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DVD Reviews

HTF DVD REVIEW: Mulan/Mulan II 3-Disc Collector's Set



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#1 of 1 OFFLINE   Neil Middlemiss

Neil Middlemiss

    Screenwriter



  • 2,778 posts
  • Join Date: Nov 15 2001
  • Real Name:Neil Middlemiss

Posted August 17 2008 - 08:12 AM

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Mulan / Mulan II
3-Disc Collector's Set






Studio: Disney
Year: 1998 / 2005
US Rating: G - General Audiences
Film Length: 88 Mins / 79 Mins
Aspect Ratio: 1:66.1 / 1.78:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French & Spanish (and Mandarin on Mulan) language tracks
Subtitles: Optional Spanish and French

 


US Release Date: August 12, 2008

Mulan
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“I've heard a great deal about you, Fa Mulan. You stole your father's armor, ran away from home, impersonated a soldier, deceived your commanding officer, dishonored the Chinese Army, destroyed my palace, and... you have saved us all. ”






What a distinct treat this Disney treasure is. Produced as the world of animation was on the brink of replacing traditional animation with that of computer generated imagery, this tale of triumph and self revelation basks in the glory of Disney exploring less common territory, combining animation styles, occasional songs and a true return to Disney’s strongest storytelling roots that creates a tapestry of wonder and excellence.

When the evil Hun’s mount an invasion on the Chinese Emperor, a decree is set forth that each family in china must provide one male to join in the fight against the marching Huns. Mulan’s father is the only male in the family and is in no condition to be conscripted and so the brave Mulan makes an impetuous but honorable decision to masquerade as a man, joining the army without her father’s permission. If she is discovered, she will bring great dishonor on her entire family and be sentenced to death. A risk she must take. Her journey through training camp and ultimately into battle is a journey that allows her to truly find herself. She is joined on this path by Mushu, an exuberant family protector who thinks he is a bigger dragon that he really is.

Directed by Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft, Mulan is artful and elegant. A respectful venture into a wonderful blend of Chinese history and mythology from Disney. While the story is not entirely faithful to the historical tenets of great Chinese stories, it travels beautifully through the joy of self discovery and the magic of great Chinese traditions. And even though there are only a select few musical numbers, Mulan does captures the sweeping splendor of the great Disney films. There is a striking balance between the dramatic tone of the plot and the frequent amusing escapades of the young girl and the hilarity of Mushu’s misadventures. The build up in the story is deliberate and expert, culminating in a terrific mountain side battle sequences that is the best blend of traditional animation and CGI possible. The triumphant and exciting finale does great service to the absorbing experience that this gem delivers with skill.

The voice talent too us uniformly strong with a warming performance by Ming-Na as Mulan, a delightful turn by Eddie Murphy as Mushu (in a distinct precursor to his Donkey character in the Shrek films) and one of my favourite voices, Miguel Ferrer as Shan-Yu. B.D Wong supplies the voice of Shang and the supporting voice cast roles provided by talent like George Takei, Harvey Fierstein and Pat Morita (The Emperor) add a fulfilling depth.


Mulan II
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“M'Lord, I love Mulan. And I don't care what the rules say. If she'll have me, I intend to marry her right here”




Mulan II picks up about a month after the close of Mulan. Mulan’s family are anxiously awaiting General Shang’s proposal of marriage to Mulan. There is elation when he pops the question, but the celebration is short-lived. The young couple in love soon receive word of the Emperor request to have Mulan and General Shang complete a mission of great importance; transporting three princesses (the Emperors daughters) to a neighboring state as an offering for that provinces ruler, Lord Chin. The offering from the Emperor is to solidify an alliance, one that would make China stronger and better equipped to fend of foes such as the gathering Mogol threat. As if the mission itself was not difficult enough for Mulan and Shang, Mulan’s protector Mushu, who will lose his hard-earned place on a hero’s pedestal once Mulan is married, seeks to break Mulan and Shang up.

Mulan II is a story of discovery for two young and brave people in love. It is about understanding, appreciating and overcoming differences. And in that, the story feels a greater deal smaller than the first film. The focus on relationship woes as a parallel thread to the less than thrilling ‘mission’ to transport three princesses narrows the vision of this sequel; drawing in the scale considerably and limiting the excitement. The animation is rather good for a direct-to-DVD sequel but lacks the finesse and artful richness of its predecessor.

The voice-talent is again strong, with several returning actors providing their considerable skills. Ming-Na as Mulan and B.D Wong as General Shang do well with average dialogue. Jerry Tondo, Gedde Watanabe and Harvey Fierstien as Chien-Po, Ling and Yao provide a reasonable comedic variance to the story and a remarkable Eddie Murphy sound-a-like in Mark Moseley. George Takei returns as the voice of the First Ancestor as does Pat Morita as the Emperor.

Mulan II is only an average sequel to grand film. A film that takes too many liberties for the sake of moderate humor and, despite the almost limitless canvass available in the animated medium, fails to find a foothold in grand storytelling. It will hold the attention of young boys and girls (mainly girls) but may lose them in the slower, more romantic distractions. Even the entertaining Mushu character lacks the cohesive comedic irreverence of the original. And in the end, it goes out with more of a fizzle than a bang.


Mulan
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Walt Disney brings Mulan to home video as a special edition. This edition is presented in what the cover describes as a ‘Family-friendly widescreen Aspect Ratio (1.66:1) – Enhanced for Widescreen Televisions”. My brow immediately furrowed at that sound of that and deepened when I compared that ratio with that listed on the back cover of my old version of Mulan (which lists the aspect ratio of 1.78:1). The image is beautiful, with clean lines, lovely balance in colors and a sharpness that is very pleasing from this new digital transfer. But what of the aspect ratio? Has Disney short-changed us of image to suit those who fear those dreaded ‘black bars’? Well, yes and now. The appreciable difference in the information seen in the versions is small and while 1.78:1 is listed as the intended aspect ratio, 1.66:1 is that of the negative. My concerns were mostly allayed, but your feelings may differ.

Mulan II
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Mulan II is a repackage of the 2005 release. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen televisions. The image is rather average and a little dull compared to the great remastered Mulan. The image is not as clean, vibrant or rich as the first film and there are inconsistencies in the quality. The character of Mushu is perhaps the most marked example of the low-points of the image. The red of this character bleeds at times and is alternately darker and lighter depending on the shot.

All is not lost, however, as there are moments where the image is quite striking. Particularly the rickety bridge sequence when our heroes encounter villainous Huns who snatch one of the princesses. The rich sunset colors help create one of the more visually pleasing scenes.


Mulan
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The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound option available on Mulan is superb. Jerry Goldsmith’s truly outstanding score is delivered with clarity, punch and delicious fidelity. The echo effects used in the film on occasion are crisp, the bass is active, full and even brooding at times, especially during the final act. Dialogue is without issue in the center channel, the fronts provide clear action and the surround effects, while infrequent, are delivered with clarity.

 
Mulan II
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Mulan II also comes equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio track, but the sound is heavily focused in the front channels. The dialogue is clean in the center channel but there is little life in the surrounds and the sub-woofer is left out too often. Even the rain storm scene with rumbling thunder fails to register in the surrounds. The score by Joel McNeely is a good successor to Jerry Goldsmith’s glorious accomplishment – a shame that it does not have the chance to shine in this incredibly average audio track.

Mulan
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Disc One
Deleted Scenes - (22:49) – Seven deleted scenes, including a deleted song (Keep ‘Em Guessing) introduced by one of the film’s directors Tony Bancroft. An alternate epilogue can be seen here, (as well as other alternate openings) introduced by key crew members responsible and other deleted scenes that could, in some form, have supported the story. But since the film is a delight even without them, they do just fine as a special feature.

Music & More
“Reflection” – Christina Aguilera
“True to your Heart” – Stevie Wonder & 98۟o
“I’ll Make A Man Out Of You” – Jackie Chan
“True To Your Heart” - Raven

Games & Activities
DisneyPedia: Mulan’s World – (25:00) - Here you can self navigate through a number of topics related to the world of Mulan and learn about the world that Mulan inhabited.

Backstage Disney
Audio Commentary – Audio commentary with Producer Pam Coats and co-directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook. Much is revealed about how certain creative choices were made and how the characters were crafted into the final versions we see on screen. While not always engaging, it is worth hearing from these commentators on the choices that went into entire sequences and just how much consideration was made into each element.

Mulan’s Fun Facts - (2:10) – Like VH1’s pop-up video show, fun facts pop onscreen during behind the scenes footage.

Disc Two
Music & More
“Reflection” – Spanish – (3:32) – A music video for a Spanish language version of the films signature song.

Backstage Disney
The Journey Begins – (16:28) - Broken into three chapters, this extra feature looks at the research and ideation that went into the pre-production for this film. Also found here is a storytelling of the legend of Mulan and two early presentation reels.

Story Artists’ Journey - (12:30) – A look at creating the look of Mulan’s character as well as storyboard to film comparisons.

Design - (13:50) – Broken into three chapters with three stills galleries, here you can explore the art design and style for the film as well as designs for characters and the use of colors.

Production - (18:35) – Progression demonstrations and digital production are showcased here. With the Mushu awakening scene and the matchmaker scene you get to see the layers of animation as they progress. You can use the angle button on your remote to toggle between the layers. The look at the CG Hun Charge is the most revealing and interesting.

Songs of Mulan - (5:15) – A look at the use of songs in the film, finding where they make sense to augment rather than distract from the story.

International Mulan - (8:58) – A nice look at translating Disney films into languages for worldwide distribution, selecting voice-talent that serve the characters and ultimately the story followed by the great training song “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” shown in many languages. Finally you will find publicity art from the film.


Sneak Peak - Sneak peaks for plenty of Disney movies.


Mulan II
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Backstage Disney
Voices of Mulan II - Mushu hosts an incomplete look at the voice talent. What is here is good, but so many of the cast are not mentioned that it is disappointing to say that least

The World of Mulan – An inter-active look into China’s history and culture with clips from the film, snippets of the director, some cast and crew. Hosted by Mushu, it is active enough to entertain and teach children all at the same time. Watch all four segments and Mushu delivers a ‘special prize’ – a look at the Chinese calendar and zodiac – select your year to find your animal and the attributes associated with that animal.

Deleted Scenes - (11:47) – Four deleted scenes introduced by a producer and the two co-directors explaining that the deleted scenes are in a rough and unfinished form and also a little about the scenes themselves. These scenes include a battle sequence and an escape plot involving the young princesses.

Games & Activities
Mushu’s Guess Who – A game that asks you to pick the right character from showdown puppet silhouettes.

Music & More - (2:39)
“(I Wanna Be) Like Other Girls” Video – A pop-rock song by Atomic Kitten set to scenes from the movie.


 
Final Thoughts

 
The character of Mulan is strong and enjoyable, and the right kind of role model for young girls. Mulan delivered a wonderful blend of classic storytelling, impressive visuals and a fascinating exploration of Chinese culture (albeit a surface exploration). A great film that can be enjoyed by children and parents alike. Its sequel however, is lukewarm. Smaller and more narrow in almost everyway and fails to expand on the themes or action.

This three disc collectors set with both films is great value, with a large selection of special features to expand appreciation of the films. Recommended for families.


 
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Neil Middlemiss
Kernersville, NC



"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science" – Edwin Hubble
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