Last weekend, we decided to rent a movie for the kids to watch, and Mulan II was one of the things in which they had expressed an interest. The following commentary is put together from Nichelle’s comments and mine, with individual comments where noted. (Caution: Spoilers within.)
Mulan, the original, is one of Disney’s finest pieces of animation, with a compelling story, delightful characters, masterful animation, thrilling music, and an overall moral lesson of willingness to sacrifice one’s own life in order to save the life of her beloved father. Although the heroine is slightly flawed—she attempts to cheat on her matchmaking exam—the results of her cheating are appropriately disastrous.
The overall moral message of Mulan II is “Follow your heart, regardless of duty, honor, or propriety.” The second immoral theme is, when all else fails, propagate a lie. (I haven’t seen this much pervasive selfish behavior since the abhorrent Titanic.)
(Doug) I also have major gripes with the overall quality of the film. Character animation design has changed dramatically with several characters, perhaps most with Cri-Kee the cricket. A children’s fight training scene at the beginning, meant to be reminiscent of the amazing “Be a Man” training sequence from the original, is barely worthy of modern television cartoons, and seems to be jarringly out of place with the style of animation used in both films. Facial and body movements do not match the first film for many characters, which further separates one from the illusion of continuity.
Other than noticing the animation changes, our initial thoughts about the movie were good. The humor was great. We were laughing for a while, and then things went a different way. I’ve seen other sequels to Disney movies, but haven’t been disgusted by one of them as much as with Mulan II.
Mulan claims she was “following her heart” when she took her father’s place in the first film. Not true! She did that to save his life at the risk of her own, and pressed on when her heart told her to give up.
In Mulan II, Mulan and General Li are ordered to safely transport the Emperor’s daughters to the another province, where the princesses were to be married to seal a mutual protection pact. If that does not succeed, China fall prey to the superior forces of the Huns, who would invade, causing perhaps millions to die and the destruction of the empire.
All the characters, including the princesses, start off by reluctantly fulfilling their duty. Mulan soon expresses her disapproval of an arranged marriage, and leads the princesses to believe that all would be well if they simply followed their hearts. Nichelle and I both thought of Jeremiah 17:9—“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” The princesses (within hours) fall completely in
love infatuation with their three guards, who are, as one might expect, Yao, Chien-Po, and Ling from the first film. This infatuation, combined with Mulan’s coaxing, the guards’ misdirection, and Mushu’s machinations, leads to the princesses’ abandoning their mission. In the end, when she believes General Li to be dead, Mulan determines that she will complete the mission by offering herself to wed the eldest prince in the place of the princesses.
With its predictable plot moving in such uncomfortable directions, I began to have serious misgivings about the film early on. (Doug) I actually found myself getting sick to my stomach toward the end, particularly as I considered the intended audience. I want my daughter to be like the first Mulan, willing to give her life for an extremely noble cause, not like this version, willing to follow her heart toward whatever selfish desire it happens to find.
We stopped the film at one point, and talked about “following one’s heart” with the boys. They agreed that honor, duty, and obedience were rather to be chosen. We explained that this movie would not be purchased or watched by them again. (They had no complaints.)
There were no negative consequences for the characters’ dereliction of duty and direct disobedience to the Emperor. In the final scenes, General Li arrives to prevent the marriage of Mulan, and Mushu impersonates the Golden Dragon of somethingorother. Mulan and the General seem to have no problem in going along with such an obvious deception. It is accepted, with an “all’s well that ends well” finale that would make Machiavelli proud. The princesses get to marry who they wanted by going against everything their father said, and doing the opposite of what they were committed to.
Deception was Mushu’s way of getting what he wanted (which is not much different than the first film, so at least his character is consistent), but he did admit to his deceit and selfish motivation later in the first film. Misguidedness, deceit, and a lack of honor could have destroyed all that Mulan originally fought for. (Nichelle) Now that I look back, the only one who actually wanted to do what was right in the film was Cri-Kee! I have been quite disappointed with a few other Disney films having such poor messages (such as The Lion King), but, Mulan II may be the worst to date.
Get your kids the first Mulan, The Emperor’s New Groove, or Lilo & Stitch instead.