BLU-RAY REVIEW: DISNEY'S MOANA


THE SET-UP
The daughter of the chief of a South Pacific island sets out to return the “Heart of the Mother Island” to its rightful place, to save her people from destruction. Featuring the voices of Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, and Jemaine Clement.
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker.

THE DELIVERY
Based loosely on the legends of the South Pacific Islands culture, Moana is a mix of the classic Disney storytelling staples and the Broadway-style music popularized by Frozen. It tells the story of Moana(Auli’i Cravalho), who sets out on a quest to save her island and her people from an impending doom. She teams up with the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) to return the heart of the goddess Te Fiti and stop a destructive darkness from consuming her island.

The film contains many thematic throwbacks to other Disney classics. It even references the similarities, when Maui tells Moana why she qualifies as a “princess.” On a cultural level, it sometimes plays like a tropical Pocahontas, without taking itself as seriously as that film did. Instead of a love story, however, we get a far more interesting storytelling device: the quest.


In a bit of a nod to Hercules, Moana and Maui have to complete a number of tasks to complete their quest. The tasks come in the form of adversaries who try to stop them, including a crab (voiced by Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords) and a fire demon named Te Ka, who wants the heart of Te Fiti for itself.

A sea battle against an army of coconut creatures called the Kakamora is the highlight of the film. Beautifully animated and playing out with Looney Tunes-like slapstick, the battle centers on Moana trying to save her pet chicken Heihei (who has swallowed the heart) from the Kakamora warriors. The scene even surpasses the final battle against Te Ka, which closes the film.

Young viewers won’t mind that the film will remind them of other Disney classics, and the similarities seem deliberate. I cannot blame Disney for sticking with a winning formula. I had just hoped for a bit more originality in an otherwise entertaining adventure.

The music, a collaboration of Opetaia Foa‘I, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Broadway’s Hamilton), can be a bit uneven at times. The film’s signature songs, “How Far I’ll Go” and “You’re Welcome,” are keepers, however. They are catchy, and like the rest of the film’s music, have a more mature, Broadway-style construction that will likely appeal to adults more than the kids watching the film.


The voice acting is first-rate. Auli’i Cravalho, the voice of Moana, gives a gem of a performance, injecting individuality and sweetness into a difficult role. Her singing voice is superb; it’s amazing they found her through an open casting call. Dwayne Johnson is surprisingly good, although you likely expected his personality would show through the character. The true surprise is his excellent singing voice: he delivers his song, “You’re Welcome,” like a seasoned professional. Rachel House is great as the grandmother, adding gravitas to a role that needed it. Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones) is excellent as Chief Tui, and Jemaine Clement steals his scenes as Tamatoa the Crab.

Moana is entertaining from start to finish. It can get formulaic at times, but there are some great moments, some nice laughs (thank Heihei and actor Alan Tudyk for that), and a stirring ending. It reaches across age groups and delivers on both fronts. Moana is a journey well worth taking.

VIDEO AND AUDIO
The high definition transfer of Moana is beautiful, with stunning clarity and vivid color. The bold colors of the South Pacific islands make for a unique backdrop, and the Blu-ray is a worthy showcase, highlighting the strength of Disney’s animation quality.


As the special features mention, Moana sets new levels of realism in water and hair animation, and the video delivers the full impact of those achievements. Disney always does well with their Blu-ray transfers, and Moana is no exception.

The audio includes a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, with a deep, rich sound and a good balance between the bassy sound effects and the music.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Disney packed in a number of fantastic special features, including a nice documentary and an informative audio commentary by the directors. Many of the extras delve into the culture of the South Pacific, which gives a nice background to the film.

The bonus features include the following:

*Theatrical Short Film: “Inner Workings.” The struggle between a man’s logical side and his emotional side plays out in this very funny short, which employs a mix of CGI and traditional, hand-drawn animation. It includes a short introduction by the filmmakers. Running time: 6:26.

*Maui Mini-Movie: “Gone Fishing.” Maui and Moana reunite for this fun animated short, which involves Maui fishing in the ocean. Running time: 2:29

*”Voice of the Islands” documentary. Co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker lead this well-done documentary, which delves into the South Pacific culture that inspired the film. A trip to Tahiti and New Zealand is shown. Running time: 31:13

*”Things You Didn’t Know About …” featurettes. Two featurettes are included: “Ron, John, Auli’i & Dwayne,” and “Mark, Opetaia & Lin-Manuel.” The creative minds behind the movie answer a series of silly and serious questions. Fun fact: Dwayne Johnson eats buffalo for breakfast. Which doesn’t surprise us at all. Running time: 4:00 each.

*”Island Fashion” featurette. Costume designer Neysa BovĂ© explains of the level of authenticity put into the characters’ costumes. The people of Oceania are even shown creating their native clothing. Running time: 5:13

*The Elements of …” featurettes. It’s hard not to notice the fantastic animation in Moana, which includes realistic depictions of water and even the hair on characters’ heads. Four mini-documentaries (“Mini-Maui,” “Water,” “Lava,” and “Hair”) cover the technical aspects of the film’s outstanding animation. The creation of Mini-Maui is the most interesting, as legendary Disney animator Eric Goldberg discusses how his 2D animation was used to create Maui’s tattoos. Running time: 14:14

*”They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana” featurette. Opetaia Foa‘I, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda discuss the music they crafted for the film. Running time: 12:37

*Deleted Song: “Warrior Face.” Songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda introduces this deleted song, which features the traditional “haka.” In all honesty, the song feels a bit forced, so it’s no wonder it was cut. Running time: 3:41

*”Fishing for Easter Eggs” featurette. Cameos and other “easter eggs” for Moana are revealed here, by Moana herself, Auli'i Cravalho. Running time: 2:52

*Deleted Scenes. Co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker introduce the following deleted scenes: “Race the Wind/Ties that Bind;” “Discussing Moana’s Future;” “Under the Sea;” “Grandmother’s Warning/Legend of Maui;” “Education of Moana;” “Father, Daughter, Boat;” and “Canoe Race.” Each is shown in storyboard form, with temporary vocals and music. There’s quite a bit of material here, and even in unfinished form, it is still entertaining. Running time: 25:56

*Music Video: “How Far I’ll Go.” This reprise of the film’s signature song, which plays over the end credits, gets a music video here. Performed by Alessia Cara. Running time: 3:04

*“How Far I’ll Go Around the World” featurette. This fantastic music video of the song “How Far I’ll Go” is presented in about two dozen languages from around the world. Running time: 2:44

*Audio Commentary. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker provide an informative commentary that delves often into the thought processes that guided the film's development.


THE BOTTOM LINE: Moana is a solid addition to the Disney princess universe
It may feel a bit derivative of other Disney films, but Moana still entertains on all levels. Kids won’t care about the similarities, and parents will enjoy the Broadway-style music with a South-Pacific twist.

BLU-RAY SPECS
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Running time: 107 minutes
Rating: PG Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Special Features: “Inner Workings” short film; “Gone Fishing” mini-movie; “Voice of the Islands” documentary; “Things You Didn’t Know About” featurettes; “Island Fashion” featurette; “The Elements Of” featurettes; “They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana” featurette; Deleted Song; “Fishing for Easter Eggs” featurette; Seven deleted scenes; “How Far I’ll Go” music video; “How Far I’ll Go Around the World” featurette.
Audio Commentary: With co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker.
Label: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Click here to order Moana on Blu-ray from Amazon!


Victor Medina is a freelance writer based in Dallas. He is the editor of several websites, and his writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, Yahoo News, Cinelinx.com and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at vic@victormedina.com.

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