Mulan II Review
Mulan II is the latest release in Disney's direct to video range, a series of cheaply-produced sequels (popularly known as "cheapquels") written and storyboarded by the DisneyToon Studios unit (formerly the TV animation division) and farmed out to various animation houses, many of them situated in the Third World where labour (and, more often than not, the quality of the final product) is cheap. With the transitioning of the Feature Animation unit to 3D and the subsequent laying off of its 2D animators (barring those who made the leap to CGI in order to save their jobs), DisneyToon is the only unit still producing traditionally animated features, some of which have been given theatrical releases, but the majority of which are consigned to go straight to DVD and video. The original Mulan, created at the short-lived Feature Animation Florida division (also responsible for Lilo & Stitch, easily the best Disney movie for over a decade), was a solid if slightly flawed product, combining infectious comedy and an interesting visual style with genuine heart, actually managing to create a commentary about sexual politics in ancient China without coming across as forced. News that a cheapquel had been commissioned, involving none of the original creative crew, filled me with dread, but nothing could prepare me for the end result.
Diego Vega wrote an excellent article for SaveDisney.com, a web site set up by jilted former Disney executives Roy E. Disney (Walt's nephew) and Stanley Gold. This article, which is well worth reading, explains exactly what is wrong with Disney's cheapquels and breaks their construction into a simple formula, where the entire scenario for each can be created simply by substituting characters' names. Because this formula works extremely well for Mulan II, with only a couple of exceptions, I have reproduced it below:
New sequel involves parents (often aged Disney stars, but not always) and a child (usually next generation, though sometimes same from original movie). Parent nags the child with too many rules concerning any rule, and keeps secrets about any secret from the child. The child is ridiculed (real or imagined) by siblings or peers. The child rebels against the parent and proceeds to disobey the parent's rules because of a self-centered reason. The child makes a deal with an adversary to commit a rebellious act of betrayal. Child finds new or old love interest. Everything goes wrong, big climax ensues, adversary is defeated, usually by falling into a treacherous location. Child apologizes to the parent while parent apologizes to the child, thus maintaining family generational détente. Bland generic pop artists sing over end credits.
Okay, so you do need to make a few substitutions - for example, Mulan rebels against her fiancé rather than a parental figure - but that's basically it. Essentially, a month has passed since Mulan saved China (Mushu: "Seems like just last month, you and I were saving China." Mulan: "It was last month." Hahahahahahahahaha), and General Shang has proposed to her. Before they can get married, however, they are given an important mission by the Emperor: to chaperone his three daughters to the kingdom of Qui Gong, for an arranged marriage. Uh-oh! This doesn't sit well with feisty modern gurl Mulan, but she agrees to the Emperor's commands. Along the way, our intrepid band encounter all sorts of dangers, many of them created by Mulan's pet dragon Mushu, who has decided that he must break up Mulan and Shang, for reasons that are a little muddled. (See? There's that rebellious act.) Emotions are tested to breaking point and we get a whole lot of arguing as the three daughters decide they want to be free, just like Mulan, and run away from their arranged marriage. Will it all work out in the end? Does anyone actually care? I sure didn't.
Script-wise, the film is a complete mess. Characters now behave in ways that seem completely at odds with how they acted in the original film. Soldier Ping is now a bad pundit (where the hell did that come from?) and Mushu is now a conniving little rat whose only intent is to further his own cause. Stranger still, he now seems to be a homosexual. Don't believe me? Look at some of this dialogue: "I've just got some exfoliating cream in my eye!" "The theme is 'Think Pink'! Ya know, pink is the new red, girl!" Mulan's father now enters into bets with his mother, and Shang is a hot-headed fellow who is easily led astray and frequently jumps to the wrong conclusions. None of this makes any sense, but it all fits with the cheapquel rule of bending characters to fit pre-constructed narratives, instead of the other way around. Dialogue is beyond preachy: "My duty is to my heart" is the new mantra, and just in case you couldn't work it out for yourself, Shang informs us that "No-one should marry someone they don't love". Proving that nothing is sacred, Mulan II also bastardizes one of the original's songs, "A Girl Worth Fighting For", in addition to throwing in a whole bunch of lame new numbers. Oh, and if you thought that Christina Aguilera's tuneless wailings during the end credits of the original were bad enough, the sequel features Atomic Kitten, informing us that "[They] Wanna Be Like Other Girls". Sweet Jesus!
If there is anything praiseworthy about this film, it is the voice acting. It's not exactly exceptional, but for the most part all the voice actors from the original film have returned... barring Eddie Murphy, whose Mushu is now voiced by sound-alike Mark Moseley, who actually does a pretty good job of sounding like Murphy. I never thought I'd find myself saying this, but Eddie Murphy must have principals of some sort if he refused to appear in this. Ming-Na reprises her speaking role as Mulan, and she's actually pretty good, as if Lea Salonga, who once again provides her singing voice (it's just a shame that the songs are terrible). The animation, while usually bad, does on a handful of occasions show some signs of imagination, with a few interesting facial poses and some reasonably nice effects work. Having said that, none of this makes up for the fact that the film is a truly appalling piece of work that I found embarrassing to watch, and... you know what? It's easier just to call it shit.
Mulan II is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced. This digital transfer is plagued by edge enhancement and compression artefacts, which are its only major problems, but both of which prove to be seriously distracting. The lack of film grain does the bland TV-quality animation no favours as it only serves to highlight its flat, lifeless nature. Overall, the results are pretty serviceable, but I'm glad it wasn't a good film that received this transfer.
The "film" features a serviceable but unremarkable Dolby Digital 5.1 track, with little in the way of surround action but perfectly comprehensible dialogue and a reasonable amount of bass. Some cheapquel DVDs have featured DTS tracks, but instead this one includes Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are also included for the film, but not for any of the extras.
Bonus features are rather limited, beginning with a collection of four Deleted scenes that are as bad as anything in the finished film. They are introduced by directors Darrell Rooney and Lynne Southerland and producer Jennifer Blohm. At least, I assume that's who they are, because the latter two are never identified on-screen. (Rooney is identified during the Voices feature.)
Mushu's Guess Who is a silly little game in which the shadows of various characters are presented on the screen and you are asked to select from three different possible choices. Winning the game (yes, I did actually play it through!) provides you with... nothing! Ta-da!
The World of Mulan is a rather uninteresting feature split into three sections, each of which provide some perfunctory information about Chinese culture. Once you have looked at all three sections, you are taken to a special bonus game in which you select your year of birth and are told which animal you correspond with. Yawn. I find it hard to believe that even pre-school children find these games amusing.
Finally, Voices of Mulan takes you on a 3-minutes look at the various actors behind the on-screen characters. Eddie Murphy's non-appearance is conveniently glossed over and instead we get Ming-Na and others mechanically telling us about their characters and how great the film is.
A seal of quality if ever I saw one.
Mulan II is a horrible little piece of work that shouldn't really be classified as a film, given that it involves little to no actual artistry and was created purely for commerce. Take my advice and watch the original again instead. There is no reason to pollute either your mind or your kids' with this contemptible and patronizing example of animation.
2 out of 10
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2 out of 10