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|Kevin Krock, editor|
Based on a Chinese fable about a young, free-spirited girl who strives to bring honor to her family by disguising herself as a man and taking up arms to defend her country, Mulan features the classic Disney balance of strong characters, beautiful animation, a solid story, and memorable music.
The movie opens with Mulan, voiced by Ming-Na Wen, sung by Lea Salonga, failing to impress the matchmaker and generally showing that she cannot meet the societal expectations of a young woman in ancient China, thus bringing dishonor to her family.
Meanwhile, the Huns have begun to invade the country, and the Emperor has called for every family to provide one man to help fight. Mulan's hobbled father accepts the call, but before he can leave, Mulan secretly takes his place and reports to the training camp disguised as a warrior, and she and her ancestor-provided guardian dragon, Mushu, voiced by Eddie Murphy, attempt to fit in with the rest of the men in the camp. Mulan's hard work pays off, though, as the rest of her comrades take her in as one of their own, and soon the whole troop is on the move to fight the Huns.
It is a movie that has a lot of good things going for it: The plot is solid and enjoyable. The heroine is strong without being over-the-top. The supporting characters are perfectly suited to their roles. There is a good dose of humor throughout the movie. The villain is subtly evil but clearly the bad guy. The animation features some very impressive computer-assisted scenes, especially the battle and crowd scenes. And lastly, even though it is not a musical, the movie features five catchy songs and a score that keep the movie moving along. Although I have only watched it a couple of times since seeing it in the theaters in 1998, I still find it a pretty entertaining movie that is suitable for the whole family.
Disney has recently gone on this wonderful binge of cranking out double-disc special editions for many of its more popular titles, both animated and live action. Sure, it is mostly so they can move to the high-definition DVD format and sell HD-DVD versions of all this stuff again in a few years, but I will appreciatively take what I can now and wait for the HD-DVD war to settle down. Mulan was originally released on DVD a few years ago as a movie-only title under the old Gold Collection moniker, and now it has been given a far superior treatment, nearing the Platinum Collector's editions. This two-disc set includes all the things I would expect for a special edition, and even though some of them are not quite as deep as those on a Platinum title, this set has something for everyone in the family.
Disc One primarily contains the movie, but it features a surprisingly decent variety of bonus material. There are a few so-so items on this disc, including a deleted song, sung by the composer Matthew Wilder, and four music videos, which neither my young boys nor I particularly cared for. However, the deleted scenes are an interesting look at some of the directions the production team was going in before they reached the final version on the screen, and my boys enjoyed watching Mushu host the rather short Disney Pedia, which explores aspects of ancient China.
There is also a cute two-minute Pop-Up Video type of segment that pops up quirky trivia over a collection of behind-the-scenes video clips put to True to Your Heart, sung by Stevie Wonder. Additionally, much to my boy's disappointmentbut not necessarily minethere are no set top games on either of these discs.
Of particular interest to me was the audio commentary, featuring Pam Coats, producer, Tony Bancroft, director, and Barry Cook, director. It is both educational and entertaining. As with most of the recent Disney commentaries, the trio intertwines interesting aspects of the production process with humorous anecdotes about certain people, places, or things that influenced the movie. It is well worth a listen.
Disc Two is where a lot of the serious behind-the-scenes stuff resides. There are a bunch of things to sift through on this disc, including a number of great still-frame art galleries, storyboard-to-film comparisons, and featurettes. The best place to start, though, is the Discovering Mulan featurette, which takes you behind the scenes of the production, and it does a nice job of introducing many of the aspects that helped shape the direction of the movie.
There is also an interesting narration of the Mulan legend called, The Ballad of Hua Mulan, which is accompanied by beautiful production artwork. In the Finding Mulan featurette, you get a glimpse of the early designs for Mulan, and you also see how her character developed through various storylines to the one in the film.
Finally, one of the things I love about special editions is the examination of the art designs behind the film. It is fascinating to see how the animation style and artwork we see in the final film develops from a wide variety of artist's conceptual drawings, sketches, paintings, and so on. In the Art Designs section of the disc, there are a few featurettes that nicely explore how the production team approached the design and development of the characters and artwork, and it is always interesting to see how various people artistically interpret a subject.
The Ballad of Color featurette and digital production featurettes are well worth watching, as they discuss the use of color in the movie and the development and execution of the impressive computer animated scenes.
The Video, Audio and Interface
Much like any of the recent Disney special edition DVDs, the audio and video transfers have been fully remastered from the original digital animation files, and this disc looks and sounds fantastic. The anamorphic widescreen video transfer exhibits solid and vibrant colors and excellent detail. However, I did notice some digital artifacts on a few scenes with highly contrasting lines or edges on my standard television, but after a little work, I confirmed that the effect was due to the player's efforts to shrink the anamorphic widescreen picture onto my standard screen.
This on-the-fly conversion tends to show this more on animated films because they tend to have more high contrast lines and edges than a live action movie, and when the video scan lines are digitally removed by the player a smooth edge becomes jagged. On a standard television, this issue is very transient and minor, and on a widescreen TV, the issue is non-existent, since you see the whole image. Besides that nitpick, it looks great.
The audio transfer is excellent. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack has been remastered and provides a full and rich surround environment. One of the audio highlights is listening to the Hun army ride down the hill ahead of the avalanche, as you feel like you are right among the army. It simply makes the presentation of the movie that much better.
As for the interface, it is perfectly suited to the theme of the disc, and it nicely sets the environment for the movie. There are plenty of animated transitions, animated menus, and musically accompanied menus that maintain the look and feel of the movie perfectly. Additionally, the hierarchy is simple and easy to navigate. Overall, the audio, video and interface provide for a pretty solid presentation platform, and this set will look and sound good on any home theater system.
The Final Evaluation
Even though this is not an official Platinum Collector's DVD, it comes pretty darn close. For starters, the presentation of the movie is top notch, especially if you can see it in widescreen, and the audio is right on target for the home theater audience. The commentary is well worth listening to, and the bonus disc is filled with all sorts of interesting featurettes and galleries. Overall, if you enjoyed the movie, you will enjoy this set, and if you already own the Gold Collection disc, put this one on your upgrade list.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Kevin here.
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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