Reviews
March 22, 2013 posted by Greg Ehrbar

DVD/Blu-Ray Review: Disney’s Mulan, Brother Bear and Hunchback

Editor’s Note: I will on occasion post DVD reviews of classic animation here on Cartoon Research. Sometimes I’ll review them, other times I’ll let my colleagues do the chores. Today I am happy to post this review of a trio of new Disney releases by two-time Grammy-nominated writer/producer Greg Ehrbar. Among his many book and CD projects are Rhino’s Toon Tunes, and the highly recommended book Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records. - Jerry Beck

Disney has been releasing Blu-rays and DVD’s of their animated features at a rapid rate lately—perhaps anticipating the new big format change. Only the tried and true standbys, like Peter Pan and soon, The Little Mermaid, are receiving lots of notice, while these other features are popping up in retail outlets relatively quietly.

With the release of three sets of features and their sequels last week, the sequels no longer standing on their own but now almost “bonus material,” it makes one think back to the time when even a Disney direct to video sequel was a big deal and could even inspire a Happy Meal.

If you haven’t seen The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan and Brother Bear lately (and who has time with everything else competing for our time and attention?), it’s well worth rediscovering them, all of which look sensational in the crispness of high def. Now you can easily see the Belle cameo in Hunchback!

You can also see how they have held up since their release. While their technological advances have been surpassed in the years since (such as the then-miraculous CGI crowd scenes in Hunchback and Mulan), each retain their own power and artistry.

More than that, they exemplify the drama that was going on behind the scenes at Walt Disney Animation that picks up where Waking Sleeping Beauty left off. Jeffrey Katzenberg had departed, Pixar was on the rise, Disney had opened studios around the world and animators were starting to come down from the euphoria and attention they had enjoyed during the Beauty and the Beast and Lion King days.


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
Disney Blu-ray & DVD (March 12, 2013)
Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
The Voices of Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Tony Jay, Mary Wickes, Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough
Original Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

hunchback_blurayMaking an animated film as ambitious as The Hunchback of Notre Dame was a bold move when you consider that the film leaves less opportunity for Disney to enrich its other divisions than say, another princess movie. Hunchback might have made a great Broadway show (and still would, as it was very successful on stage in Germany), but it’s more adult than perhaps any Disney feature since Fantasia and less conducive to plush toys (though there were a few). But Disney Animation was riding so high at the time, there seemed to be no limit to how high they could reach—and are to be admired for pushing the boundaries given the chance.

And push it does. Hunchback has some highly electrifying scenes, especially for a mass-market animated film. The human animation is downright astonishing—especially considering that, according to the commentary, while there was some modeling done, this is not that watery rotoscope stuff.

Frollo is the most purely evil of all Disney human villains, with no redeemable features and a creepy depravity that is brought to a boiling intensity in the set piece, “Hellfire.” Animator Kathy Zielinski, again according to the commentary, dressed as the villain to get the details of the outfit right. I suspect that there was also a strong influence from the animation of Maleficent and Lady Tremaine as well. You could almost imagine Eleanor Audley’s voice coming out of Frollo!

This score is perhaps the pinnacle in Alan Menken’s already spectacular music career. Few songs reach into your heart and soul like “God Help the Outcasts,” sung to perfection by Heidi Mollenhauer as the singing voice of Esmeralda (Demi Moore delivers a superb speaking performance as well.)

This is a film, which, like the novel, explores heady material about life, death, religion and politics, thus perhaps too pithy for everyone who saw it back then. Hunchback wasn’t the hit that Lion King was, though it would have been somewhat unrealistic to expect so much. I do think that of all Disney features produced during this period, Hunchback may be much more revered in the future than it ever was in its own time.

2013 Blu-ray Bonus Features:
• Audio Commentary with Producer Don Hahn, and Directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale

• The Making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

• “A Guy Like You” Multi-Language Reel
2013 & 2002 DVD Bonus Features:
• Audio Commentary with Producer Don Hahn, and directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale

• The Making of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

• “A Guy Like You” Multi-Language Reel

• “Topsy Turvy Underground” Game

• “Topsy Turvy” Sing-Along song


The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (2002)
Disney Blu-ray & DVD (March 12, 2013)
Directed by Bradley Raymond
The Voices of Tom Hulce, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Michael McKean, Jane Withers Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough
Music by Carl Johnson
Songs by Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Chris Canute, Randy Peterson, Kevin Quinn, Walter Edgar Kennon

How do you follow the eye-filling spectacle and tireless detail of the original Disney Hunchback, perhaps the most elaborate feature since Pinocchio? First, you make the script strong to overcome the time and budget restrictions on a made-for-video sequel. You also get a skillful director, in this case Bradley Raymond, who has done miracles since with his second Tinker Bell movie and Return to Never Land.

Retaining the original voice cast—albeit relegating Esmeralda and Phoebus to cameos – what would seem to be unthinkable actually works. It takes on the task of following up on a Disney epic as well a Hugo classic. Instead of taking a somber, pompous approach, this film tells a more intimate story in a remarkably convincing way. You start out thinking, “Oh come on! Quasimodo gets a girlfriend? Please!” but Jennifer Love-Hewitt’s character is just enough of a non-conformist to make it plausible.

The songs are pleasant but not as memorable as the ones in the original. That was one tall order that was just too insurmountable. And even though the sequel repeats some of the same elements as the first film, particularly having yet another festival, the result is very entertaining.

2013 Blu-ray Bonus Features:
• Behind the Scenes with Jennifer Love-Hewitt

• A Gargoyles Life: It’s Not Easy Being a Gargoyle
2002 & 2013 DVD Bonus Features:
• Behind the Scenes with Jennifer Love-Hewitt

• A Gargoyles Life: It’s Not Easy Being a Gargoyle

• Festival of Fun Activity


Mulan (1998)
Disney Blu-ray & DVD (March 12, 2013)
Directed by Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook
The Voices of Ming Na Wen, B. D. Wong, Eddie Murphy, George Takei, June Foray, Miguel Ferrer, Harvey Fierstein, Jerry Tondo, Gedde Watanabe
Music by Matthew Wilder
Lyrics by David Zippel
Music Score by Jerry Goldsmith

mulan_blurayMulan is significant in that it was the first feature produced almost completely by Walt Disney Animation Florida, a top-flight studio that doubled as a Theme Park attraction. Guests could wander along picture windows and watch animators at work on real shorts and features. It was a wonderful thing to see while it lasted.

Mulan was also my daughter’s first movie. Even though she was just a baby then, she has seen it many times since and it is one of her all-time favorites. This is a great dad and daughter movie, in any case.

The strength of Mulan is that it’s a story that makes a strong statement without beating it over your head. The sense and reason of equal treatment arises through character, situation and example. Within the context of a patriarchal society, the film is able to make its case without compromising its time or place. There is no question about what Mulan must do, yet she is not trying to “prove” anything—she’s doing what she has to do for her father’s and her family’s honor.

Mulan herself is one of the most engaging Disney heroines of all time. She only doubts herself once—most of the time, she just “figures out what to do” because it has to be done and it’s right. Mulan emerges as the strongest and smartest of her fellow recruits. Rarely is such compassionate, unselfish motivation seen in film or TV.

Not one song stops the action. Mulan is not a musical, but it has extended musical sequences that are carefully planned. Donny Osmond and Lea Salonga sing their roles beautifully (this being Donny’s first Disney project since he and his brothers appeared on the Disney TV show to promote The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland in 1969. (It was very groovy.)

Marni Nixon, famed Hollywood “ghost singer” who dubbed Marilyn Monroe, Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood and even Margaret O’Brien, sings for Grandmother Fa, whose voice is none other than our Lovely Lady June Foray.

2005 2-Disc DVD Bonus Features

• Audio Commentary by Pam Coats, Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook
• Deleted Scenes (Keep ‘Em Guessing, The Prologue Chronicle, Shadow Puppets Prologue, The Betrothal, Shan-Yu Destroys the Village, Mulan’s Daydream, The Emperor’s Dream)
• Music & More (“True to Your Heart” Video with Stevie Wonder; “True to Your Heart” Video with Raven; “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” Video with Jackie Chan; “Reflection” Video with Christina Aguilera; “Reflection” Video in Spanish)
• Backstage Disney: The Journey Begins (Discovering Mulan, The Ballad Of Hua Mulan, 1995 Presentation Reel, 1996 Presentation Reel); Story Artists’ Journey (Storyboard to Film Comparison, Introduction, Storyboard Only, Final Film Only, Storyboard to Final Film Comparison), Design (Art Design, Character Design, Ballad of Color, Still Art Galleries); Production (Progression Demonstrations, Digital Production); Music (Songs of Mulan); International Mulan (Mulan’s International Journey, Multi-Language Reel, Publicity Art)

• DisneyPedia Activity: Mulan’s World
• Mulan’s Fun Facts


2013 Blu-ray Bonus Features

• Audio Commentary by Pam Coats, Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook

• Deleted Scenes (Keep ‘Em Guessing, The Prologue Chronicle, Shadow Puppets Prologue, The Betrothal, Shan-Yu Destroys the Village, Mulan’s Daydream, The Emperor’s Dream)
• Classic Backstage Disney: Mulan’s Fun Facts, The Journey Begins (Discovering Mulan, The Ballad Of Hua Mulan, 1995 Presentation Reel, 1996 Presentation Reel); Story Artists’ Journey (Finding Mulan, Storyboard to Film Comparison: Mushu Breaks the Dragon); Design (Art Design, Character Design, Ballad of Color); Production (Mushu Awakens, Matchmaker Meets Mulan); Digital Production (The Hun Charge, Digital Dim Sum);
• Classic Music & More
 (“I’ll Make a Man Out of You” Video with Jackie Chan; “Reflection” Video with Christina Aguilera; “Reflejo” Video with Lucero; Songs of Mulan)


2013 DVD Bonus Features

• Audio Commentary by Pam Coats, Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook

• Deleted Scenes (Keep ‘Em Guessing, The Prologue Chronicle, Shadow Puppets Prologue, The Betrothal, Shan-Yu Destroys the Village, Mulan’s Daydream, The Emperor’s Daydream)
• Classic Music & More (“True to Your Heart” Video with Stevie Wonder; “True to Your Heart” Video with Raven; “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” Video with Jackie Chan; “Reflection” Video with Christina Aguilera; “Reflejo” Video with Lucero; Multi-Language Presentation; Mulan’s International Journey; Multi-Language Presentation)
• Classic Backstage Disney (Finding Mulan, Mulan’s Fun Facts)



Mulan II (2004)
Disney Blu-ray & DVD (March 12, 2013)
Directed by Darrell Rooney and Lynne Southerland
The Voices of Ming Na Wen, B. D. Wong, Mark Moseley, George Takei, June Foray, Harvey Fierstein, Jerry Tondo, Gedde Watanabe, Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh
Music Score by Joel McNeely
Songs by Alexa Junge and Jeanne Tesori

Making a sequel for Mulan seems, unlike those of other Disney features, a natural. You might not be able to duplicate the epic battle scenes, but you could make more of the characters and their relationships. Sadly, Mulan II falls far from what it might have been.

A better title could have been How I Met Your Mulan. Countless rom-com clichés abound. Sure, it’s a contemporary take on an ancient legend, but do Mulan and Shang really have to do that “guys never ask directions” routine? Sure to be dated phrases are spoken, like “Why the face?” and “He’s gross.”

Most of the songs cover the same ground as in the first film. One might especially take exception with the song that appears to be intended as the breakout, “I Want to Be Like Other Girls.” Yes, the song is about sheltered young ladies wanting to break free, but in this day and age, does every parent want their daughter to follow the crowd as these lyrics also imply?

A lot of work goes into films like these, and I regret deeply to sound so negative. There is a lot of talent evident in Mulan II, particularly the dazzling color palette. It’s just that there must have been some behind the scenes disagreement about what the film was supposed to be. This is largely a comedy with most of the characters reduced to types.

In this film, Mulan makes an anachronistic speech about being shocked at arranged marriages, even though in the original film, she was fully aware of the cultural norms of her time. She went to the matchmaker fully prepared to face this situation.

This film goes on to depict a pat Brady Brides pairing of the three recruit characters from the earlier film with three princesses, perhaps suggesting that marriage is the only way for a person to be happy, as long as you can choose your partner (and get to know them for a couple of hours). Even when the princesses had discovered their independence, they reverted to another social convention and so did Mulan. Trying to have it both ways, modern and traditional, the story just gets lost in itself.

It’s nice, though, to hear June Foray again, though we get to see precious little of the Fa family in the sequel.

2005 DVD Bonus Features

• Deleted Scenes (Battle Sequences, Mei Flirts, The Escape Part 1, The Escape Part 2)
”(I Wanna Be) Like Other Girls” Video with Atomic Kittens

• Voices of Mulan

• Mushu’s Guess Who Game

• The World of Mulan Activity


2005 DVD & 2013 Blu-ray Bonus Features

• Deleted Scenes (Battle Sequences, Mei Flirts, The Escape Part 1, The Escape Part 2)
”(I Wanna Be) Like Other Girls” Video with Atomic Kittens
• Voices of Mulan




Brother Bear (2003)
Disney Blu-ray & DVD (March 12, 2013)
Directed by Aaron Blaise and Robert Walker
The Voices of Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Wanda Sykes, D. B. Sweeney, Joan Copeland, Michael Clarke Duncan, Harold Gould
Music Score Phil Collins and Mark Mancina
Songs by Phil Collins

brotherbear_bluraySurely it was not intended to reissue Mulan and Brother Bear at the same time because they bookend the peak and the valley of Walt Disney Animation Florida. But they are connected by their history as the first and last films produced at is now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Lilo and Stitch was the middle feature). There is still an animation walk-through attraction at the Park, but there are no longer glimpses at working animators.

Brother Bear could be considered one of the most overlooked of the post-Lion King era. Some critics made comparisons, which are not untrue, but this is a very different film in style and pretension. It is a very simple fable rather than a sweeping saga.

Like a classic fable, the theme is broader than the story depicted. This is really a story about intolerance and hatred that is counteracted when the protagonist walks in the other’s shoes – or in this case, paws. Another film that invites comparison is the more recent Brave, since both showcase humans that become bears, but again, the focus is very different here, aside from mutual understanding.

It is fortunate that Joaquin Phoenix was available at the time to do the voice of Kenai; it is an excellent performance. SCTV’s Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas are pitch perfect as moose versions of their McKenzie brothers (and deliver comic gold on their in-character audio commentary).

But the star of Brother Bear is Jeremy Suarez as Koda. He’s still very much a working actor all these years later, and rightly so. Koda’s not just cute, he commands the scenes in which he appears and directs the emotional pull of the story.

Phil Collins, who is one of the best musical partners to work in Disney films, according to what Disney music president Chris Montan told me (Collins would make himself constantly available even from his Switzerland home), again creates songs that have a viable pop sound but don’t sound dated it all today.

2004 2-Disc DVD & 2013 Blu-ray Bonus Features
• Koda’s Outtakes
• Rutt & Tukes Commentary
• “Look Through My Eyes” Video
• Brother Bear Games (Bone Puzzle; Find Your Totem)
• “On My Way” Sing-Along Song
• Bear Legends: Native American Tales
• Making Noise: The Art of Foley
• Art Review
• Paths of Discovery: The Making of Brother Bear
• Deleted Scenes (Where’s Koda?; Confession; Muri the Squirrel)
• “Fishing Song” (Never Before Heard Song)
• “Transformation Song” (with Original Phil Collins Lyrics)

2013 DVD Bonus Features:
• Koda’s Outtakes
• Rutt & Tuke’s Commentary
• “Look Through My Eyes” Video
• Brother Bear Games (Bone Puzzle; Find Your Totem)
• “On My Way” Sing-Along Song
• Bear Legends: Native American Tales
• Making Noise: The Art of Foley
• Art Review


Brother Bear 2 (2006)
Disney Blu-ray & DVD (March 12, 2013)
Directed by Benjamin Gluck
The Voices of Patrick Dempsey, Jeremy Suarez, Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, Mandy Moore, Michael Clarke Duncan, Wendy Malick, Kathy Najimy
Music Score by Dave Metzger
Songs by Melissa Etheridge, Matthew Gerrard and Robbie Nevil

The sequel to Brother Bear falls between “what were they thinking” and “that was better than I expected.” The overall look, though not quite as detailed, is very accurately captured from the first film. Joaquin Phoenix is replaced by Patrick Dempsey, only a breath away from his big TV splash as TV’s “Dr. McDreamy.”

Dempsey’s voice is noticeably higher than that of Phoenix, but it stands him in good stead for his squabbles with his leading lady, voiced by Mandy Moore, who later voiced Rapunzel for Disney.

Brother Bear was about tolerance and tradition, the sequel is more of a rom-com triangle that isn’t exactly full of surprises but at the same time a nice way to spend some time with some wonderful characters again. It avoids most of the deadly rom-com clichés thanks to a solid script and some nice tunes by Melissa Etheridge.

Best of all, we SCTV fans get two more legends to enjoy — now Andrea Martin and Catherine O’Hara play lady moose who are wooed pathetically by the goony moose we met in the first film, again voiced by Moranis and Thomas. They provide the true highlights. I would have liked to see more of them in one form or another, these are great animated comic characters voiced by four of the best in the business.

2013 Blu-ray Bonus Feature
• Behind the Music of Brother Bear II

2006 & 2013 DVD Bonus Features
• Behind the Music of Brother Bear II
• Trample Off, Eh? Game

5 Comments

  • Greg, what is the “new big format change” you refer to?

  • I’m assuming he’s referring to the next-gen 4K UltraHD that will inevitably debut sometime within the decade.

    • Actually, I should have phrased that in a more vague way — it’s “any” new format change, or downloads or whatever. It’s a total guess as to why it’s happening, but it’s interesting to see so many features being reissued at this rate.

      The sequels to the certain features, like “Bambi” can still stand on their own, while a “Brother Bear” follow up might not.

      Disney is also bundling live action movies, like the “Love Bug” series, into DVD packages. It’s not unlike the days when they would reissue a proven movie with something that might not be as strong (Cinderella/One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing).

  • Yeah some of those squeals are decent, but most probably worked better on paper as in comics, which I wish they do again. I can see why John ended this practice.

    Matter of fact, I wish Disney Toon Studios mainy did films based on the Mickey and Donald comics instead. I long for an adaption of “The Sheriff of Bullet Valley”.

  • Greg, thank you for some thoughtful, insightful reviews.

    I’ve always been particularly interested in reviews of Disney’s “Hunchback,” as it’s one of my favorites in the Disney canon. Its dark tone is unusual for Disney, and despite the decision to make Frollo a judge instead of a priest and the happy ending, I’d say the directors succeeded. Even the gargoyles were effective, though I’d have preferred they didn’t lapse into pup culture phrases. And it was also great to hear Mary Wickes one more time!

    However, the film is uneven at times, tossing in slapstick and sight gags in the middle of intense dramatic scenes, and the song “A Guy Like You” is a waste of time. It doesn’t just fail to move the story forward, it brings the film to a screeching halt while Paris is burning for a soft-shoe number that doesn’t even work well in its own right. I’d have preferred that number had been cut entirely, and I skip past it when I watch the film.

    I’m sorry to cast a shadow over what is a very good film overall, but this is something I’ve wanted to get off my chest for a long time. I read or heard somewhere that the directors originally were going for tone that was even darker and more sexually charged, but pulled back for the sake of a G rating. That’s a shame. Had they gone for the PG (and, preferably, included an orchestral score over the closing credits instead of a pop song) the film would have been even better.

    Thanks for letting me vent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>