Throughout the ‘90s, there wasn’t a culture Walt Disney didn’t commodify for the masses, beginning with 1992’s Aladdin and its cast of sniveling, tiger-loving Arabs (even the film’s Tiger Beat leads were bogus) and ending with 1998’s Mulan. But even for Disney’s typically offensive standards, this story about a 16-year-old Chinese girl who joins the Imperial Army and saves her country from a Hun invasion is relatively tame. The animators have clearly done their research, but while the film’s cultural specificity isn’t distasteful per se, it’s still pretty soulless. Indeed, what with the film’s Asian culture reduced to kimonos and fire-breathing dragons and its social problems limited to issues of honor and respect, this is clearly the latest stop in Disney’s “It’s A Small World After All” tour of the world: the Broadway-style songs, though few and far between, are nonetheless ridiculous; no one sounds or acts Chinese exactly (what’s up with the horny grandmother who wants to “get it on” with Mulan’s love interest?); the dark Huns look like vampires whose clothes were designed by Alexander McQueen; and Mulan’s struggle to be accepted as a woman is a few centuries ahead of its time. Still, the film’s Sino Disney is impressively animated—the backdrops are startling and the animals are adorable (namely the chickens and Mulan’s dog, Little Brother, not Eddie Murphy’s Donkey, err, Mushu the Demented One)—and the animators do manage a few bravura sequences, especially the breathless Hun Charge in the mountains outside the Emperor’s palace where the people of China will eventually bow before the titular woman warrior. Considering how little cleavage Mulan shows throughout, I suppose girls could do worse than entertain the film’s feminist message for 90 minutes.
Previously released on DVD in 1999, Mulan gets a new digital transfer on this two-disc Special Edition, and it looks great: edge enhancement is scarcely visible, colors are vibrant, and blacks are rich. Though I noticed some odd lines running through one character's face at one point, there's very little to complain about here. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound is equally impressive. Dialogue is crisp, low tones are handsome, and the bass truly comes alive when Mulan begins to tear shit up.
Disc One: A commentary track by producer Pam Coates and directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Book that's a little on the serious side but surprisingly rich in research information, seven deleted scenes (most impressive is the "Shadow Puppets Prologue"), and four embarrassing music videos ("I'll Make A Man Out Of You" by Jackie Chan, "Reflection" by a Wilson Phillips-era Christina Aguilera, "True To Your Heart" by 98º and Stevie Wonder, and "True To Your Heart" by Raven, which may be among the twelve or so worst things I've seen in my life), the informative "Mulan's World" game (pity that Eddie Murphy is our guide here), a Pop-Up Video-styled "Mulan's Fun Facts," and previews of upcoming Disney DVDs. Disc Two: a Spanish version of "Reflection" by an artist the studio couldn't be bothered to identify and a six-part Backstage Disney section chock-full of goodies like publicity art, presentation reels, storyboard-to-film comparisons, art galleries, digital production segments, and more!
If it wasn't for woman warriors like Mulan, it's impossible to think of a modern world where girls like Christina Aguilera are allowed to be dirrty without shame.