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Mulan: Special Edition

One of Disney's last hand-drawn hits, Mulan (1998) is also one of the Mouse House's last animated features to have the energy and appeal of the revival sparked by the studio's commercially and critically successful The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991). The movie — based on a Chinese legend about a young woman who pretends to be a man so she can help fight off the invading Huns — bears some similarity to Disney's own Aladdin (1992), particularly in the use of disguise and the presence of a fast-talking sidekick: in this case, Eddie Murphy's tiny, motor-mouthed dragon Mushu. In retrospect, Murphy's role in Mulan offers a preview of his work as Donkey in the Shrek films; in both cases, he spouts one-liners at a mile a minute. (The difference is that in Mulan, Mushu is the movie's main source of comic relief — in Shrek, Mike Meyers' ogre gets plenty of his own laughs.) Mushu certainly helps lighten what could otherwise become a rather serious story about a confused girl who desperately wants to bring honor to her family. Tomboyish and impulsive, Mulan (voiced by Ming-Na) fears that she will never be the kind of demure bride that the matchmakers prize. So when the Emperor (Pat Morita), worried about the evil Shan-Yu (Miguel Ferrer), asks for a representative from each family to join the Imperial Army, Mulan decides to take her injured father's place. Disguised as Ping, Mulan has to work hard to impress her handsome commanding officer, Shang (B.D. Wong), and her fellow soldiers, but it is ultimately her intelligence and bravery that save the day — and the kingdom. The soundtrack doesn't boast any instant-classic tunes like "Be Our Guest" or "Friend Like Me," but the earnest "Reflection" and catchy "I'll Make a Man Out of You" are both well-executed and help move the story along. Mulan is unlikely to top favorites like Mermaid, Beauty, and Aladdin on Disney's list of modern classics, but it's a good-hearted, entertaining movie that accomplishes its goals and scores a few "girl power" points to boot, and it's definitely worthy of a spot on the family video shelf. Disney's two-disc special edition is well-stocked with goodies. First up is the movie itself, which is presented in an anamorphic transfer (1.66:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (French, Spanish, and Mandarin tracks are also available, as are English captions). Extras on Disc One include a commentary from producer Pam Coats and directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook, a brief "fun facts" pop-up featurette, an interactive "DisneyPedia" offering facts about Mulan's world, four music videos (including Jackie Chan performing "I'll Make a Man Out of You" in Mandarin), a collection of Disney previews, and six deleted scenes — most of which involve alternate concepts for the film's opening. Switch to Disc Two for behind-the-scenes information, including featurettes on production concepts and design, presentation reels, extensive still galleries, storyboard-to-film comparisons, a glimpse at the internationalization process, a publicity gallery, and more. Also included here is a music video straggler, the Spanish version of "Reflection." Notably absent is anything having to do with the actors and voice talent — no footage from recording sessions, no sound-bites from Murphy, etc. But other than that, Disney — as always — has covered its bases. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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