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Walt Disney Home Video presents
Mulan: Special Edition (1998)

"You're the man! Well... sort of."
- Mushu (Eddie Murphy)

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: October 24, 2004

Stars: Ming-Na, Eddie Murphy, B.D. Wong, Harvey Fierstein, Miguel Ferrer, George Takei, Pat Morita, James Shigeta
Other Stars: Lea Salonga, Donny Osmond, Marni Nixon, Gedde Watanabe, Soon-Tek Oh, June Foray, Matthew Wilder
Director: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook

MPAA Rating: G for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:27m:47s
Release Date: October 26, 2004
UPC: 786936157154
Genre: family

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+A+B+ C+

DVD Review

It hasn't spawned Broadway musicals as have Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, or been revered as being in the same league as those films or more viewer-friendly fare as Aladdin or The Little Mermaid, but in terms of durability, Disney's Mulan has aged far better than many of the studio's heavier hitters of recent time. Not surprisingly, the home video powers-that-be have recognized this and honored their 1998 animated feature by giving it a nice and much welcomed two-disc special edition treatment.

Based on an ancient Chinese poem by an anonymous author, the story centers around the film's namesake, a lovely teenage girl struggling with the adolescent challenge of wanting to continue her culture's tradition of honor (being good potential wife material and so on) and wanting to establish an identity of her own, which puts her at odds with her family, particularly proud papa Fa Zhou (Soon-Tek Oh). Mulan's blues are temporarily put on hold when news comes of an impending attack on her homeland by the villainous Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer) and his army of Huns. Ready to take his sword out of storage and do battle for the cause, Fa Zhou limbers up in preparation despite the pain of past wars taking a terrible toll on his body. Naturally, the loving daughter doesn't want her father in harm's way, an opinion not shared by the rest of her kin, placing her in a lonely minority. Deciding to throw caution to the wind, rain, and thunder of a nighttime storm, Mulan grabs her father's battle armor, shears her long tresses and sets out to bring honor to the Fa family, her way. On her journey, Mulan crosses paths with Mushu (Eddie Murphy), a scrappy, height-challenged dragon whose body is as tiny as his mouth is big. Equally misfit and looking to find redemption in the eyes of his ancestors, Mushu takes on multiple duties as protector, advisor, and comic relief, accompanying the disguised girl on her quest. Eventually winding up in a camp of terribly inept recruits assigned to Captain Li Shang (B.D. Wong), Mulan faces the dual challenges of concealing her femininity and proving she's got what it takes to stand up against the Huns. However, after getting off to a bad start by invoking the wrath of three fellow soldiers and head-shaking reactions from her superior, will her bad luck streak be painfully prolonged? An exceptionally executed, perfectly paced mixture of comedy, drama, action, and music, Mulan is one of Disney's most underrated animated features.

In addition to a first class voice cast—ER's Na, comedy wunderkind Murphy, noted Chinese actors B.D. Wong and Soon-Tek-Oh—there are excellent musical performances from the likes of Tony winner Lea Salonga, Broadway legend Marni Nixon (who voice-doubled Audrey Hepburn and Deborah Kerr in My Fair Lady and The King and I, respectfully) and former teen idol Donny Osmond (who scores big with I'll Make a Man Out of You), the project's most impressive tune). There's also on-target storytelling and striking animation, some of which echoes the studio's excellent old guard use of multi-layered background techniques, displayed in Disney classics like Pinocchio. It's also one of the few animated films of recent years that doesn't go overboard, like having too much sidekick presence, adult-only jokes, or overly scary sequences that might be too much for youmger viewers. In other words, a genuine family film that has something for everyone, and that everyone can enjoy, together.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Like immaculate paintings on display in a gallery, Mulan's animation art is at its most breathtaking. The film's phenomenal utilization of color, not just in terms of visuals, but in establishing a mood is like a master class, and the transfer doesn't come up short in any areas. A few moments that come to mind: the rainstorm that precedes Mulan's departure, the attack of the Huns across the snow-covered lands that signify the film's final third, the fireworks igniting in the nighttime sky in the film's climatic finish. All of these sequences and more come across so vividly to the point of a 3D effect (without those cumbersome cardboard glasses). Though some fiercely loyal Lion King and Toy Story advocates may beg to challenge me, I believe without question that this is the finest-looking Disney animated film on the format as of this moment.

Image Transfer Grade: A+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanish, Chineseyes

Audio Transfer Review: Although it possesses a wondrous, spaciously wide mix in the fronts and great low end that supports one of the late, great Jerry Goldsmith's finest scores, the under-utilization of rear activity other than simply serving the purpose of expansion (save for a rare isolated effect), keeps it from achieving the perfection of its visual counterpart. That being stated, I think most viewers will be more than pleased with what emerges from their sound systems.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Mulan II, Bambi-Special Edition, Mary Poppins: 40th Anniversary Edition, Pooh's Heffalump Movie
7 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Co-Producer Pam Coats, Co-Directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook
Packaging: Keep Case
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Four Music Videos (featuring Jackie Chan, Christina Aguilera, Stevie Wonder & 98 Degrees, Raven)
  2. Disney's Pedia: Mulan's World
  3. Lucas Film THX Optimizer
  4. Backstage Disney
Extras Review: By far the best of all the inclusions is a fairly enjoyable commentary track that pairs co-producer Paula Coats with co-directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook. If there's an award for the most relaxed commentary (almost to the point of sleep-inducing at first) with the most information, this track would be a front runner—but it does pick up energy as the movie progresses. If you stay with it, you'll be privy to a lot of background including the surprising revelation that Eddie Murphy's seemingly off the cuff dialogue was the result of sticking very closely to the final script and only making adjustments in close collaboration with the writers. Other fascinating subjects broached include the Asian concept of honor, somewhat foreign to American audiences; neat little inside jokes and Disney references tucked inside the animation; how Ming-Na's attempt to go continuously deep-voiced once Mulan departs from home was deep-sixed; and the interesting go-ahead from Disney chief Michael Eisner for the filmmakers to throw in a hint of romance between the title character and Captain Li. Several deleted scenes offer two interesting alternate openings (including Mulan's eventual triumph revealed at the start), a rightly juked song (Keep 'Em Guessing) that pales in comparison to far more superior tunes in the score, and a completely different approach to the matchmaking sequence almost completely devoid of laughs, unlike the brilliant final version (not to mention the tuneful addition of You'll Bring Honor to Us All); all of the above examples consist mainly of sketch drawings edited together.

A number of music videos mainly dating from the period of the film's release are mostly filler save for the uptempo True to Your Heart collaboration between now-defunct boy band 98 Degrees (featuring Jessica Simpson's hubby, Nick Lachey) and soul music legend Stevie Wonder, and an unintentionally hilarious, pitchy rendition of I'll Make a Man Out of You by Jackie Chan (complete with multiple-image martial artistry action) that ranks with William Shatner's rendition of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

As with many Disney two-for-one offerings, the second disc is a cornucopia of sketch art galleries, brief "making-of" pieces (Discovering Mulan, with its story of how an all-business research trip to China turned out to be immensely inspirational, is a keeper), and featurettes on many creative aspects of the project including numerous interviews with much of the creative team and so on. While I'm sure animation junkies will eat all this stuff up, I must confess I'm starting to tire of Disney's approach to home video supplemental material on their big releases, which is growing increasingly stale as time goes on. For one, can't one single jam-packed documentary with plenty of chapter stops be created instead of these five-minute mini-whirls gaining momentum, only to end suddenly to transfer us back to menu-land and a sub-menu page of a sub-menu page? It's just plain annoying to be honest. Secondly, has there been like a complete embargo of front-line talent's participation in bonus material? One of the key complaints I've heard about The Lion King is a complete absence of contributions from the likes of Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane. I would have liked to have heard from Ming-Na, Donny Osmond, Harvey Fiersteen (the latter nearly stealing the show as Yao), and animation voice-over marvel June Foray (of Flinstones notoriety). Granted, the animators are the heart of such projects, but the voices are truly the soul.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

An unsung Disney gem gets a well-earned double-disc treatment in Mulan: Special Edition. Despite my disenchantment with the studio's increasingly cookie-cutter approach to extras amongst other shortcomings, the film itself is what's important. A first-class transfer, above average sound and a fine commentary earn the dOc exclamation point of recommendation from me.


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