Recycling continues apace at Walt Disney, where nary an animated feature — classic or contemporary — is too sacrosanct to be reconstituted as a direct-to-vid sequel. Some of these toon retreads have been instantly forgettable, and a few have been memorable for all the wrong reasons. But “Mulan II,” now playing at a videostore near you, earns high marks as one of the more satisfying small-screen spin-offs. Expect brisk sales, extended shelf-life — and, down the road, maybe additional installments.
In the original “Mulan” (1998), the title character donned a male disguise to prove her mettle as a world-class warrior while saving ancient China from hordes of Huns. There’s no similar gender-bending in the sequel, which reintroduces Mulan (again voiced by Ming-Na) as she’s preparing to marry the heroic and hunky Shang (B.D. Wong), her very own Prince Charming. But Mulan still manages to strike another blow for women’s equality when she and Shang are ordered to escort three daughters of the Emperor (Pat Morita) to a neighboring province.
The young women (Lucy Liu, Lauren Tom and Sandra Oh) are supposed to marry three sons of the province’s ruler, thereby solidifying a strategic military alliance. Once they’re on the road, however, the girls just want to have fun. More important, they also want to hook up with three rough-and-tumble comrades — Yao (Harvey Fierstein), Chien-Po (Jerry Tondo) and Ling (Gedde Watanabe) — who have rejoined forces with Mulan and Shang.
Not surprisingly, Shang strongly disapproves of fraternizing between his raucous soldiers and the royal sisters. But Mulan encourages the girls to disregard their father’s plans for arranged marriages and be loyal to their hearts instead.
Capably co-directed by Lynne Southerland and Darrell Rooney, “Mulan II” boasts a consistent level of eye-pleasing animation that, while certainly not up to theatrical standards, isn’t obviously ( or distractingly) pinch-penny, either. The storytelling is engaging and sporadically exciting, the original songs are pleasant without being treacly, and the sequel as a whole is sufficiently amusing to entertain audiences of all ages.
One caveat: Eddie Murphy — who voiced Mushu, the heroine’s pint-sized, wisecracking dragon companion, in original “Mulan” — is conspicuously absent. (Mark Moseley substitutes as the jivey fire-breather’s voice, and he’s quite funny.) But most other vocal talents from the earlier film, including Lea Salonga as Mulan’s singing voice, are on hand for repeat performances, and the newcomers — including Liu, Tom and Oh — are welcome additions to what promises to be an ongoing vidpic franchise.