DVD Review HTF Review: Mulan (2-disc SE) - RECOMMENDED

Discussion in 'DVD' started by DaViD Boulet, Oct 26, 2004.

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  1. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    [​IMG]

    Mulan

    SpecialEdition
    Studio:Disney Year:1998RunTime:88 minutesAspect Ratio:16x9 encoded 1.66:1Audio:5.1 DD English, 5.1 French, 5.1 Spanish, 5.1 Mandarin SpecialFeatures:Feature Commentary, Deleted Scenes (concept and storyboard), 4 music videos, extensive making-of featurettes (design, art, produciton, music)ReleaseDate:October 26 , 2004






    Feature...

    Mulan is one of Disney's more modern feature films that, like The Emperor’s New Groove or Hercules, manages to get overlooked. And also like the Emperor's New Groove and Hercules, it deserves more attention than it's usually afforded. While much of the movie may seem a bit contrived (a woman posing as a man/soldier who manages to go undiscovered by her own army and achieve great victory in battle), it's important to remember that most of these events are based on the actual story which is, presumably, based on a true account. While Disney's interpretation shouldn't be considered to be academic, it preserves enough faithfulness to the spirit of the story that this connection should be considered when watching the film. The animation style is also excellent, and combines a nice blend of hand-drawing and CGI-assisted environments that integrate much more naturally than some other movies that tend to get a lot more artistic-praise (Beauty and the Beast). Much thought was given to the most subtle of architectural and costume designs, and if you enjoy this film please take the time to explore the wealth of bonus material on the second disc which elaborate in great detail about all these types of issues. Personally, I found that my respect and fondness for Mulan deepened as a result of spending time getting educated with the bonus material on this set and I might have been tempted to skip much of it were it not for having to write this review, which is why I'm making mention of it in the feature section (encouraging everyone to take the time).

    Mulan has some great music in addition to its stunning visuals. My only real criticism is the character Mushu which just has too much of that cliche' side-kick Disney thing. Same problem in Pocohontas and Hunchback, by the way. If Disney could have resisted the urge to "cutesify" the movie with the Mushu comic-relief, I think it would have been a better film.

    Not the best Disney movie, and not a "classic" in my opinion, but a feature worth watching just the same and now it's finally coming to you on a DVD special edition done right!




    Picture...

    In almost every regard, the picture quality of this Mulan SE is outstanding...and far exceeds the image quality of the previously available non-anamorphic single-disc DVD version. Black level is reference. Grayscale and shadow detail are without fault...tonal gradations smoothly and even fade from dark to light with a clean and continuous character that has real impact. Image detail is satisfying on a 106" screen, though I can't help but wonder if perhaps just a bit more high-frequency detail might have been possible. The picture is clean clean CLEAN (I hope our future Pocahontas and Little Mermaid SEs get rectified in this manner). Colors are bold, and the picture has a vivid and dynamic quality that is beautiful to behold. Watching this disc after screening Aladdin proved to be no disappointment. Except in one aspect...

    Edge Enhancement.

    Ugh. I hate sounding like a broken record on things like this...but really, it's a shame. The image on this disc is so gorgeous in almost every way...why do the Disney folks have to muck it up with ringing artifacts which are TOTALLY unnecessary? Curiously...the movie starts out looking pretty "good" as far as EE goes, with perhaps just "trace" evidence of it only upon close scrutiny...you know...the "let me pause the picture and move closer to be sure" level of artifacting...not too bad and would be forgivable...except that as the movie plays on it seems to get worse and worse...until the ending scene appears so marred with EE that the face detail...the animation contours around facial features...look almost garbled from the ringing noise. Very confusing...and bothersome. Note: These "ringing" artifacts *may* be compression related, though they don't have the noise/crawlie look that most mosquito MPEG noise has...so I'm assuming it's electronic HF boosting that's the source...

    I think that viewers on smaller screens (or those sitting father than 1.75 screen widths away) might not find this ringing objectionable...but those who try to sit at a "theater" viewing angle to their big-screen set or projection screen may see what I'm talking about.

    Comparison to former non-anamorphic DVD:

    There is none. The new disc just TROUNCES the older DVD. Color and black level seem improved. The image has a bolder, richer, and cleaner look that appears less processed and more "transparent" to the source animation. And, as you might suspect, detail is visibly improved as well...that added 33% vertical resolution is well utilized. The most interesting to me though is actually the increase in picture content...

    Aspect Ratio...

    You see, the former non-anamorphic 4x3 lbxed DVD presented Mulan in its actual "theatrical" ratio of 1.85:1. This meant that the image had been slightly vertically cropped from the animators' drawings which are 1.66:1 aspect ratio in shape. This new DVD presents the "original animation" aspect ratio of 1.66:1 in the 16x9 window without any cropping by using mild vertical letterboxing on the left/right of the image. Most of you will never see those "pillarboxing bars" but they are apparent in systems with minimal overscan (as in my front projection system). Absolutely no left/right picture information is lost in this process (yes, I did lots of real-world A/B comparing with the original DVD to be sure...I speak the truth)...you see the full width of the 1.85:1 image you saw in the theater or on the original DVD...only with more vertical content in addition. In any case, the added vertical picture information with the new transfer opens up the image and reveals some nice animation detail that, philosophical arguments about "OAR" aside, I enjoy. Also the image feels much less cramped in the new 1.66:1 presentation. Personally, I prefer this 1.66:1 style presentation in this case (as I also did with the Lion King) over a 1.85:1-cropped image.

    For all these reasons, those of you saying to yourself "I already have Mulan on DVD, I don't need to upgrade" should just slap yourself (or have someone else slap you, if you're into that sort of thing), get over it, and get the new disc.


    So...shaving off half a point for the EE that should has no good reason to be there...


    Picture Quality: 4.5 / 5

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]




    Sound...


    Outstanding. Really outstanding. This 5.1 mix (all languages are presented in 5.1, by the way) is active without being overly aggressive or distracting by drawing attention to itself and away from the film. It's dynamic without having you play with the remote to hear the dialog and keep the sound effects from shattering the crystal. The surround channels are used effectively, but without becoming gimmicky. Vocals are natural. Music spreads nicely. Frequency response is smooth and natural, having an open airy top-end and a deep-bass low end. Really first-class sound quality and a great 5.1 mix. I actually prefer this type of "confident but a tad relaxed" 5.1 presentation over the "in your face" 5.1 mixes that seem to becoming more and more in vogue these days.

    The thunder in this film is some of the best-sounding soundtrack thunder I've heard yet. I kept replaying sections of the movie to make sure if what I was hearing was thunder coming from the movie or from outside. Love it. And how many Disney DVDs do you own that have a 5.1 Mandarin language option? Very cool, and entirely appropriate given the subject matter. And if the multi-lingual aspect of a feature like this interests you, be sure to check out the special feature content that focuses on "International Mulan"...very worthwhile...


    Sound quality is superb and deserves nothing less than...


    Sound Quality: 5 / 5

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]




    Special Features...


    You may be wondering "just how much material is there to put on a Mulan SE 2-disc set?" The answer is "a lot!". This is one impressive 2-disc SE...the presentation and quality of the bonus materials feels like what you'd expect for an "A" title feature. Those ravenous DVD collectors out there who hunger and thirst for SE material should be well sated by this presentation. And I'll reiterate my earlier remarks that, for me personally, taking the time to explore the bonus material on this set really increased my respect and admiration for this film. When you discover just how much care went into the concept, design, and production...including details so insignificant that you never would have noticed were it not being pointed out...it really makes you appreciate the artists who are responsible for films like this. To all the artists and animators who collaborated on this and many other projects...a salute!


    Disc 1:

    [*]Commentary: Feature screen-specific commentary by the producer Pam Coats and directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook. I really enjoyed their commentary...it revealed much about the decisions made regarding the story, animation, character and "environmental" details etc. You can access this audio track via the menu or by toggling the audio soundtracks on your remote.
    [*]Deleted Scenes: There are seven, mostly "work in progress" or storyboard style, but all interesting and presented with intros by the director who explains their place in the film, their direction, and reason for their not being included in the final work. Presented in 4x3 lbx (the WIP nature of these "deleted scenes" makes this easily forgivable...there were no 16x9 elements to utilize).
    [*]Music Videos: We've got four music videos, and they're more interesting than your usual. Ever want to watch Jackie Chan sing/dance in a music video? You've got your chance!

    [*]I'll Make A Man Our Of You - Jackie Chan sings (that's what it looks/sounds like to me) and dances in "karate" style to this song from the feature film...all in Mandarin. You've just got to check this out. It's either really good, or really funny...depending on your cultural point of reference. Presented in 4x3 full-frame with 2.0 DD audio. Enjoy.
    [*]True To Your Heart - Music video with Raven. The 5.1 mix sounded really good, though I wasn't too taken with the performance.
    [*]Reflection - with Christina Aguilera. 4x3 and 2.0 audio. I found this song, and this performance, to be a pleasure but was surprised at how bad the production-picture quality was. Did they think this would be broadcast on the airwaves and no one would notice? Note: There is a spanish version of this video with a different performer on Disc 2.
    [*]True To Your Heart - performed by 90 degrees and Stevie Wonder. Ok, I confess I really like this. Cute, fun, and a good performance and it was great to see how naturally Stevie Wonder integrated with the kids musically. Presented 4x3 with 2.0 audio. The PQ is better than Reflection, but is by no means reference.[/list][*]Backstage Disney: Mostly kids' stuff. An explore "Mulan's World" which describes facts about ancient China and the Mulan story. Educational and entertaining and hosted by Mushu (the little dragon played by Eddie Murphy).
    [/list]


    Disc 2:

    Most of Disc two contains special features in "featurette" form about all aspects of the making-of Mulan. All of them are worth watching. Most of them are relatively short (under five minutes) but actually seem longer than they are as they really hold your interest. They are grouped in the menu structure by various categories and sub-menus but let me just list them individually

    [*]Making-of Featurettes: Discovering Mulan, The Ballad of Hua Mulan, Early presentation reels, Finding Mulan, Storyboard to film Comparisons, Art Designs, Ballad of Color, Character Design Galleries (and short featurette), Production Demonstrations, Digital Production, Songs of Mulan.

    These featurettes are first-rate (at least most of them are) and my appreciation for the film and the care that went into making it increased substantially after spending time educating myself with all the great content here. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
    [*]Music Video: We get a Spanish version of the "Reflection" music video (the English one was with Christina Aguilera). Same poor PQ and 2.0 audio, but I'll let you judge the performance.
    [*]International Mulan: Fascinating. Most of us R1 folks never think about it, but these animated Disney features get quite the language-work-out as they are marketed to children all over the world...who of course don't read subtitles. There is a good featurette about what goes in to translating a film for various countries, languages, and cultures, and you might be impressed. Rather than a "compromise" where the original film language has been "altered", the artists really consider each language to be its own equally viable and legitimate version of the film. Pay special attention to the care that goes into selecting voice-actors for each language track...nothing is random or by chance and the artistry of the film and dialog-delivery are never compromised. There is a multi-language reel which contained quite a few (though not comprehensive) language examples just for fun: German, Castilian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Finnish, Thai, Portuguese, Italian, Mandarin, Swedish, Danish, French-Canadian, Czech, Cantonese. Yeah...that's what I thought!


    [/list]





    All Together...



    Mulan is a movie that may not be the ultimate Disney classic, but it's got an enjoyable story, a reasonably intelligent script, and some really breathtaking animation sequences that should easily put it on your radar. Disney has rectified the sad situation of the previous non-anamorphic single-disc version with this new special edition. Feature presentation is excellent: Picture quality is very good, and would be "near reference" were it not for the presence of some distracting Edge Enhancement visible in certain scenes. The 5.1 audio presentation is pure pleasure, and the bonus material content is rich and of real "watch me" value. If you're a Mulan fan, or a Disney DVD collector, or you're just reading this to determine if this DVD might be another one to get to add some variety to your baby-sitting library that won't drive you crazy every time your kids want to watch it again...Mulan is up to the task. A good movie, great feature quality, and fantastic extras make this an excuse-free purchase.


    RECOMMENDED...
     
  2. LorenzoL

    LorenzoL Second Unit

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    Thanks for the review David.


    I know that this is a Chinese fable but I can't believe Disney actually put the option in this DVD. Never in a million years, I would had expected Disney to do that.

    Bravo [​IMG]
     
  3. ThomasC

    ThomasC Lead Actor

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    I've really gotten into Asian films recently, and the inclusion of a Mandarin track has me seriously considering buying this. Thanks for the review, David!
     
  4. Steve Christou

    Steve Christou Long Member

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    Great review David, one of my favorite Disney animations, and one of the best ever Disney music scores courtesy of the late great Jerry Goldsmith, who sadly gets no mention at all in the extras.
     
  5. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    I agree with Steve, here, David. One of the great recent Disney animation efforts...and a great review.

    Thanks, too, for settling the question about the film's AR.



    I've owned the Mandarin CD soundtrack of Mulan for years. It is excellent! Very much looking forward to this double dip.

    I am a little worried about the artifacts. You say folks with smaller displays may not notice them, but I (with a 26" WS Samsung HDTV) cringe everytime I watch Beauty and the Beast. Do you suppose this is a compression issue again in order to make room for four 5.1 soundtracks?
     
  6. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    You know...it *might* be compression related...looks similar to mosquito noise but not quite as "dirty" or crawlie...has the smoother look of an EE "halo"...but the effect in terms of distractability is the same so when you get the disc let us know what you think...watch the closing scenes (the night scene where Mulan is honored by the emperor) and pay special attention to the faces of the characters.

    Glad folks are so appreciative about the Mandarin soundtrack!!!

    -dave [​IMG]
     
  7. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

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    David, thank you for your stellar review. This is my favorite Disney film for which I don't like many. I'm counting the minutes (about 70 left) to pick this up.

    As mentioned by Steve, the Goldsmith score is top-notch compared to any film, animated or not. I'm very excited about this release.
     
  8. TheLongshot

    TheLongshot Producer

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    This is one of those "almost great" Disney films for me. If it was more like Tarzan and less like Aladdin, it would have pushed things over the top for me. It seemed obvious to me that having Mushu in the film was obviously trying to strike twice with the success of Aladdin, and personally, I found it totally unnessicary.

    That being said, parts of the film almost overcome that.

    I'd also be interested in checking out the Mandarian track as well. (Tho, I'm not sure how Mushu would play that way. Are the subtitles the translation of the Mandarian, or are they just the english dialog?)

    Jason
     
  9. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    Thanks for the review and clarification of the aspect ratio. Too bad about the noise or ringing you found. Kind of like what happened with Beauty and the Beast, if I remember correctly?

    Oh well, my SO loves this movie, so I have to double dip (as long as it wasn't a chop-off-the-sides job which you have dispelled).
     
  10. Tim Glover

    Tim Glover Lead Actor

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    Good review David. I've always liked Mulan and feel it is underrated.
     
  11. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    Nicely done. [​IMG]
     
  12. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    Everyone be sure to check out the excellent review at ultimatedisney.com:

    http://www.ultimatedisney.com/mulan.html

    First class and he goes into great detail about the film and special features--and has some great screen captures.
     
  13. Angelo.M

    Angelo.M Producer

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    Terrific review, thank you.

    This is my favorite of the "modern" Disney films (my daughter's, too!), and we've logged many hours with the previous DVD release. We'll log many more. [​IMG]
     
  14. Bryan Tuck

    Bryan Tuck Screenwriter

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    Thanks for the review, David. I've always thought this film was underrated, too. Been going through the set today. Seems like a pretty good set of extras, and the presentation of the film is outstanding.

    One caveat, though; I agree with Steve, though, it's sad that Jerry Goldsmith is not mentioned in the extras, particularly since they spend an entire featurette talking about the importance of the music in conveying the emotions of the film. I know it's called "Songs of Mulan," but that's still a pretty big oversight to not at least mention the score or the composer. At least they talk about him briefly in the commentary.

    Other than that, pretty great release.
     
  15. GarySchrock

    GarySchrock Second Unit

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    Hmm, was Mulan done in the florida animation studios? I remember taking the tour while I was down there, and I'm almost positive the movie they were working on at the time was Mulan.

    That said, I still haven't actually watched the movie, although I own the first dvd release. Haven't made up my mind whether to pick up this version.
     
  16. Peter Yee

    Peter Yee Stunt Coordinator
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    Thanks for clearing up the issue of the aspect ratio, David. When I picked up the disc last week and compared it to the original edition, I almost blew a gasket. Now that I know I can chuck the original and enjoy the complete picture, I'm a happy camper! [​IMG]
     
  17. Brian L

    Brian L Cinematographer

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    Your memories are correct, or at the very least, they agree with mine!

    I think I was there in December of '97, and recall seeing some of the animators working on various backgrounds for the film.

    Well, at least thats what they told us. Its been a family favorite in my household ever since it was released on video. Look forward to the arrival of the new DVD.

    BGL
     
  18. Ernest Rister

    Ernest Rister Producer

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    This was a rarity for me -- it was the first time I left a screening of a Disney animated film absolutely angry. I have left many modern Disney films disappointed (Oliver and Co., The Lion King, Pocahontas) but Mulan succeeded in actually pissing me off. One would think that after the critical drubbing over the low comic relief in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and other 90's Disney animated films, this one film -- which demanded a deft and sensitive touch due to its subject matter -- would be given a more mature approach. And so it is, for the most part, for 2/3rds of the film. Mushu -- as Mulan's "spirit guardian" works better for me than many other recent Disney films -- but why..why...WHY the lame contrived cartoon climax?

    I really don't want to get off on a rant on the climax of this film, as I sense my opinion would be a very unpopular one, but the whole "Get off the roof! Get off the roof! GET OFF THE ROOF!" climax reminded me of the contrived junior fiction I used to field as editor of my high school's literary magazine. Mulan is not allowed to dispatch of Shan-Yu in a believable way -- Shan Yu is a great fearsome warrior, watching him get defeated in the manner that he does is like watching Darth Vader's tie fighter done in by Wile E. Coyote. In my twenties, it was acutely painful to me watching the modern Disney films, how they were afraid to embrace the reality of their drama, how they interlaced low, cheap humour in the climactic moments of their fillms. Think of the underwear gags and "poked in the butt" gags of Beauty and the Beast. The completely non-sensical riffs on Bruce Lee, Robert DeNiro, and Sidney Poitier in The Lion King. The Wizard of Oz and cartoonish violence mixed into the climax of Hunchback. When - WHEN - were these people going to grow up and make a MOVIE worthy of Walt Disney's grand tradition? You don't see Monstro farting during the "Whale Chase". You don't see Chernobog smoking a cigar laced with dynamite. You don't see Man in Bambi slipping on banana peels.

    Mulan was touted as a departure for modern Disney - I actually visited the Disney studios in Orlando in the weeks prior to the film's opening, and everything I was told suggested the film was going to be a breath of fresh air. I go home, I go to the Mann's Chinese and what I found was a film that came on like a drama, and yet ended with yet another creaking re-hash of the 90's Disney formula. There was great drama in the moment Shan Yu is one slice away from undoing the Chinese Empire, and then the whole thing goes to compromised Disney formula hell, with cross-dressing gags, Batman gags, and a heroine who is not allowed to fulfill her logial mission -- destroying Shan-Yu in battle. Instead, a midget dragon sets off a giant cartoon Acme Factory rocket, while Mulan is shown to have complete knowledge of this eventuality -- she runs away saying "Get off the Roof! Get off the roof! Get off the roof!" while the Hun warlord is dispatched in a way more reminiscent of a Chuck Jones cartoon than a drama whose theme is self-sacrfice and the equality of women in combat. The only people really running to "get off the roof!" were the Disney writers, running away from the implications of their theme and the logical conclusion of their own story.

    I was pissed. I was tired of modern Disney films approaching great drama, and then running away from their own subject matter. Pick one -- adult drama, or children's film, or better yet -- pick a story that can play to both audiences without compromise, like Pixar. Mulan had a marvelous 2nd act, and then the whole thing is reduced to a Saturday morning cartoon in a mere few comedy-laced minutes in the last act.

    There is good work in Mulan, my favorite moment is the brief sequence where the film turns into a mosaic of Chinese watercolor paintings (the "Woman Worth Fighting For" musical sequence). I also give credit to moments where the film embraces the implied violence of its story, and to the visually powerful battle sequence at the end of the second act. It is the fear of following through on such moments that is so frustrating for me, and worse -- it is the devolution of the film to the level of a cheap cartoon in the final climax that was so infuriating for me.

    Looks like I went on a rant after all.
     
  19. John_McKittrick

    John_McKittrick Stunt Coordinator

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    Excellent review. You forgot to mention the full color artwork on the actual disks though.


    John
     
  20. Casey Trowbridg

    Casey Trowbridg Lead Actor

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    Great review from David, and interesting comments from Ernest as well. I picked this up today having never seen it, I'm looking forward to sitting down with it.

    Oh, and yes this was done at the Florida Animation Studios.
     

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