|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 01 February 2005|
“Mulan” was one of Disney’s standout productions. The story was strong and timeless, and the heroine became one of Disney’s favorites. The behind-the-scenes material in the first movie revealed that the people working on it wondered about the overall story theme and ultimately settled on sticking with the original source material, telling the tale of a girl who joined the Emperor of China’s army so her crippled father wouldn’t be drafted. Mulan broke tradition because women weren’t supposed to serve in the military forces, and along the way she found love, an inner peace, and glory.
“Mulan II” is set a month after the events of the first movie and picks up the continuing story threads very well. Mulan is more at peace with herself and her world, but she still does not conform to the norm. She teaches other village girls to fight and to be themselves. Furthermore, the romance between Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na) and Shang (voiced by B.D. Wong) has been left unresolved. Will he propose? Will she accept? Of course, since this is a Disney film, the audience already knows the answers to both those questions.
However, “Mulan II” loses its focus on Mulan and moves into a greater worldview about the cultural distinctions between the males and females in Chinese society. At that time, and even today in traditional areas and families, Chinese females don’t have much say about their lots in life.
Chapter 1 opens on the tiny dragon Mushu in all his glory, showboating and enjoying his immense pint-sized stature. The Chinese-flavored music streaming through the surround sound systems really amps us up and settles us in for the story. The quality is first-rate and there’s the sense of an epic unfolding.
After the opening credits, Chapter 2 plunges into the story viewers who watched “Mulan” are eager to see: the continuing romance between Mulan and Shang. Mulan’s grandmother is betting on the time of the proposal since Shang will arrive soon. A nice transition is put into play when one of the little girls of the village shows up and asks for Mulan. The little girl is prim and proper and respectful, the perfect picture of a young Chinese female. The little girl goes to find Mulan and the viewer discovers that she’s there to learn how to fight from Mulan. Mulan has obviously enjoyed her time among the young girls and getting to teach them what she knows. They quickly break into a musical number that combines Disney’s trademark sound and visual look. After that, Shang arrives, newly promoted to general of the Emperor’s army.
In Chapter 3, Shang tries to propose to Mulan. He’s awkward and self-conscious, and the young girls hang on his every word. The scene is handled well, and the actual proposal is audible off-screen though the viewer does get to see Mulan and Shang’s reaction. Mushu gets really excited about the whole thing and wants to arrange the wedding. Unfortunately, Mushu finds out in the temple of the ancestors that he’s about to lose his status as Mulan’s guardian, because once she is married, Shang’s ancestors will look out for her. Mushu decides that he has to do something to break up the coming wedding to save his own neck.
Chapter 5 sets up the problems that Mulan and Shang as they try to figure out what their wedding should be like. Even for the younger audience, though, the differences of opinion really aren’t strong enough to threaten the bond that ties them. Just then, a messenger from the Emperor arrives. The horse’s hooves thunder through the subwoofer, echoing with intensity. The messenger summons Mulan and Shang to the emperor. The scene where Mulan’s parents give her and Shang the necklaces is touching and again promotes the fact that different things in nature have to work together. Mushu goes along, hoping for an opportunity.
Chapter 6 again uses horses’ hoofbeats to amp up the intensity of the film. Mongols are closing in on the border and Mulan and Shang have to fight their way through them. At the castle, the emperor tells them they must escort three of his daughters to another kingdom. There, the three princesses will wed three princes and the two kingdoms will be joined against the Mongols. However, Mulan immediately balks against the idea of arranged marriages.
In Chapter 7, Mulan and Shang are reunited with the three soldiers from the first movie. Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling get thrown out of a marriage arranger’s house and end up in a bar fight. Just as they’re finishing that, Mulan and Shang ride up to invite them on their mission. Three princesses, three soldiers looking for wives – even the youngsters will do the math quickly on this one.
Ultimately, “Mulan II” is very much a sequel movie. It adds nothing new to the mix and doesn’t go beyond the boundaries established by the first movie. One of the weaknesses in the production is that there is no evil villain. Disney animated films seem to succeed much more easily when there’s a villain. Instead, Mushu is the bad guy and most viewers won’t be willing to accept that if they’ve seen the first movie. Although Mushu’s willingness to work against Mulan is totally within his character, it should have been more of a subplot, something that enabled a nefarious villain to better take advantage of the separation of Mulan and Shang. Instead, everything gets wrapped up too neatly and too quickly.
The additional materials included on the disc are slim as well. “Mulan” had a lot to offer in the way of understanding the Chinese culture and history. “Mulan II” mainly gives lip service to that source material. One true bonus, though, is the deleted scenes section that shows the original proposal Shang delivered to Mulan – in the heat of a pitched battle when it didn’t look like either of them would survive. Action like that, with villains all around, would have made the story more interesting for older viewers.
Still, “Mulan II” is a good rental for family night and it will be a good addition to any collection that has the original movie. Scenes like the one Mushu has in Chapter 11, where he plays with shadow puppets to fool Shang and make him mad at Mulan, are great. As a straight-to-DVD movie, “Mulan II” provides enough entertainment to satisfy most viewers.