I didn't enjoy this Disney release nearly as much as critics across the country have. This film, about a Chinese girl who dresses as a boy to take the place of her father in a war has a problem with tone; the begining of the film seems like good old slapstick.Only problem is, I wasn't laughing. For the first act, I was bored silly. The songs in this film hardly work, and the animation is sometimes spectacular, and sometimes less than average.
It's very hard to take a film about a war seriously when it's all broad slapstick. "Mulan" works best after it's first 30 minutes when it finally settles down and gets serious. The animation is spectacular when Mulan joins a fight against what seems like hundreds of soldiers stampeding over a mountainside in a sequence that's the centerpiece of the film; it works and it's thrilling and it's unfortunate that the rest of the film couldn't be as good as this set. Thankfully the film takes a more serious turn towards the end and regains the interest. For most of the opening act, I was highly bored by the film's jokey attitude, and then baffled as it suddenly changes tone completely from slapstick to somber. Overall, "Mulan" has its moments, but
As for "Mulan 2", I've had mixed feelings about prior direct-to-video Disney animated releases before - some ("Lion King 1 1/2") have been very enjoyable, but others ("Jungle Book 2") have been very simply ways to get more money out of the audience for the original film. In the case of "Mulan II", the product represents neither the best or worst of the DTV sequels - it's just basically enjoyable fluff.
The picture opens with Mulan (Ming-Na) awaiting the arrival of her boyfriend Shang (BD Wong), who will propose marriage. Although the two eventually get engaged, the couple doesn't exactly sit well together, with different ideas about their future. Elsewhere, magical little dragon Mushu (voiced by Mark Moseley, taking over for Eddie Murphy) learns that the mystical ancestors of the husband take over looking over a couple when they get married. In other words, Mushu's getting bumped out - he gets handed a pink slip early in the picture, and decides to get the newlyweds broken up.
There's also the matter of an imminent invasion of China - one that the Emperor feels would be stopped by having his daughters Su (Lauren Tom), Mei (Lucy Liu), and Ting Ting (Sandra Oh) marry the princes of the potentially invading country. Chien-Po (Jerry Tondo), Yao (Harvey Fierstein), and Ling (Gedde Watanabe) are bodyguards who accompany Mulan and Shang in their journey to deliver the princesses, but Mulan doesn't agree with it - she believes that people only in love should marry.
The sequel does present a decent plot, but there's a few too many characters doing their own thing in the picture's short 80 minutes to allow all the subplots to be developed enough. The Mushu character is remarkably selfish this time around, as well. On a positive note, I felt that the film's lessons are fairly nicely handled and don't hit the audience over the head. The performances by the voice cast - many of whom are carried over from the first movie - are very fine, as well. The animation is, as expected, a step down from the original's, but it still looks rather good. Overall, this direct-to-video sequel won't be something that the kids and adults can enjoy together, but it should go over well with kids.
VIDEO: "Mulan II" is presented by Disney in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is perfectly pleasant, showing off the animation pretty nicely. Sharpness and detail are satisfactory, as the animation appeared crisp and detailed, with no unreasonable or unexpected softness. The animation is already a little soft, but the presentation shows it well.
The picture was free of pixelation and print flaws, which made for a crisp, natural looking image, for the most part. Some slight edge enhancement occasionally appeared, but it really did not become very distracting at all. The film's bright color palette also looked first-rate, with nice saturation and no smearing.
"Mulan" is presented in "family-friendly" 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, which is dismaying, as it is not the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This transfer is technically an upgrade over the original non-anamorphic release of the film. Image quality is generally quite good, as the rich, bold animation looked crisp and clear throughout. Some minor edge enhancement appeared, but no artifacting or other issues were encountered. Colors looked precise, well-saturated and crisp, with no smearing. Black level also remained solid, as well.
SOUND: "Mulan II" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The audio quality is decent, but one can tell that the sound mix has been pulled back in order to make it "easier" for kids to listen to. In other words, there are moments where low bass could have been present, but it isn't. Surround use is also fairly minimal, with only occasional ambience and musical reinforcement. "Mulan" also offers a fairly restrained sound mix, as well. Surrounds are only occasionally put to good use throughout the movie. Most of the sound comes from the front, and it sounds great; nicely defined and clear, with some solid, heavy bass as well as strong support by Jerry Goldsmith's powerful score. Dialogue is clear throughout. This is certainly a pleasing effort, but nothing that reaches the level of outstanding.
EXTRAS: "Mulan 2" offers 4 deleted scenes are included, as is a music video by Atomic Kitten. There's also the featurettes, "Voices of Mulan", "The World of Mulan" (with different pieces inside this section) an interactive game and trailers.
For "Mulan", producer Pam Coates, director Tony Bancroft and director Barry Cook provide an audio commentary for the film. The trio provide an animated (drumroll) discussion of the picture, chatting about the history behind the story, as well as working with the actors, production obstacles and other elements. Also included are 7 deleted scenes (including 1 deleted song), an interactive game ("Mulan's World"), 4 music videos and a "Mulan's Fun Facts" featurette. The second disc includes a Spanish version of the Christina Aguilera music video for "Reflection" and six short featurettes ("The Journey Begins", "Story Artists Journey", "Production", "Design", "Music" and "International Mulan").
Final Thoughts: While "Mulan" and its sequel aren't what I would consider Disney's best offerings in recent years, both films certainly do have their moments. Recommended for fans who haven't bought the films yet, as the $25.99 price at Amazon is a substantial discount versus buying each separately.