Mulan review by Mike Long

Ever since the renaissance of the Disney animated film with The Little Mermaid, we have seen a parade of films from the company which represent a wide range in quality. While some, like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King are considered classics, others, like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, are merely passable. Throughout the 90s, Disney would treat us to these animated goodies on a (nearly) annual basis, and it reached the point where most were taking them for granted. That's why I feel that 1998's Mulan got lost in the shuffle and has never received the credit which it deserves. Which Disney's new deluxe DVD release of the film, maybe Mulan will begin to get respect.

Mulan is set in ancient China, and as the film opens, we are greeted with two distinctly different images; first, we see the Huns, led by Shan-Yu (voiced by Miguel Ferrer) ascend the Great Wall as they begin their invasion of China; secondly, we meet a teenaged girl named Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na), who is being prepared for her meeting with the matchmaker (who will aid her in finding a suitable husband). But, Mulan's rebellious nature gets the best of her, and her meeting is a disaster. Because of this, she fears that she will never bring honor to her family.

Things change abruptly when word comes from the Emperor that the Huns have invaded China and that every household must send a man to do battle. Mulan's father, Fa Zhou (voiced by Soon-Tek Oh), takes the assignment, but as he was wounded in a previous war, and walks with a cane, Mulan fears for his safety. This is when Mulan decides to take matters into her own hands. She cuts her hair, disguises herself as a boy, and takes her father's place in the army. Her ancient ancestors, seeing her plight, decide to send a mighty guardian after her. Unfortunately, this plan backfires, and a very small dragon named Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy) is the only one available to fetch Mulan. Mulan soon finds herself in training camp, where she must not only attempt to fit in as a male, but also impress Captain Li Shang (voiced by B.D. Wong), the group's commander. With the aid of Mushu, and a lucky cricket given to her by her grandmother, Mulan tries to not only prove herself, but save China as well.

Every time that I watch Mulan, I ask myself, "Why don't I hear more about this movie?" For, in my opinion, Mulan is not only one of the best Disney animated films ever, it may be the one which is perfect for any audience. The movie has so many things going for it that they are difficult to list. For one thing, the story is quite simple and accessible. Mulan is an awkward teenager who wants to impress her family and prove that she is worthy of their respect -- this is something that many can relate to. The film offers some historically accurate moments, but it doesn't shove history down your throat. As long as you understand that the Huns are invading China and that women were treated as second-class citizens during this time, the film will be easy to follow. Some may be tempted to avoid the film simply because the main character is female. However, this doesn't make it a "chick flick". The movie still offers a great deal of action and intrigue, as Mulan follows her comrades into war. The film balances these scenes with Mulan's attraction to Li Shang. The animation is the film is colorful and engaging, as it falls somewhere between semi-realistic drawings to very cartoonish (Mulan's dog looks as if he's escaped from another movie entirely).

The Disney animated films of the 90s often walked a fine-line between traditional to hip. Beauty and the Beast and Tarzan kept things very somber, while Aladdin and Emperor's New Groove almost play as flat-out comedies. Mulan lands somewhere in-between these two extremes. The movie offers a semi-accurate account of a war which actually happened and it's clear that people die in this war. Also, Mulan's plight is more of an emotional struggle, than a fight against a clear-cut antagonist. However, the movie also offers some incredibly funny moments. While the use of Eddie Murphy as Mushu may be a bit over-the-top, there's no doubt that he and the Cricket have some incredibly funny moments. (The scene in which Mulan's horse first sees Mushu still makes me laugh.) This makes for a very satisfying film. In fact, the only real flaw in Mulan is the villain. Shan-Yu may be a menacing figure, but his agenda is too blasé. He wants to invade China...and? Ferrer does a great job with the voice, but the character is very one-dimensional. Mulan is a very well-rounded film which shows just how engaging an animated film can be.

Mulan invades DVD courtesy of Disney DVD. This new 2-disc edition replaces the previous Mulan DVD, which was released in 1999. For this new DVD, the film has been letterboxed at 1.66:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks incredible, as it shows no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look great, as the film combines the cold colors of the Huns with the bright red of Mushu, and the colors look fantastic together, showing no oversaturation or bleeding. There are no overt defects with the animation, but there is some minor artifacting at times. The DVD carries an awesome Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. The track provides clear dialogue with no hissing. The surround sound and subwoofer effects are dynamite, most notably in Chapter 22, when the subwoofer acted as though it was about to rumble right out of the room. Overall, the technical aspects of the DVD are very good.

This 2-disc Special Edition of Mulan contains a number extras. Disc 1 starts off with an audio commentary from producer Pam Coats, and directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook. This is a good commentary as the trio splits there time between talking about the animation and the technical work which went into making the movie, and the behind-the-scenes lowdown on the story and the actors. “Mulan Fun Facts” is an odd 2-minute short which offers facts about the film. “DisneyPedia: Mulan’s World” offers background on the real-life aspects of the film, but it is hampered by some bad fake Eddie Murphy narration. (Is that Charlie?) Disc 1 contains 7 deleted scenes, which total 22 minutes. They are mostly made up of storyboard images, and contain introductions from the directors and others. (There are many aspects of aborted openings for the film here.) Disc 1 also has a “Music Video” section, which contains; “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”, performed by Jackie Chan in Mandarin (what?); “Reflection”, sung by Christina Aguilera, before she got skanky; “True to Your Heart”, from Stevie Wonder and 98 Degrees (does Nick Lachey know that he used to do those dumb moves?); and “True to Your Heart”, by “Miss I’m involved in every Disney Project” herself, Raven.

Disc 2 opens with another performance of “Reflection”, this time in Spanish, by an unidentified, yet quite attractive female singer. (Note that this is the exact same video as the Aguilera version, but with a different singer.) The remainder of Disc 2 is devoted to an in-depth look at the making of Mulan. It starts by exploring the artists’ inspirations on the film (with video from their trip to China) and then moves into character design, and the actual production of the film. There is also sections devoted to music and the publicity art for the film. The disappointing thing here is that the great teaser trailer for Mulan is not included.

9 out of 10 Jackasses

blog comments powered by Disqus