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30 September 2007 @ 04:00 pm
Movie Review: Mulan II  
Let's take a really good movie with gorgeous animation (remember the avalanche?), likable characters, memorable songs, a fun scary villain, an exciting plot, and some attempt to convey the culture of China and make a sequel that lacks everything from the list but the likable characters. Oh, but to make up for that last bit we'll make one of them behave totally out of character for the sake of the plot.

No matter what the person who pitched this actually said in the first pre-production meeting that's what he or she should have said in order to be completely honest.

If you happen to be around children who insist on watching this it isn't so bad that you will be in agony every step of the way, there are even some bits that are actually good for minutes at a time, but you do not want to spend money or time on this if you don't have to.

To tell you WHY it's bad I'm going to have to reveal pretty much the entire plot and some important bits of the first movie so:

**********HERE THERE BE SPOILERS FOR MULAN AND MULAN II**********

Remember that bit  at the end of Mulan where Chang comes and proposes? This movie starts earlier that day. Mushu is living the high life and totally pissing off the ancestors with his attitude. They are expected to obey his every whim down to blowing through straws into his bath water so he can have a jacuzzi. This is actually pretty much in character for Mushu and pretty funny.

There are anachronisms of the Aladin's Genie type in the opening but a jive talkin' dragon is already an anachronism so I'm not expecting much from the comedy bits. In the original, however, in the dramatic bits they did do a good job of keeping things fairly close to the time period and culture. Well, good for Hollywood, there are things for the nitpicker but even if the History Spork girls hadn't sworn off animated musicals after suffering through Anastasia they probably wouldn't bother. In this movie nobody even tries to keep it historical.

We cut to Mulan who is a hero to the local peasant girls but still has to do her chores. She's willing to stop though when the girls come and ask her for a fighting lesson. Even though we're picking up several hours BEFORE the ending of the last movie, at which point she has had basic training and can fight but is hardly a master, Mulan somehow has become Michelle Yeoh and gives a stunning exhibition of martial arts to the admiring kids who during a dance number multiply from 10 - 12 to dozens all effortlessly performing difficult moves minutes after picking up a staff for the first time and bumbling through some slapstick.

Later in the movie she shows some really advanced moves when fighting some bandits and she and Chang fight together as if they have been doing it for years.

Anyway, Chang shows up, proposes, there is some treacly set up for the big theme of the movie (opposites learning to work together ala yin and yang) and they get an urgent message that the Emperor has a mission for them, and we're off and running on a plot that from now on more and more resembles a fanfic written by a junior high student.

The mission is to escort three of the Emperor's daughters to a small strategically placed neighboring kingdom where they will marry three of the princes of the kingdom to seal an alliance. To do this Chang decides to take only Mulan and the three sidekicks from the first movie. The imperial princesses will travel in a simple cart and they will get through the two or three day trip by being inconspicuous.

Instead of action and adventure we mostly get angst and soapy drama. So, lets see how many cliches we can fit into the remaining hour or so.

The princesses never complain about not having servants to tend to them. They go from "We will honor our father (and divine all powerful emperor) by obeying his wishes to falling in love with the three sidekicks and wanting to run away with them in about a day and a half. They complain about not getting to be ordinary girls (long musical number here) in a culture where even ordinary girls had to marry who their parents picked for them.  When they do run off briefly with the boys (who have no serious worries about the consequences of disobeying their commander or the emperor) the nearby town just happens to have a festival going and one of them wins a very modern looking stuffed panda for his true love.

Before this Chang and Mulan go from loving understanding to bickering in only a little more time than the princesses take to fall in love with the sidekicks due to Mushu deliberately trying to break them up so he won't have to give up his cushy post as Mulan's guardian when she marries into Chang's family.

At the end of the fight with the bandits Chang falls from a fraying rope bridge a very long way down into a rocky canyon with a swift river below and is assumed to be dead but survives and is pulled out by his horse in a scene that is a direct steal from the LotR movies . This paves the way for Mulan to nearly get forced into marriage with someone else. Of course he makes it in time to stop the wedding and a war is averted via deus ex Mushu. No really, he pretends to be voice of this massive dragon statue they worship.

Who is she marrying? Well, after Chang "died" Mulan told the rest of the party to follow their hearts and went on to offer herself as a substitute for the three princesses. No idea what the two guys who are now without brides think about this because we never meet them. We only see a complete doofus of a princling who's maybe 15 and whose big shtick is constantly playing with a Chinese finger trap and getting it stuck at awkward moments.

The movie ends with Mulan and Chang's wedding celebration back in Mulan's home village. We never see the Emperor's reaction to gaining three peasants as potential sons-in-law. Mushu gets to keep his post via another sudden plot twist and returns to happily abusing the ancestors without learning a thing.

The animation is good TV animation but it's obvious that this was never intended to be more than direct to home video. The footage that is reused from the first movie really makes the difference in quality noticeable.

The deleted scenes included in the bonus features show that this could have been a far, far, worse movie than they ended up with. The princesses were originally supposed to pretend to fall for the sidekicks in a plot from the start to run away. This was discarded when the producers realized that it made them too unsympathetic. If only they had fixed the rest of the script while they were at it.