As a family we recently bagged our cable and are now at the mercy at what Netflix and Amazon prime has to offer. This isn’t a bad thing. All the screaming that came with my kiddos seeing commercials for things that I will never get them is a thing of the past. My only complaint is that it’s way too easy to turn on a show and end up in front of the TV all day watching all the episodes.
My youngest two children love the movie Mulan. I can’t complain, it’s one of my favorites as well. It has a great story and a great message, especially for girls. When I found Mulan II on Netflix, I figured that I would let the kids try it out.
Let’s just say it can’t hold a candle to the original.
Caution – spoilers ahead!
The original Mulan is about a girl who disguises herself as a soldier to save her father and in the process ends up saving China against the Hun invasion. It is her brains and courage that pull her through trial after trial, even when she has everything to lose. She also has a tiny dragon sidekick, Mushu, who gives advice, but is ultimately only there for comic relief. She starts the story failing her attempts to impress the matchmaker and ends up as the hero of China and capturing the interest of China’s most eligible bachelor, Li Shang.
It’s a great film with great writing and music.
Mulan II shares nothing from the original Mulan that made it great. In this story, China is trying to make an alliance with Mongolia by wedding the Chinese emperor’s daughters to Mongolian princes. Mulan, now a hero of China, has been assigned to be part of the royal guard to escort them there safely. Mulan and Shang, her captain from Mulan I, are engaged to be married and Mushu learns that their union will threaten his newly acquired place of honor among the guardians. He does everything in his power to push the two apart, resulting in a disaster that appears to kill Shang. In the meantime the Chinese princesses decide that they would rather marry the guards instead of doing their duty to protect China. Mulan, in an effort to save China, agrees to marry the oldest prince. Shang turns up and Mushu impersonates the Golden Dragon of Unity to force the ruler of Mongolia to stop the wedding and then marries Sheng to Mulan.
Confused? Yeah, it’s complicated and it didn’t have to be.
One of the main reasons that Mulan II did not succeed is that it didn’t have a single thing in common with Mulan I. The characters are in very different roles, their motivations are different,and the tone is different. On its own the movie might have been considered average but not great. As a sequel we had certain expectations that weren’t fulfilled, and that was the nail in the coffin. We expected Mulan to be the main character and for her to steer the events in the movie, instead it was Mushu. We expected there to be a bad guy worth calling a bad guy, someone who clearly has bad intentions and who must be stopped. Instead we have political issues and again, Mushu who screws things up for his own gain. In Mulan I there were the ceremonial preparations for Mulan to be made up into a bride which gave viewers a fascinating view of Chinese culture and two of the many memorable songs from the movie. This didn’t happen in Mulan II.
I could go on.
Mulan II was written by a completely different group of screenwriters than Mulan I. In fact, the two movies don’t share a single director, producer, editor, production company or distributor. The only thing that the two have in common are some of the voice talent. It’s no surprise that the two movies ended up being so different from each other.
When creating a sequel, it is important to stay true to the characters and the feeling of original story, at least in the beginning so that there is a connection between the two. After that, it’s alright to throw in conflicts that will force the characters to grow and change. These conflicts, while not the same, should be able to be compared and contrasted against the problems that the character has had before to show how they have grown. These conflicts should be harder to overcome either emotionally, logistically, or physically. Also, elements that were successful in the original story should find parallels in the second.
Writer beware – sequels are tough. Get feedback, do your homework, and make sure you can live up to the promise left by the original story.