Saturday, February 12, 2005

Disney DVD: Mulan II—Adequate Sequel with Few Extras


When the original Disney film Mulan was in production, I was working for a mostly-Chinese tech firm in southern California. My colleagues were excited for months before the premiere, because they were familiar with the "Chinese Joan-of-Arc" Hua Mu Lan (Fa Mulan). Before its premiere, I heard dozens of stories about this warrior girl, who pretended to be a man to enter the army of China, won many battles, and rose to be a general.

The movie did not disappoint us. I was charmed by the delicate chinoiserie of the animation style, especially the title credits. My co-workers were relieved that Disney had not prettified the story so much that Hua Mu Lan's story was lost in the Mulan cartoons. And my children were enthralled by the message and the music.

When I heard that a sequel would be available on DVD, I had to debate myself whether to buy it. My girls are adults now, of course. Second, perhaps more important, could a sequel do justice to the original? On a moment's whim, I bought the DVD anyway. And I was not disappointed, but neither was I overwhelmed.

Mulan II is also a charming movie, with many of the original voices (Ming-Na Wen as Mulan's speaking voice, with Lea Salonga singing for her; Pat Morita as the Emperor, Gedde Watanabe as Ling, Harvey Fierstien as Yao). A notable absence is Eddie Murphy as Mushu the guardian dragon, but Mark Moseley provides a sufficiently "Murphyesque" touch to the lizard-sized trouble-maker.

The movie starts essentially where Mulan left off, with the soldierly Shang (now General Shang) courting Mulan at her family home. Mulan is teaching the girls of the village that balance in all things is the first step to being a good warrior in a wonderfully "choreographed" sequence, "That's Lesson Number One." This fits neatly with Mulan's parents' advice to the couple, that balance between opposites is needed for a strong marriage.

Before the couple can wed, however, a mission arrives for Shang and Mulan from the Emperor: they must shepherd the Emperor's three daughters to their arranged marriages in a northern province. Mulan is appalled at the thought of arranged marriages, but Shang asks only for three selected soldiers to accompany them.

One of my favorite songs from the original, "A Girl Worth Fighting For," has a short humorous reprise in this story, as Yao, Ling and Shen-Po muse about finding a girl to marry. This song winds through the three soldiers' brawling reintroduction, and foretells (for the adult viewer, anyway) the probable story-line to come.

The three princesses appear to be resigned to their fate, but reveal their doubts in the song, "(I Wanna Be) Like Other Girls," performed by Atomic Kitten. (The music video extra feature, with the pop release version of the song, is composed of a series of clips from the movie. The Atomic Kittens do not appear on the DVD, despite a rather misleading content label on the slip cover.)

How Mulan and Shang use their differences to resolve the problems that arise as they try to complete their mission (despite active attempts of Mushu to break up the couple), and how the three girls resolve the conflict between their desires and their duty, provide the rest of the story.

While not as delicate nor impressively Chinese in its animation, the sequel is still beautifully drawn. I was struck by the difference in the end credits, though. In original Disney films, each character has a development team, responsible for designing, drawing, voicing and coordination for that character throughout the film. In Mulan II, however, the "cast" list shows only the voices. Animators are lumped together in several categories based more on which company they work for than the character they worked on. I suspect that accounts for a little roughness in character consistency, especially with the "supporting role" characters.

Extras include a cute but brief exploration of some topics in Chinese history and culture, with an overt cookie of Mushu explaining the Chinese zodiac. Note: Disney chose to limit the years available to 1964 and later. "Mushu's Guessing Game" seems to aimed at 6-10 year-olds in terms of its instructions and responses, but the difficulty level to guess correctly is designed to frustrate children of that age.

Finally, the "deleted scenes" segment was fascinating to an adult interested in why producers make the choices they do. I would have liked them to rethink the changes in the Mushu character for the same reasons—very small children may be disturbed at the selfish malice the little dragon exhibits.

I don't regret buying the DVD—but I won't be sharing it with my granddaughter until she is quite a bit older.


Blogger samraat said...

4/03/2010 9:52 PM  

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