine but in defiance to her culture she is also strong willed and independent. Mulan has a strong sense of honor and pride something that she shares with most of the Disney ‘princesses’. Of course there has to be one other common thread with the ever growing list of Disney heroines, she has to have a goofy animal sidekick. In keeping with the Asian theme hers is a little red dragon Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy). He is one of the Fa’s family guardian spirits who is to help Mulan in her quest. Even though this film has a good deal of action in it, enough to keep the boys interested at least, there is a romance for the girls watching. Mulan while in the guise of a boy falls in love with Captain Li Shang, voiced by B.D. Wong with the singing voice provided by Donny Osmond. He is the son of the commanding general and a real lby the book sort of fellow. There also has to be a tangible villain which is deliciously in the form of Shaun Yu (voiced by Miguel Ferrer). He is the main advisor to the general but secretly in the employ of the Huns. Directing this film are Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook. Working closely with the legion of animators they provide a softer look and feel to the film than most of the previous members of the Disney canon. There is a scene of an Asian watercolor painting come to life here that is completely enchanting to experience.
Disney has been offering sequels to their most popular classics for some time now. Typically they are not ass good as the originals but usually they are fun for the kids. ‘Mulan 2’ is no exception to this rule and like most of the others was a direct to video release. There were far fewer writers credited here which did make for a more focused script. The longer running time also afforded a chance to do a little more in the way of developing the character arcs. The director Darrell Rooney has a few flicks under his belt but had years working in animation and the art departments for other films and television series. His co-director, Lynne Southerland is a first time director but has experience in editing and production. This is a better than average Disney sequel and almost every aspect of the production is a tribute to this fact. In this film Mulan and Shang are engaged to be married. Shang has been promoted to the rank of general and it looks like all will be well in their young lives. The one problem is for the faithful dragon spirit protector Mushu. Due to contract problems Murphy has been replaced in this outing by the voice of Mark Moseley. Mushu is told by the First Ancestor that when Mulan is married she will become part of her husband’s family and Mushu will lose his position as guardian and his right to his pedestal. Mushu wants Mulan to be happy but he also loves being a guardian. Meanwhile the Emperor charges Shang and Mulan to escort his three daughters across the country to wed. They all have marriages arranged as part of a treaty with the rival kingdom of Qui Gong. They have to be protected from the Mongols who are determined to keep the kingdoms apart and therefore weaker.
This two film DVD set is basically a repackaging of the last two releases of the movies. They are therefore identical in every respect to those editions. Both are in Dolby 5.1 audio. Mulan has a 1.66:1 aspect ratio while Mulan 2 sports a 1.78:1 transfer. Both are loaded with extras which is typical of any Disney release. Mulan has deleted scenes, music videos, an interactive game, fun facts and a behind the scenes featurette. Mulan 2 has deleted scenes, music videos, a game and two featurettes; the making of and the voices of Mulan. This is a good value especially for families with younger children who may have never gotten into the films their first time around.