If you go down the list of animated Disney titles, before Mulan came out, how many of them featured a strong-willed heroine? I guess you could argue 'The Rescuers,' Bianca was a fairly headstrong mouse. Most of Disney's female leads fit the cookie-cutter princess mold. They were damsels and they were, or usually ended up in, distress. Then the strong male figure would flex his muscles, flash his smile, and end up saving the day. 'Mulan' was the first Disney movie to really challenge preconceived gender roles, which is why it's one of the more important titles in Disney's animation stable.
Not only did 'Mulan' throw stereotypical gender roles out the window, but it also took on the somewhat touchy subject of cultures steeped in tradition. And how tradition, if followed blindly, can indeed be more detrimental than helpful.
Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na Wen) is the traditional Chinese daughter. She's precocious, rambunctious, and doesn't necessarily feel like following every cultural norm is important to her happiness. Her mother thinks differently though. As long as they can get Mulan successfully married off, their family will honor their ancestors.
At the same time Shan-Yu (voiced by Miguel Ferrer), leader of the Hun army, is descending on China with an unstoppable force. Like many Disney villains Shan-Yu's face is made up of sharp angles and beady eyes. Shan-Yu plans to overthrow the emperor and usurp control.
A conscription notice is decreed. Every family must put forth one male to serve in the army. Mulan is afraid that if her elderly father goes out to war he won't be coming back alive. So, she dons his armor, cuts her hair, and rides off into battle pretending to be a man.
What follows is one of Disney's most original, and surprisingly, most inspiring tales. While much of the plot, and the way the story unfolds, is pretty formulaic, it's the departure from the gender norms that is the most interesting aspect.
Also, like many memorable Disney films, Mulan features some noteworthy musical numbers that are catchy and poignant at the same time. "I'll Make a Man Out of You" is probably the most enjoyable song of the bunch. Once that song gets in my head it's hard to get it out. It also accompanies one of the best training montages this side of 'Rocky.'
Dragging down the proceedings a bit is the forced comic relief of Mushu (voiced by Eddie Murphy). While the tiny dragon with a big mouth has some memorable scenes and a handful of funny one-liners, Murphy's voice grates on the ear. He's not nearly as bad as the insipid gargoyles in 'Hunchback' though.
In the end, Mulan challenges gender stereotypes and offers up an animated Disney experience that isn't princess-centric. Mulan is one of the few strong, self-propelled female characters that Disney has. While princesses have their place, 'Mulan' finds a way to break the mold and become something original.
Rating: 4 Stars
As you may expect, there isn't much to say about 'Mulan's sequel. In true "Let's Undermine Everything the First Film Stood For" fashion, Disney applies broad, ugly strokes to 'Mulan II's canvas. The first movie was commendable because of its portrayal of a strong woman character who didn't need saving from men. Here, Disney has done away with that. As a matter of fact they've done away with Mulan mostly, relegating her to a side character in her own sequel. So, who is the main star of the sequel then? You guessed it: Mushu.
When these direct-to-video sequels were being churned out of Disney's animation studios on a regular basis, the predominant thinking was that the annoying sidekicks obviously needed much more screen time. Flash-forward a few years and this is the exact same thinking that polluted and ultimately doomed 'Cars 2.'
There's nothing that should warrant viewing 'Mulan's sequel. All it does is serve to counteract the good done by the first movie. Plus the animation is flat and terrible compared to the richly stylized animation of the original.
Rating: 1.5 Stars
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Since it's not a Diamond Edition release, 'Mulan' gets the second-tier treatment where the original and the sequel have been pressed onto the same 50GB Blu-ray Disc. This is a 3-disc set though. The other two discs, which are stacked on each other in the same hub, are separate DVDs for 'Mulan' and 'Mulan II.' The release contains a Disney Movie Rewards code, comes with a slipcover, and is region free. Video
If you remember 'Mulan' being visually stunning, then this 1080p video presentation will not let you down. 'Mulan's ornately detailed settings in ancient China are lovingly cared for here. The animation is smooth and rock-steady.
Color beams off the screen. Red is a predominant color in the palette and it's as crimson as they come. Whites, like the snow-capped mountains, are splendidly presented. Blacks are always inky and never feature any sort of noticeable banding. Some very minor aliasing was detected on a couple isolate occasions, but it's nothing to really worry about.
Color fills are steady and never flicker. The line art is presented cleanly. Edges are defined and distinct. Color shading is beautifully rendered. Explosions feature great bursts of magnificent color that fills up the screen. This is another top-tier video presentation delivered by Disney.
Rating: 4.5 Stars
The sequel escapes the same video presentation pitfalls that befell the 'Hunchback of Notre Dame II.' The 'Hunchback' sequel was not only animated with ugly animation, it also suffered from flickering, dust, and noise. 'Mulan II' is a very clean transfer, but it simply doesn't measure up to the fantastic visual display of its predecessor.
Colors appear a bit dimmer. Shading isn't as prevalent, which results in a somewhat depthless feel. Blacks aren't as dark as the original, but they suffice. The line art is nicely defined though. It just comes off as a somewhat cheaper version of the original, which is what it is. Finally, there's a few moments slightly more noticeable banding and aliasing.
Rating: 4 Stars
Sadly, 'Mulan' doesn't get the rocking lossless 7.1 remix that many of the Diamond Edition films receive. However, its 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix does just fine. Everything from the hectic action to the catchy musical numbers are given ample room to work their magic. The result is an encompassing animated film that delivers deliberate sound from all angles.
I never remembered 'Mulan' being an LFE powerhouse, but this mix showed me it is. When the Hun's horses come barreling over the mountain, it sounds just as loud and as the rumbling bass during the stampede in 'The Lion King.' The subsequent avalanche also gives way to a strong, low rumble that practically engulfs the listener.
The movie's dialogue and music vocals are presented with the utmost clarity. Rear channels provide helpful ambient sound during battles and large gatherings. Directionality is deftly used to create a lifelike sense. It wasn't until now that I knew how good 'Mulan' really sounded.
Rating: 5 Stars
The sequel is also given a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, but it doesn't begin to measure up. Instead it offers a satisfying, but unimpressive, audio mix. It delivers clean dialogue, spotty low-end involvement, and all-too-quiet rear channels.
The front part of the mix favors simple directionality that jumps around instead of smoothly transitioning from channel to channel. This is literally one of those mixes that bear nothing worthy of note. It does what its job with minimal effort until the credits role.
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Rating: 3 Stars
Rating: 1.5 Stars
I find 'Mulan' to be one of the best second-tier animated Disney titles. It forgoes the standard prince saves princess routine and instead opts for a story where a female lead does most of the saving. It's a good contrast piece to the rest of Disney's collection of princess movies. Let's just forget that this release also comes with the ridiculous sequel, shall we? 'Mulan' is presented with stellar video and close to perfect audio. Disney collectors will gobble this one up regardless. 'Mulan' is recommended for anyone.