Mulan appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only a few modest issues marred this generally strong presentation.
Some light edge enhancement cropped up at times, and that resulted in a few mild examples of softness in wide shots. Otherwise, the movie showed good definition. The vast majority of the flick demonstrated positive clarity and crispness. No concerns with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and the movie seemed completely free from any print flaws.
Colors usually appeared very good. Blues occasionally looked slightly inky in nighttime shots, but those instances caused only minor distractions. The other hues were consistently vivid and vibrant. Blacks also looked deep and firm, while low-light shots offered strong depth and delineation. The mix of small issues meant the transfer of Mulan wasn’t a slam-dunk, but it fared well overall.
I also liked the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Mulan. Although a little subdued, the soundfield mostly filled out the spectrum nicely. The front soundstage was quite active and displayed some pretty good localization. Elements popped up in the correct places and blended together concisely. Rear usage was a bit lackluster, though the track kicked to life well when necessary. The battle scenes demonstrated positive action in the surrounds and helped create an involving piece. The track probably could have made the rear speakers more forceful, but they complemented the material in a more than acceptable manner.
Best of all was the quality of the audio. Mulan boasted strong dynamic range. There's some real bass thumping in there at times and it always sounded crystal clear. Obviously all of the dialogue was dubbed, but it worked into the mix effortlessly and naturally. Effects sounded real and convincing, and the music appeared very smooth and packed a nice punch. It's not a demo mix, but it underscored the action very well and sounded quite good.
This two-disc edition of Mulan includes a nice array of materials. On DVD One, we open with an audio commentary from producer Pam Coats and directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. If you’ve heard prior Disney commentaries, you’ll know what to expect here. We learn about story issues and pacing, characters and the actors, the film’s tone and use of Asian culture, research and attempts to balance accuracy, and other production elements. The piece seems more low-key than usual, but it covers the information concisely and gives us a nice examination of the movie’s creation and main issues.
When I saw Fun Facts listed as a feature, I thought this would offer a subtitle commentary. It doesn’t. Instead, “Fun Facts” presents a two-minute and 14-second montage. We see various behind-the-scenes clips with minor “pop-up” trivia about the movie. These are decent tidbits, and the track exhibits a playful sense of humor with remarks like “If the 27,780 pencils used to draw Mulan were laid end-to-end…the movie never would have been completed.” Still, it’s a disappointment that we don’t get the expected subtitle commentary, as this piece doesn’t tell us much.
Next we find seven Deleted Scenes. These run a total of 22 minutes, 48 seconds and include one unused song called “Keep ‘Em Guessing” along with the six excised moments. All are told via story reels, as no completed animation appears. The mix of alternate intros are interesting to see, and the “Betrothal” scene is pretty good. The others vary in quality but are all worth a look.
Each clip features an introduction that provides some notes about the scene as well as the reasons for the cuts. We hear from Bancroft, Cook, supervising animator digital production Rob Bekuhrs, and co-head story Dean DeBlois. Their remarks prove useful and illuminating.
Next we go with a DisneyPedia entry that tells us about “Mulan’s World”. Narrated by an Eddie Murphy impersonator Mark Mosely in character as Mushu, these lead us through a mix of topics individually or together via the “Play All” option. (Cutely, if you wait too long to select something, Mushu starts to complain.)
Taken through the “Play All” method, these segments last a total of eight minutes and 34 seconds; additional narration shows up in the menu screen as well. These clips cover topics like the historical Mulan, the role of ancestors in society, dragons and the huns. Obviously oriented toward the kiddies, these pieces offer a moderately entertaining little romp through the material.
We also see four music videos. Two repeat from the original DVD: "Reflection" from Christina Aguilera and "True to Your Heart" from Backstreet Boys wannabes 98 Degrees and Stevie Wonder. Both clips are fairly generic movie-song videos that intercut shots of the performers miming their songs with scenes from the film; "Reflection" shows Aguilera wandering around some sort of Chinese temple, I believe, while "Heart" depicts 98D and Steveland flopping about some city's Chinatown (LA, I'd guess). Both are completely average and not terribly interesting unless you are a particular fan of any of the acts involved. I'm not, so I seriously doubt I'll ever watch either video again.
As for the new videos, one shows “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” done in Mandariin by Jackie Chan. No movie clips appear; instead, Chan emotes and demonstrates various martial arts moves in this silly video. Finally, Disney Channel star Raven updates “True to Your Heart”. It’s not a very good version, and since the video only shows Raven as she lip-synchs in the recording studio, it seems cheap and unfulfilling.
As DVD One starts, we encounter a mix of ads. We find trailers for Bambi, Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, Mulan II and Mary Poppins. These also appear in the disc’s Sneak Peeks domain along with promos for Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas, Eloise at Christmastime, and a Mulan II preview that includes some comments from those involved with the flick along with snippets.
DVD One features the THX Optimizer. Also found on many other DVDs, this purports to help you set up your system for the best reproduction of both picture and sound, ala stand-alone programs such as Video Essentials. I’ve never tried the Optimizer since I’m happy with my settings, but if you don’t own something such as Essentials, the Optimizer may help you improve picture and audio quality.
Now we move to DVD Two and its supplements. These split into two domains. Entitled “Music & More”, the first offers only one component: a music video for “Reflection” sung in Spanish. Performed by some unnamed babe, it uses the same format as the Aguilera clip, though Mystery Girl is much hotter than “Xtina”. Still, it’s a dull video. (It’s strange that Aguilera doesn’t do this version herself, since she often performs Spanish renditions of her music.)
The rest of the extras pop up in the “Backstage Disney” area. We start with a subdomain called “The Journey Begins” and its three elements. A six-minute and 48-second featurette called Discovering Mulan opens. It uses movie snippets, behind the scenes materials, and interviews to tell its tale. We hear from Coats, Cook, art director Ric Sluiter, and artistic supervisor layout Robert Walker. They talk about their research trip to China and the ways that trek influenced the movie. They give us good insight into the processes and inspirations in this tight piece.
After this comes The Ballad of Hua Mulan, a five-minute and 19-second clip. It shows concept art created for the movie as we hear the poem that inspired the film. It’s an interesting segment as we compare the final tale with this precursor.
Lastly, we get two Early Presentation Reels. We see one from 1995 (two minutes, 21 seconds) and one from 1996 (one minute, 59 seconds). These display progress on the film to depict its path. The 1995 one is a story reel for the scene in which Mulan decides to take her place in the army, while the 1996 set shows various visual designs created for the flick. Both are worth a look but nothing fascinating, especially since we get similar material elsewhere in the package.
Within “The Story Artists’ Journey”, two sections appear. Finding Mulan gives us a seven-minute and five-second featurette with notes from Coats, DeBlois, Bancroft, Cook, supervising animator Mark Henn, character designer Chen-Yi Chang, and head of story Christopher Sanders. They chat about early thoughts on the Mulan and mistakes on that path, the character’s development and relationships, visual aspects, and different elements of her personality. They provide nice insight into the concepts behind Mulan and how they came to make her a full character.
We also find a Storyboard to Film Comparison. After a 47-second introduction from Bancroft, this lets us watch the scene with Mushu and the stone dragon. We can check it out via storyboard only, final film only, or a split-screen comparison of the two. The clip lasts 85 seconds and offers a good examination of the two elements.
Four sections come to us in “Design”. Art Design lasts five minutes, 33 seconds and includes information from Bancroft, Sluiter, Coats, Cook, Walker, artistic supervisor backgrounds Robert Stanton and production designer Hans Bacher. As one might expect, they discuss the film’s visual look and those elements. We hear about struggles to find the right tone, decisions made, influences, and the execution of the visuals. We get a solid feel for the choices and inspirations as well as problems encountered along the way.
Character Design goes for three minutes, 48 seconds with comments from Bancroft, Coats, Cook and Chang. They talk about the need for unity as well as how Chang designed the characters and decisions made in those areas. It’s another short but solid examination of its subject.
Called Ballad of Color, the final “Design” featurette fills four minutes, 28 seconds. It presents notes from Bancroft, Sluiter, Bacher, CAPS supervisor color models Irma Cartaya-Torre and Stanton. As one might expect, the cover the movie’s color design and let us know how they used various hues to symbolize various elements and add to the film’s depth as well as influences. The clip gives us a good interpretation of this side of the production.
For the last element of “Design”, we get some Still Art Galleries. These breakdown into three areas. “Character Design” then allows us a look at 10 smaller sections specific for the following subjects: “Mulan” (87 drawings), “Fa Zhou” (26), “Fa Li and Grandmother Fa” (29), “Khan” (36), “Mushu & Cri-Kee” (53), “Shang” (60), “Ling, Yao & Chien-Po” (17), “Emperor” (24), “Shan-Yu & Falcon” (34) and “Miscellaneous Characters” (47). “Visual Development” splits into “Moments” (18), “Landscapes” (34), and “Architecture” (44). Finally, “Backgrounds & Layout” includes 13 stills. All together, these add up to a rich examination of the visual elements.
Inside “Production”, we get two subdomans. Progression Demonstrations let us see stages of animation for two scenes: “Mushu Awakens” and “Matchmaker Meets Mulan”. For both sections, Bancroft introduces the concept; the two introductions differ slightly but perform the same purpose. From there, we can watch either sequence in a variety of stages: story sketch, rough animation, clean-up animation and effects, and final color. Not only can we check these out one at a time, but also we can flip through them with the DVD’s “angle’ feature. “Mushu” also comes with stage-specific introductions from Sluiter who gives us details about the steps. Overall, this area offers a solid look at the various elements that go together to create the final product.
Digital Production gives us a closer look at the computer elements for two scenes. We examine “The Hun Charge” (four minutes, 52 seconds) and “Digital Dim Sum” (four minutes, three seconds). We get remarks from Bekuhrs, Bancroft, artistic supervisor digital production Eric Guaglione, and animator digital production Sandra Groeneveld. They let us know how they choose when to use computer animation in a hand-drawn feature as well as the techniques involved and specifics about the segments. The featurettes give us good insight into the processes as they educate us about the methods utilized.
Inside “Music”, we get a five-minute and 15-second featurette called The Songs of Mulan. It includes information from Coats, DeBlois, Cook, lyricist David Zippel, and composer Matthew Wilder. They tell us about how they decide what moments could use songs, how they try to integrate the tunes, the composition of the tunes, fine-tuning and recording. “Songs” fits in with the other featurettes, as it adds to our understanding of the movie’s creation with a tight and informative program.
For the last domain, “International Mulan” gets into three smaller areas. Mulan’s International Journey lasts five minutes and 45 seconds as we find notes from vice president Disney Character Voices International Blake Todd, senior vice president Disney Character Voices International Jeff Miller, senior vice president, creative Rick Dempsey, They talk about the history of translated Disney flicks and discuss the challenges of these alternate recordings. Though many Disney DVDs include the multi-language reel I’ll discuss in the next paragraph, we don’t often hear much about how Disney created those dubbed renditions. As such, “International” offers a cool examination of the issues connected to this subject, and it’s a lot of fun to see.
The usual Multi-Language Reel runs and offers “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” in a mix of tongues. We get snippets in German, Castilian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Finnish, Thai, Portuguese, Italian, Mandarin, Swedish, Danish, French Canadian, Czech, and Cantonese. It’s cute but nothing special.
Finally, Publicity Art presents 31 stillframes. We see posters, lobby cards, and other ads.
Oddly, the package doesn’t include the movie’s trailer. That ad appeared on the original DVD, which makes its omission here all the more conspicuous.
Mulan remains one of the best Disney flicks from the modern era. It didn’t rake in mega-bucks of the studio’s most financially successful efforts, it stands as a very well-realized effort that aptly demonstrates the genre’s strengths with almost none of its weaknesses. The DVD presents very good picture and sound plus an informative and entertaining array of supplements.
Yet another Disney “direct-to-video” sequel comes to us with 2005’s Mulan II. The story takes place not long after the conclusion of the 1998 original. We see that that story’s events made magical dragon Mushu (voiced by Mark Moseley) a star within his realm who gets his every whim satisfied. In addition, Mulan (Ming-Na) waits for her beau Shang (BD Wong) to propose marriage, though she doesn’t just sit around idly; she maintains her physical and military training.
Indeed, Shang soon arrives and the pair become engaged. At first Mushu thinks this will be good for him, but he then learns that when a woman gets married, her husband’s ghostly ancestors take priority. This means Mushu will lose his exalted and beloved position.
Back with the happy couple, we see that they may not be in synch with each other. They have very different ideas about things, and Mushu takes the opportunity to try to thwart the marriage. He thinks he does so in her best interest, but it’s obvious he just wants to keep his job.
Shang and Mulan get called to meet with the Emperor (Pat Morita). They get an assignment to accompany three princesses (Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh and Lauren Tom) to another realm so they can marry the sons of potential enemies and maintain the peace. Shang and Mulan recruit old buddies Yao (Harvey Fierstein), Ling (Gedde Watanabe), and Chien-Po (Jerry Tondo) and head off on their mission. The rest of the flick follows their journey and its complications as well as Mushu’s efforts to retain his cushy position.
As with most Disney sequels, most of the original actors return here. The most notable exception stems from the absence of Eddie Murphy as Mushu. I can’t say it comes as a surprise that he fails to reappear, but it’s a minor disappointment. Moseley does a pretty good approximation of Murphy’s voice, but it’s just not the same.
One more positive surprise comes from the quality of the project. Most of these direct-to-video sequels look cheap and barely rise above the level of Saturday morning programming. This issue definitely doesn’t affect Mulan II. While it fails to equal the quality of feature animation, the film looks much closer than I expected. The art largely replicated the delicate and lush aspects of the first movie, and the animation seems pretty smooth, at least given its roots. Usually the sequels are crude and cheesy, but those problems don’t affect Mulan II.
As for the story, it’s not a weakness but it’s not much of a strength either. It doesn’t help that we can easily anticipate where the story will go, and the movie features some simplistic moralizing about following your heart and whatnot. Of course, the first flick did the same, but it mustered more flair and panache along the way. This one tells its tale in a clunkier manner and doesn’t enjoy the depth and vivacity of the original. It also goes for an easy solution at the end that proves unsatisfying.
That said, I must admit I moderately enjoyed Mulan II. Does it do anything special? No, but it manages to provide a generally entertaining and amusing tale without many notable flaws. There’s enough to keep us interested along the way.
Too many of these direct-to-video sequels are poorly-developed opportunities to make some bucks. I won’t deny that Mulan II exists primarily as a reasonably inexpensive way to churn out some product, but it demonstrates a significantly higher level of quality than usual. Mulan II doesn’t work as well as most of the studio’s theatrical releases, but it comes across as acceptably enjoyable.