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DISNEY

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
Cast:
Ming-Na, B.D. Wong, Soon-Tek Oh, Eddie Murphy, Harvey Fierstein, Gedde Watanabe, Miguel Ferrer, James Hong, Pat Morita
Writing Credits:
Anonymous (poem), Robert D. San Souci, Rita Hsiao, Chris Sanders, Philip LaZebnik, Raymond Singer, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, Dean DeBlois, David Reynolds

Tagline:
The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.

Synopsis:
An ancient Chinese legend is magically transformed into an unparalleled adventure bursting with action, emotion, and lots of laughs in Disney's heralded 36th animated classic, Mulan.

A spirited young girl named Mulan, who doesn't quite fit into her tradition-bound society, discovers that her aging father has been ordered to help defend China against the invading Huns! In a brave and selfless act, Mulan disguises herself as a man and takes her father's place in the Imperial Army, where she trains with a comical group of warriors, led by the handsome Captain Shang. Never far away are Mulan's hilarious guardian dragon, Mushu, and lucky cricket, Cri-Kee. But Mulan will need more than Mushu's razor-sharp wit to defeat the ruthless Hun leader, Shan-Yu. Only by staying true to her heart will Mulan blossom into a skilled soldier and bring victory to her nation and long-awaited honor to her family!

Triumphant on all fronts, Mulan's breathtaking animation, sensational music, and action-packed battles amid snow-covered mountains will amaze and inspire your family like no Disney Classic before!

Box Office:
Budget
$70 million.
Opening Weekend
$22.745 million on 2888 screens.
Domestic Gross
$120.618 million.

MPAA:
Rated G

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 88 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 10/26/2004

Bonus:
Disc One
• Audio Commentary with Producer Pam Coats and Directors Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft
• Fun Facts
• Deleted Scenes
• Four Music Videos
• “DisneyPedia: Mulan’s World”
• Sneak Peeks
• THX Optimizer
Disc Two
• Music Video
• “The Journey Begins”
• “Story Artists’ Journey”
• “Design”
• “Production”
• “Music”
• “International Mulan


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EQUIPMENT
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Mulan: Special Edition (1998)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 19, 2004)

Following the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988, the Disney animation studios finally started to return to their former stature with the hit 1989 release, The Little Mermaid. With the exception of 1990's less than boffo Rescuers Down Under, things just kept getting better and better for the animation wing: 1991's Beauty and the Beast scored big at the box office and made history as the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture.

1992's Aladdin wasn't as critically successful as Beast but audiences ate it up and it was the year's biggest moneymaker. This warming trend culminated in the phenomenal reception accorded 1994's The Lion King, Disney's biggest grosser ever to that point and also the year's most popular movie. (For the record, Forrest Gump made a bit more money than did King, but when one considers that many more of the latter's tickets were for matinees and also often discounted for the young 'uns, there's no question that King sold more tickets than did Gump. So there!)

After that, things started to go downhill. 1995's Pocahontas did fairly well but was a disappointment after the megabucks of King. Actually, a Disney release - Toy Story - captured the box office for that year, but it frequently is regarded as something of an anomaly since it's really a Pixar film financed by Disney and not a product of their own studios. 1996 (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and 1997 (Hercules) saw a consistent downward trend in the revenues generated by Disney's animated releases; Hercules was actually the first animated release from Disney since Rescuers Down Under to make less than $100 million.

As such, things didn't look too rosy for the next animated film from Disney, 1998's Mulan and the studio's behavior reflected this attitude through a much more subdued publicity campaign for the film. Oh, we saw the usual McDonald's tie-in and plenty of other merchandise, but the entire enterprise seemed less interested in bludgeoning the consumer over the head with the movie's existence. Comparatively speaking, Mulan snuck up on audiences.

Happily for Disney, this "less is more" approach worked and the revenues rebounded, largely through very positive word of mouth. While its approximately $120 million gross was nothing spectacular - Pocahontas did better and was seen as a disappointment - at least it marked an upward trend, one that continued with the $162 million of A Bug's Life and the $170 million of Tarzan. Success, setback, renewed success - it all sounds like a typical Disney storyline, doesn't it?

Mulan itself is interesting to examine in comparison with other Disney films, especially opposed to its immediate predecessor, Hercules. That movie is one that I didn't much like even though I thought I should. It seemed to have everything one would want from a Disney film but yet it all seemed somewhat cold and calculated; while all the components were there, ultimately, it came across as less than satisfying.

Mulan, on the other hand, looks weak when dissected and viewed in traditional Disney terms. Most of the characters were flat and undistinguished. Mulan herself was interesting in a spunky way but she didn't portray a whole lot of personality. As our main villain, Hun leader Shan-Yu strikes an impressive pose and seems very menacing, but he also lacks personality and is one of the least compelling Disney villains of the era; Hades in Hercules was much more entertaining and provocative.

Most of Mulan's comic sidekicks appeared generic and one-dimensional except for main foil Mushu. That character, voiced by Eddie Murphy, added life to the movie but did so in a tremendously anachronistic way that seemed likely to trivialize and detract from the plot. Add in some very undistinguished and unmemorable songs and you have a recipe for a very weak Disney film.

But that's not what happened. Despite all the chinks in the armor, Mulan succeeds, and does so tremendously well. I'm not going to get into any of that "best Disney movie since..." nonsense because I've liked all of their animated films from the Nineties; even Hercules grew on me. Still, it's a very compelling film and one that offers a nice spectrum of thrills, drama, emotion and laughs. In short, it's exactly the reason most of us go to see Disney movies.

Normally in my reviews I try to use my feeble little brain to analyze the film in question and to discuss various aspects of it, but I'm not going to do so here because - as I've already noted - Mulan will not hold up well to close inspection. That doesn't mean that it really is flawed; it simply signifies that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Mulan is fantastically entertaining and quite exciting to boot - let's just leave it at that.

Okay, my "li’l Ebert” side insists I discuss one issue in the film: Eddie Murphy. His semi-jive talking dragon seemed quite popular with audiences but he received a bit of a critical drubbing because the character seemed so out of place. Why was this urban, African-American-influenced monster romping around medieval China? The popular criticism was that it didn't make much sense.

No, it didn't. Of course, neither did a story about a mermaid or a tale that involves a prince who was turned into a beast. One could argue that those were fairy tales whereas Mulan tries to be more reality-based, and that's a valid point. Really, the best comparison one can make is to Aladdin. It also came from something of a historical world vantage that featured moderate amounts of magic. However, no one seemed to mind the Genie in that film, a character whose personality made as much sense in the context of the world of Aladdin as does Mushu in Mulan.

Although I had my apprehensions about the character, Mushu works well within the film. Murphy offers a nice performance that doesn't quite compete with that of Robin Williams as the Genie - or even his own endearing Donkey from Shrek - but Murphy manages to make the character his own and keeps him interesting. Mushu could be obnoxious and painful to watch, but Murphy lends him an endearing quality that helps the character succeed.

Actually, Mulan integrates humor much better than was done in the previous few Disney efforts; in some of those, the lighter moments seemed randomly inserted just because the audience expected them. The worst offender in this regard was Hunchback. Frankly, I really liked that movie except for the fact that its creators backed down at key moments. Hunchback was a surprisingly intense effort - I really believe that if anyone other than Disney had produced it, it would have received a "PG" rating - but the producers often undercut the drama with inanely lighthearted scenes. For example, just as the film nears its climax, we stop to hear a comedic tune called "A Guy Like You". This completely deflated the tone. Mulan manages to make much smoother transitions and it comes across as much better assembled in that regard.

Ultimately I really like Mulan. It might not merit mention alongside Disney’s greatest achievements, but it stands as one of their more consistently engaging and likable efforts. It manages to combine a mix of different genre elements into one fun and entertaining package.


The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus A-

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 boast ed 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.

How the picture and audio of this new DVD of Mulan compare to the original release from 19999? Not surprisingly, the two Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks sounded identical, but the new transfer improved on the old one. This DVD presented somewhat tighter visuals without some artifacts that marred the prior set. Not a huge amount of differences occurred, but the new version was definitely superior in regard to its visuals.

One note about the two transfers: while this one gets a “family friendly” 1.66:1 framing, the old version went with 1.85:1. I didn’t notice any substantial differences between the two. I think it’s odd that Disney changed the aspect ratio from the earlier release; are families turned off by the minor difference between 1.85:1 and 1.66:1? I’m sure few will notice the variations, but I thought I should mention them nonetheless.

Whereas the old DVD of Mulan skimped on extras, this new two-disc edition 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 Pooh’s Heffalump Movie, Bambi, 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.

When it comes to recommendations, I find it hard to think of anyone who shouldn’t pick up this version of Mulan. For all the folks who don’t already own it, definitely snatch one of these right away; it’s a great little flick and a strong DVD. If you currently possess the old disc, I’d still advise a purchase of the SE. With its improved picture quality and vastly expanded roster of extras, it greatly surpasses the prior release. I think it’s odd this one lacks the earlier package’s trailer, but I really like this set nonetheless and heartily endorse it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6216 Stars Number of Votes: 74
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