"Mulan: Special Edition"
by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)
Ming-Na Wen as FA MULAN
B.D. Wong as CAPTAIN LI SHANG
Soon-Tek Oh as FA ZHOU
Eddie Murphy as MUSHU
Harvey Fierstein as YAO
Gedde Watanabe as LING
Miguel Ferrer as SHAN-YU
James Hong as CHI FU
Pat Morita as THE EMPEROR OF CHINA
Directed by: Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook
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“Mulan” fell into a valley between Disney animated films. On one side were the spectacular blockbusters like “Aladdin,” “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast.” On the other side is a slate of box office flops like “Atlantis” and “The Emperor’s New Groove.” It was also one that I had managed to miss over the years. I’m glad to have finally seen it.
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“Mulan” tells the story, inspired by true events, of a Chinese girl who joined the army in her father’s place and fought a man. The real Mulan spent several years in the army and managed to keep her true identity a secret. However, in the film version, things are a bit more dramatic. Mulan is the standard Disney heroine we’ve seen in films like “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella.” However, the modern girl who wishes to speak her mind finds new life in the backdrop of China - especially in historical China where women were relegated to the home and often were little more than servants to their husbands.
The real problem with “Mulan” is that it tries to be too many different types of film. On one hand, it tries to be the historical drama, showing the struggle of the Chinese army against the invading Huns. On another hand, it tries to be a coming-of-age story of a girl. And on yet another hand, it tries to be the cute, fuzzy Disney animated film we’ve grown accustomed to over the years.
While in the army, Mulan encounters several buddies who are really misfit warriors. However, stepping up the comic relief even more is Eddie Murphy doing the voice of Mushu the puny dragon and his sidekick Cri-Kee the good luck cricket. Unfortunately, while the attempt is made to make these the new Timon and Pumbaa, the characters seem really forced. Murphy does a much better job as the talking donkey in the Shrek movies.
The music of “Mulan” is a bit rocky, and it was clearly made in the dark days after Howard Ashman died. Some of the songs, like “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” are really weak and have more of a low-grade Christian rock feel than a big-budget movie soundtrack.
Now, “Mulan” is on DVD as a special edition, to add to the list of Disney DVD library of double-disc sets. Generally, these DVDs are pretty slick, and the “Mulan” special edition is a pretty good buy. It mirrors the recently released “Aladdin” DVD, which features a second disc with a lengthy, segmented behind-the-scenes documentary.
This “Backstage Disney” section of disc 2 is broken down into different segments that take you through the story and character design through production, and includes highlights on the songs and how the movie was marketed and played around the world.
The first disc contains the film as well as quite a few special features itself. There are several deleted scenes, told with storyboard animation. The really neat deleted scenes include the original opening which used traditional Chinese shadow puppets. While the opening of “Mulan” is artful, I really got a kick out of the shadow puppets and wished they had been retained in the film itself.
There’s also an audio commentary with the filmmakers, which is interesting. Generally, I have noticed that commentaries by the animation team often can be more insightful than a regular director is on a live-action feature commentary. This additional track is better than the “Mulan’s Fast Facts,” which are just pop-up tidbits during a six-minute behind-the-scenes montage.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Disney DVD special edition without a collection of music videos. There are classic videos with 98° and Stevie Wonder as well as a pre-slutty Christina Aguilera performing “Reflections.” New videos featuring Raven (big surprise) and Jackie Chan singing “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” in Chinese. (And somehow, it actually sounds better in Chinese than English.)
Overall, “Mulan” itself is an exciting, thrilling movie, and the animation style is slick and powerful. A bit violent for a G-rated movie, considering the story is about war, but they manage to get around a lot of the more gruesome aspects. Overall, I liked the more serious aspects far better than I did the comic relief.
Specifications: New digital transfer. Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Family-friendly widescreen (1.66:1) - Enhanced for 16x9 televisions. THX-certified. French, Spanish and Mandarin language tracks. English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.