MulancoverGrade:  A-, B+
Entire family:  Yes
1998, 88 min., Color; 2004, 79 min., Color
Rated G
Aspect ratio:  1.66:1, 1.78:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD-MA 5.1
Bonus features:  B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVDs

Trailer (I)  Trailer (II)

Mulan is a wonderful piece of Disney animation and storytelling that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Mulan II may be less inspired, but it’s still one of the best direct-to-video sequels from Disney. Put the movies together in a single package and it makes for a solid double feature that holds appeal for the whole family. And while the sequel lacks a villain and is lighter in tone and palette, the two films still flow surprisingly well from one to the next.

Based on a Chinese poem (but Westernized as only Disney can get away with), Mulan tells the story of a girl who takes her frail father’s place in the army when the Huns threaten to overrun China. Will she be discovered as a woman? Will they save the kingdom?  Li Shang (B.D. Wong), the soldier responsible for training new recruits and leading them into battle, is both taskmaster and potential love interest.

Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) is one of Disney’s strongest female characters. She’s confident, yet she has doubts. She’s a born feminist, but she also falls in love and has to negotiate a developing relationship. She trusts her instincts, but it’s not all hunches. Like Shang, Mulan has a good head on her shoulders. Best of all, in a world dominated by Disney princesses and happily-ever-after marketing, the romantic angle is downplayed, yielding to the heroic and the issues of civic duty, family honor, and loyalty to friends (or family or country) that play themselves out.

screen1Disney animation depends on captivating music, powerful villains, and effective comic relief, and Mulan has all three. The songs are memorable, and the animated sequences they illustrate are full of life. As for villains, with his screeching bird of prey and fang-like teeth, the bulky and menacing Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer) is fearsome enough, while Eddie Murphy tries out his pre-Shrek schtick as a tiny little dragon who’s intent on being the Fa family guardian and protector, and his little cricket sidekick. Also adding to the comedy are a trio of heroes in fools’ disguise: the one-eyed and pugnacious little Yao (Harvey Fierstein), the hulking always-hungry Chien-Po (Jerry Tondo), and skinny buffoon Ling (Gedde Watanabe).

screen2Mulan II features the same voice talents, an animation style that’s similar and almost as lavish, and songs that provide a nice link to the first film. But there’s no villain, and the only moments of peril come from bandits and an accident that threaten to derail the mission: to deliver the emperor’s three daughters to a northern kingdom monarch so they can marry his sons and unite the two kingdoms against approaching Huns. Instead, the focus is on matters of the heart, and like a cartoon set in spring, just about everyone’s heart is aflutter—with the exception of the engaged Mulan and Shang, whom Mushu tries to break apart so that he can retain his job as Fa family protector.

The Mulan 2 Movie Collection comes with most of the features that were on previous DVD releases, including an hour-long collection of featurettes and a commentary from the producer and directors.