In 1998 Walt Disney Pictures released the animated film MULAN which had relative success, but is not typically one of the “go-to” Disney films for most fans. MULAN grossed over $120 million at the box office which meant that Disney had the idea to give fans MULAN II in 2004. On one hand the initial film MULAN was a great film with strong, intelligent characters that gave audiences a great message, where as MULAN II was a tragedy of a project and should be banished from the Disney vault completely. Sadly, the straight to DVD sequels seem to be a staple for the studio which tarnishes the original films, so it’s best to just pretend like they don’t exist.
MULAN follows a young woman named Fa Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) who is a bit of a tomboy which threatens to bring dishonor to her family if she doesn’t find an appropriate husband. When the Huns are getting ready to invade China the Emperor gathers his armies and Mulan secretly takes the place of her father who cannot fight. Though Mulan must overcome the obstacles of training for war while disguising her identity as a woman, she manages to excel in the army and ends up saving China because of her determination and cleverness.
MULAN has a great message for young girls. You’ll notice in all the Disney marketing that Mulan is considered one of their “princesses”, but of all of those women that young girls look up to, Mulan is one of the few that doesn’t rely on her beauty or birthright to shine. Mulan is a character that I would want my daughter to emulate as she demonstrates compassion, determination and love of her family.
If I had to name one flaw in MULAN it would have to be the voicing of the character Mushu which was performed by Eddie Murphy. Mushu is Mulan’s guardian in the form of a small dragon, and although he is an important part of the story, his presence is a bit irritating at times and his voice just grates on my nerves. This is a minor complaint in the original MULAN, but Mushu’s level of annoyance increases dramatically in the second film but that’s just one of many problems. It’s strange since Murphy did so well in the SHREK films.
If you missed MULAN or avoided it because it wasn’t one of the popular Disney films then I would encourage you pick it up or add it to your collection if you have a young daughter that is in that inevitable princess phase. The film is lovely with vibrant colors, has some great characters as well as a good message. And if you can just avoid that second film altogether because it is quite a bomb and will make you despise Disney if you aren’t disenchanted by them already.
MULAN II picks up one month after Mulan has been crowned the savior of China. Mulan and Shang (the commanding officer in the first film) are in love and get engaged but their wedding is put on hold for a mission for the Emperor. The two lovebirds must escort the Emperor’s three daughters to a neighboring kingdom for arranged marriages to avoid a war. This doesn’t sit well with Mulan who wants the girls to follow their hearts and wait for true love. In true Disney form there is a happy ending, but it is a very miserable journey.
Everything that was endearing about the characters in MULAN was annoying and disappointing in MULAN II. In the first film Shang was a strong leader that demanded respect from his troops and even the audience. In MULAN II they made Shang out to be this big goober who is constantly getting thwarted by the annoying Mushu. Oh, and speaking of Mushu, Eddie Murphy didn’t come back to voice the character so the audience is subjected to a Eddie Murphy copycat which is worse than the original. I didn’t know it could get worse but it did.
Add in the lackluster story, lame new characters and ridiculous songs and MULAN II was nothing more than a big mess. It’s really too bad Disney felt the need to even make it, but the scent of money is strong and for some reason kids are completely okay with these terrible sequels because they want to see their favorite characters again. I only hope I can resist the temptation to indulge in these straight-to-DVD films with my own kids so I don’t perpetuate this vicious cycle.
Video: As with all Disney films, these two movies are impeccable to watch.
Audio: Lovely sound on the audio front as well.
Audio Commentary with producer Pam Coats and directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook: A decent commentary that spans the development of the film as well as the songs and characters.
Deleted Scenes (22:58): Seven deleted scenes in storyboard form that are interesting to watch but wouldn’t have added anything significant to the film.
Classic Backstage Disney (56:01): A compilation of behind-the-scenes features that were on the previously released DVD version of the film.
Classic Music & More (27:58): More featurettes that focus on the songs and score of Mulan including music videos.
Trailers and Sneak Peeks
Voices of Mulan (2:59): A short bit from director Lynne Southerland who talks about the returning cast of voices as well as the new additions.
Deleted Scenes (10:03): Three deleted scenes that were pretty dull.
Music Video: “I Wanna Be Like Other Girls” by Atomic Kitten