BLU-RAY REVIEW: Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame & Mulan 2 Movie Collection Sets
Two Sets, Four Films, A Lot Of Happy Fans...
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Disney continues to impress me with their re-released Blu-ray+DVD Combo packs of older, fan-favorite films. This go-around, fans have two new 3-Disc Special Edition sets to pick up: 1996's The Hunchback of Notre Dame and 2002's direct-to-video The Hunchback of Notre Dame II as well 1998's Mulan and 2004's direct-to-video Mulan II.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2 Movie Collection
A pair of musical movies brought together in one set, the complete tale of the Disney's Hunchback, Quasimodo, as he discovers friendship and love are presented here for the first time in blu-ray hi-def. The pair of films are obviously based on Victor Hugo's original 1831 classic of the same name and reinterpreted here to create this family-friendly musical for all ages to enjoy. Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise (whose previous collaboration was Disney's 1991 award-winner Beauty and the Beast) and featuring the voice talent of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Jason Alexander, Tony Jay, Jennifer Love Hewitt and others, this pair of films is complimented further by the brilliant music of composer Alan Menken (who also composed Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin). Unfortunately, like those previously mentioned Disney masterpieces, neither The Hunchback of Notre Dame nor its direct-to-video sequel had the spark which captured the audience's attention or dollars.
While neither of the films here are terrible - and the first feature impressive music and animation, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is simply a more serious story than the more successful Disney films of the 1990s. In fact, the type of bullying seen here will probably make some parents question whether to show the film to their young children as it can be hard to explain. That said, the film's story is classic and, with a re-written ending to leave the film on a happy note, the original leaves the character's open for a sequel. Unfortunately, the sequel, while not terrible, isn't that good either. It features primarily the supporting characters from the first film, reuniting Quasimodo with his gargoyle friends. While the sequel was really unnecessary, it does provide our non-hero Quasimodo a love interest in the form of circus performer Madellaine (Jennifer Love Hewitt), who replaces Esmeralda (Demi Moore) from the first film.
The original film obviously features the better animation, music and production value. While both films here feature solid video transfers (the original in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the sequel in 1.66:1 aspect ratio), the sequel is limited by its source material. Likewise, while both feature DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks, the sequel again falls short compared to the first. That's to be expected when comparing a theatrical film to a direct-to-video production.
As for bonus material, the 3 disc set includes the original film's audio commentary with co-directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale as well as film producer Don Hahn; who present a somewhat engaging and fun look at the making of the movie. Likewise, a 28 minute "The Making of 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is also included here and features Jason Alexander, who discusses voice acting, animation, production and more. Lastly, there is the song "A Guy Like You" sung in various languages as a part of the 3-minute "Multi-Language Reel. As for the sequel's bonus features, it includes a 5-minute "Behind the Scenes" featurette focusing on star Jennifer Love Hewitt. A short 3-minute "A Gargoyle's Life" features an animated poem entitled "It's Not Easy Being a Gargoyle" as well. Sadly, there is nothing new or unique included here.
Overall, for fans of Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, this 3-Disc Special Edition is a welcome addition to the home video library. Presented in impressive hi-def with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio, this is the only place to find this film in hi-def and is sure to look and sound great in one's home theater.
Mulan 2 Movie Collection
A Chinese folk tale retold in classic Disney fashion, Mulan tells the tale of a young girl who takes her aged father's place in battle when he's drafted to fight for the Imperial army. Disguised as a man, Mulan and her friendly dragon Mushu must survive battle and adversity in order to successfully defend their nation. Of course, her gender is revealed and she's banished, but that doesn't stop her from becoming a hero when she saves the Emperor, honoring her family and proving she's just as capable - if not more so - than any man around.
At its heart, Mulan is the ultimate animated "girl power" Disney film. Nowhere near is the routine "Princess" film that Disney has the habit of releasing; instead, Mulan features a young girl seeking to protect her father from certain death, willing and able to endure the hardships of war and gender persecution to boot. And let's not forget she also saves the Emperor and restores her honor at the end. Wow...what's a girl gotta do, huh?
It doesn't get any better for the women's movement in Disney's film library than Mulan. And yet Mulan and it's less lauded sequel lacked the draw to be a mainstream fan-favorite like Cinderella, Snow White or Beauty and the Beast...and that's just sad as it speaks to gender roles and society's perception of such. Or maybe it just speaks to the quality of the film. Either way, Mulan didn't do nearly as well as it should have. Personally, there's nothing cooler than a girl who'll hang with the guys and clash swords with the baddies in order to ensure she's not only keeping her family safe, but defending her nation too.
The original Mulan - directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook with voice acting by Ming-Na, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, Miguel Ferrer, Harvey Fierstein, George Takei and Pat Morita - is a much more impressive and engaging film than the sequel, which was directed by Darrell Rooney and Lynne Southerland with voice acting by Lucy Lu and Sandra Oh and many of the original cast. The sequel tells a new tale of Mulan and her beau, former Lt, now General Li Shang, as the pair escort and protect three princesses on a secret mission for the Emperor. Again having to shrug off the sexist concept of per-arranged marriages, Mulan must help ensure the trio of princesses aren't forced to marry men they don't love while wrestling with Shang's proposal and Mushu's jealousy. As if a girl doesn't have enough problems, right?
Both films' video and audio is impressive with Mulan presented in 1.66:1 aspect ratio and the sequel in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The colors on both are bright, sharp and clear; though the sequel - as with The Hunchback of Notre Dame II - is limited by the source material, which is less impressive than the original. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks on both provide plenty of impressive listening entertainment. Dialogue is clear, sound effects are plentiful and dynamic. Again, the sequel can't compare to the original theatrical release however, but that's to be expected.
As for bonus material, the 3-disc set features a solid variety across both films, including an audio commentary with producer Pam Coats and directors Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook on the original Mulan which delves into the film's concept, creation, voice acting, music and cast of characters. The set also includes a good amount of deleted scenes (7 from Mulan, 4 from the sequel) and behind-the-scenes featurettes exploring the film's design, animation and more. The set also include 6 music videos featuring celebs like Christinia Aguliera, Stevie Wonder, 98°, Attomic Kitten even Jackie Chan.
Of all of the Disney animated features, Mulan - with its "girl goes off to war" storyline - is the film which has the most to say about a woman overcoming gender restrictions in order to be all she can be. Maybe that sounds sexist or too much like the US Army's old motto...or maybe society is still trying to overcome gender roles still. After all, the US military only recently allowed women into combat occupational specialties and Mulan, with its fourteen hundred year-old story, tells us - in no small way - it's about time society - and all of us - catch up.
Both The Hunchback of Notre Dame 2 Movie Collection and the Mulan 2 Movie Collection are available now on blu-ray hi-def wherever fine home video is sold.
- Jess C. Horsley