Let’s get down to business, to write this review. Look-back. My thoughts. Opinions. How many people have made that opening joke? Most likely everyone. Anyway, Mulan is Disney’s 36th animated feature. It centers around a young woman, Mulan, as she disguises herself as a man to save her disabled father from going to war and saving her country of China. This film was part of the Disney Renaissance, which consisted of 10 animated features that were commercially and critically acclaimed. Mulan is a film I did not watch as much as I did ‘The Lion King’ ‘Aladdin’ or even ‘Pocahontas,’ mainly due to me not having access to the VHS tape. However I would catch it whenever it played on the Disney Channel, or on cable. I do like this film and watching it this past weekend, I forgot how enjoyable it can be. So enjoyable, I also watched Mulan II which I had never seen prior to this look-back. So let’s dive into these films.
Mulan released June 19th, 1998. However for the life of my I cannot remember if I saw it in theaters or not. I feel like I didn’t, however I can tell you I heard the music everywhere I went. We all know which song I’m referring to. So let’s start there. The music in this film is fantastic, fun, and emotional. ‘Make a Man out of You’ is probably the most famous song, but people sleep on ‘Reflection’ as that song really got to me and felt more personal this time watching. The score itself is also very well done, with somber tones and these subtle drum beats throughout. One of my favorite pieces is specifically when Mulan makes her decision to leave in place of her father. The build up and the imagery tied together was just so well done, it’s easily one of my favorite moments in the film. Music has always been the strong suit of these films during the Renaissance, and not just the original songs, but the score as well. It’s amazing how much you don’t pay attention to the score in so many films, but once you start listening it just amplifies everything, and brings out much more emotion.
The animation is also beautiful, and a reminder that I would like Disney to do another animated feature, however CG Animation is not going anywhere anytime soon. There’s just something about this style that I feel holds up better than CG Animation. At least when done correctly, we’ll get there. I like the style, with these swirls in the smoke and the character models themselves, everyone looks great as well as the environments. The imagery in China during the parade and the city itself during the ending of the film are particularly beautiful, with colors from fireworks and this very festive feel. Everything is just so smooth looking and visually one of my favorites. I really like this style, and it reminds me of another Disney film, Hercules (we may get to review that sooner or later). They both have these swirls that are seen throughout and I enjoy them both greatly. I’m not entirely sure why swirls bring me joy, but they do.
The voice work is fantastic. Growing up, you never really pay attention to voice actors. As in, yes you acknowledge them but you don’t necessarily hear little inflections they put out or how much of a range their voices can do to bring out even more to a character than even the animation can. The two work together to bring the character to life. In the case of Mulan, Ming-Na Wen does amazing work. She not only had to help bring Mulan to life, but also Ping who is Mulan’s interpretation of a man. The way she can separate the two voices but at the same time still sounding the same is so much fun to watch. I didn’t realize that Ming-Na was Mulan until I started watching her on Agents of Shield. Another voice I never realized was in the film was BD Wong, who is of Jurassic Park and recently Gotham fame. He voices Shang with this very straight very stern. But BD Wong brings this innocence to him when he talks with Mulan and his character does a turn in her presence and when he sees his troops are finally getting better. The late Pat Morita who voices The Emperor who I feel is kind of snuck in there. It’s a fun cameo. However we cannot talk about voice work without talking about Eddie Murphy. This is the only voice I recognized even as a child. Mushu is comedy gold in this film. He made me laugh with every scene he was in. Even if I wasn’t laughing I was at least smiling during his scenes. He’s a small dragon with sass, how can you not like him? Most of my favorite lines came from Mushu. “And what are you, a sheep?” I don’t know why I laugh at that line so much.
The entire film is very well done and still holds up today. I had a feeling when watching it again that I would still like it and I did. So much so, that after watching it on Disney+ I decided to watch Mulan II for the first time directly after. Mulan II released February 1st, 2005. Like most sequels Disney released, it went straight to video instead of the cinema. Being a straight to video film, a lot of things take a hit. First thing to note, yes the animation quality dips pretty far. Not to say that it’s bad, but you can tell the film had less of a budget here to work with. The colors also seemed brighter somehow but I felt like it was too saturated, and it didn’t necessarily help. There’s also less detail in character models, and the environments aren’t as creative. While most of the voice cast returned like Ming-Na Wen, BD Wong and Pat Morita, a notable absence is Eddie Murphy. Mushu is instead voiced by Mark Moseley who does a very good job imitating. This is my second exposure to Mark being Mushu, the first being his appearance in Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. In Kingdom Hearts II there were some lines spoken that did not sound good, but overall he was fine. I think since the game was going over the original film I never gave it a chance. However now hearing him in a full feature with all new dialogue, he did a much better job at capturing Eddie Murphy’s style.
As for the plot, it’s a lot smaller scale than the previous film. This time around, Mulan and Shang are getting married, but beforehand The Emperor tasks the two of them to a special mission of escorting his daughters to be wed to their new fiancé’s they have never met. From what I have read of the film, a lot of people do not like it. Having watched it for the first time I wouldn’t say it’s terrible, however, compared to the original it is much less of a film. There are some good takeaways that I liked. In the original, the villain of the film was Shan-Yu the leader of The Huns. This film doesn’t have an obvious villain, however to me Mushu could be considered the ‘villain’ of the story in a sense, being redeemed at the end. I feel like the film is better that way. As for the music, I enjoyed the new song ‘Lesson Number One’ and bringing back ‘A Girl Worth Fighting For’ was a fun nod as well as ‘Like Other Girls’. While the music is nowhere near as iconic as the original films, they are fun in their own way. I don’t see myself repeating these songs in the car when driving around, but I would consider putting them in a Disney playlist in the future.
Comparing this Disney sequel to others that also went straight to video, it wasn’t that bad. To be fair I have only seen a handful on the direct to video sequels, like both Aladdin’s, both Lion King’s and Pocahontas 2, and I would say it’s at least better than Pocahontas 2, but Aladdin and Lion King are better in my opinion. Now with Disney+ available I will be going through the other direct to video sequels, but that’s another article, or podcast episode. Mulan II was enjoyable, but it’s not a film I would go back to on the regular like the original. Both Mulan films are very fun to watch and in regards to the second, I would give it a shot if you have not. I recommend both of the actually, and you have Disney+ or if you have access to these films in your own way and haven’t watched in a while, it would be nice to revisit.