HTS Moderator , Reviewer
HTS Overall Score:95
Even though I’m nearing 40 years old (I mean…25 years old, yes that’s what I meant to say), I’m still a rabid Disney fan, even if that means watching them all by my lonesome without a wife or nephews and nieces to act as an excuse to the general public. I unabashedly feel that Disney animated films hold more truth and storytelling than many “adult” films, and have enough grace and nuance to still be fully accessible to young children alike. I even stuck with Disney when they were going through their failures in the Bronze age of their life cycle, and have been absolutely thrilled with the way they have created an almost magical resurgence after being pretty much declared lifeless 15 years ago. Last year we had two Disney animated flicks competing against each other (I’m ignoring Pixar for now) with the award winning “Zootopia” and “Moana”. While I fully understand that “Zootopia” was the more complex film in regards to themes and storylines (the almost heavy handed approach to the whole equality theme put its finger on the pulse of society at that point in time), but “Moana” ended up being the more enjoyable watch for me. It’s the same old Disney Princess theme with a new Polynesian skin, but Disney just knows how to do that old shtick and make it look GOOD. Not to mention anything The Rock does just seems to turn good just by having him along for the ridge in recent years.
Moana (Auli’I Cravahlo, a Hawaiian born newcomer who acts well beyond her years and experience) is the young daughter of the Polynesian Chieftain Tui (Temuera Morrison, otherwise known as Jango Fett). She’s coming of age to where soon SHE will take over the island dwelling tribe, but she’s not cut from the same cloth as those around her. Instead of being content with living and fishing on the island, she dreams of exploring the wide-open ocean, and hears that lapping waves calling to her in every fiber of her being. However, going out beyond the island reef is strictly forbidden, and brutally enforced by Chief Tui, much to Moana’s chagrin. Her grandmother (played by Rachel House) tells of a mythological tale of the demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) having taken the heart of the Island Goddess Te Fiti, has cursed the islands to being in constant peril. The seas are filled with voracious monsters (including the lava monster Te Ka) who destroy anything that makes it past the reef, as well as an insidious darkness that is slowly eating away at the island’s life force, turning everything to ash. When that darkness finally overtakes their home island, Moana is faced with a choice and a task. She is chosen by the sea to take the heart of Te Fiti and find the demigod Maui, forcing him to come back and return the heart to its rightful place, or watch her island be consumed by the curse that has been in place for generations.
Naturally Moana jumps at the chance to leave her island and travel in order to save them, but things aren’t as easy as the young girl thinks they would be. The sea is her guide and her protector, but the massive waves of the open ocean are more than she bargained for. Crashing her up onto a deserted island, Moana is left wondering if she would ever find Maui and bring him back to her people. Well, the sea knew a BIT more than it was letting on, as this island was actually the island where Maui himself had been trapped for years and years. Only thing is, he’s not exactly as heroic as he was made out to be in the tall tales. Maui is a bit of an egotist with a huge head (literally too) and a desire to just get off this stinking island and get back to his life of being adored by everyone. It takes will power, heart and a massive amount of help from some mystical powers to actually convince (or manipulate) Maui into coming back and finishing the job she started. A job that will entail running form coconut pirates, raiding the lair of a giant gold crusted crab, and fighting Te Ka himself in a one on one battle for survival.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=92561[/img]“Moana” is really a fairly simple film at heart. It’s your typical Disney Princess theme, just with a Polynesian flair that skins over countless Disney princesses with a new look and slightly different motivation. This time it’s about saving her tribe. What makes it good is the attention to detail and the infusion of some fantastic Maori infused mythological plot devices. Well, that and of course The Rock and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho. The pattern is familiar, but well done and I really had a blast with the music this go around. “Moana” has a lively Polynesian inspired array of songs that really are pulsating and rhythmic in an exciting way. The dead-on animation doesn’t hurt either. Thematically We’ve seen it before, but that doesn’t in any way make it any less effective or emotionally appealing.
The biggest advantage that Disney has over all the other studios are its characters. Moana is played to a T by Auli’i, who brings the character to life in a fresh way. For a newcomer on the acting scene in her teens, she has a grace and style that is indicative of a much older and experienced actress, making her role all the more loveable. Then there’s The Rock. Seriously, can this man do no wrong? Even if he’s in a crummy movie, the film is elevated just by his presence, and you can just feel the enthusiasm and fun the ex-wrestler is having. The chemistry between him and Auli’i is the heart and soul of the film, although I have to say that the side characters did make for quite a few chuckles. I wasn’t a big fan of Hei-hei the chicken (actually voiced by Alan Tudyck), but Maui’s tattoo had me chuckling the entire film. My only complaint with the film is during the second act where they go visit Tamatoa the (Jemaine Clement) to get his magic fishhook. The whole scene was just bizarre and really brought the film to a screeching halt. I don’t know whether it was Jemain (who I usually love), or the song (horrible), or the almost psychedelic elements on the encounter, but it was the one scene that had me rate the film down from a 5/5 to 4.5/5.
Rated PG for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=92569[/img]Yum, just yum. That’s all I can really say. “Moana” comes to Blu-ray with a STUNNING Blu-ray transfer that will make every animation nut shiver in ecstasy. I’m a huge fan of Disney work, whether it be the hand drawn animation of the past or the newer CGI animation that they’ve been playing with the last decade, but “Moana” stands out as one of the best demo discs I’ve seen from them over the last few years, rivalling the stunning “Zootopia” for its quality of animation (although it’s hard to compare as “Zootopia” was a mix of hand drawn and CGI, while “Moana” is pretty much all CGI). The film is just lusciously colored with a wide array of bright and shiny shades of blue, green, red and every tone in between. The deep greens of the island paradise is contrasted with the pale blue of the ocean, and the deep dark reds and blacks of Te Ka make for one of the most beautifully colored film of the last year. Fine detail is nothing short of perfection, with some of the stand out sequences being the sand and water. I’ve said it before, but there are two REALLY difficult things to get right with animation, and the biggest one has always been how water looks and reacts on screen. It’s just very difficult to get that fluidity and random nature that water employs just right, but “Moana” NAILED it. Just watch the scene where Moana is dancing in the water near the beginning and look at how lifelike and fluid it seems. Another standout happens to be when she crashes on the beach of Maui’s little island and she shakes the sand off of her body. You can see every individual grain and fleck of sand flinging itself from her body and embedded in the strands of hair. I had to rewind that sequence over and over just to marvel at how visually stunning and detailed it was. Blacks are deep and inky, and I only noticed the hairiest breadths of banding in an underwater dive (the one where Moana dives back in to retrieve the heart of the sea after she’s thrown it away).
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=92577[/img]Disney still isn’t giving us Atmos tracks even though “Moana” was given a theatrical Atmos mix, but the 7.1 track is REALLY REALLY good, I have to say. Close to perfection, with only one SMALL quibble that keeps it from getting a 5/5 on the grading scale. Dialog is strong and clean, with fantastic imaging in the front of the room, and deep, rich vocals that resonate throughout the room. The songs are full and rich, vibrating with kinetic energy with some of my favorite Disney musical songs in the last 3-4 movies (sorry, “Let it Go” may have been popular, but it’s the bane of my existence as I can’t get the stinking thing out of my head). Surrounds are wildly active with the sounds of the sea splashing around Moana and Maui, as well as the more action oriented bits when the two are battling Te Ka or the tiny murderous coconut pirates on the high sea. LFE is deep and powerful, adding weight to the percussive Polynesian inspired songs, as well as adding power and authority to the battle sequences. Here is the part where I mentioned there was a tiny quibble with in the sound track. While the mixing is WONDERFUL and the LFE impressive, I felt it could have been a bit hotter and more visceral than it was. “Moana” employs a more laid back sound design with the LFE and doesn’t over cook it, but it is JUST soft enough that it left me wanting a bit more. Thus the 4.5 out of 5 rating (which is almost a 4.75/5 if I have to be honest) instead of the perfect score I struggled with giving.
• Theatrical Short Film: "Inner Workings" – With introduction by the filmmakers, is the story of the internal struggle between a man's pragmatic, logical side and his free-spirited, adventurous half. Created by a small team at Walt Disney Animation Studios in a unique, fast-paced style that blends CG and traditional hand-drawn animation, the short explores the importance of finding balance in daily life.
• Maui Mini-Movie: "Gone Fishing" – When Maui decides it's time to take charge of the ocean and catch his next meal, Moana must show him the error of his ways … with a little help from her friends!
• Voice of the Islands – An in-depth look at how Pacific Island people and cultures inspired the filmmakers to create the story of "Moana."
• Things You Didn't Know About …
• Meet the stars of "Moana" in this dynamic Q&A featuring Dwayne Johnson, newcomer Auli'i Cravalho, and famed animation directors Ron and John.
• Meet the musical team behind "Moana" in this fascinating Q&A featuring Opetaia Foa'i, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
• Island Fashion – Find out how costume designer Neysa Bové took on the unique challenge of creating costumes using materials and techniques native to the islands of Oceania.
• They Know the Way: Making the Music of "Moana" – Musicians Opetaia Foa'I, Marc Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda take us on a personal journey through their involvement in the movie and how it changed their lives.
• Fishing for Easter Eggs – Dive deep into the ocean and fish for the Easter Eggs hidden by the animators at Walt Disney Animation Studios.
• The Elements of … – This series of four mini-docs explores the technical achievements behind some of the ground-breaking effects used in the film.
• Mini Maui – Meet "Mini Maui," Maui's tattoo sidekick. Animated by legendary hand-drawn animator Eric Goldberg, we explore how the 2D world collides with CG animation to bring the demigod's tattoos to life.
• Water – In the movie, the ocean is a character. This piece explores how the water is given a personality, along with the technical feats of creating a believable ocean landscape farther than the eye can see.
• Lava – Te Kā is a creature made of lava, smoke and fire. This piece dives into the challenges of making an animated creature of massive scale brought to fiery life by character, technical and effects animators.
• Hair – One of the greatest technical achievements of the film was the animation of the beautiful, curly hair on Moana and Maui. Take a look at the hair-raising detail that goes into animating each strand, adding performance to the movie that has never been seen before.
• Deleted Song: "Warrior Face" – With introduction by songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda.
• Deleted Scenes – Ron and John 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.
• Music Video: "How Far I'll Go" – Performed by Alessia Cara.
• "How Far I'll Go Around the World" – Multi-language reel of the song "How Far I'll Go."
• Audio Commentary – With directors Ron and John.
While “Moana” lost out to “Zootopia” at the academy awards (for some obvious reasons if you think about it), I have to say that it was still my favorite of the two. Wildly energetic and full of sparkle, “Moana” doesn’t blaze any new trails for Disney, but captures the life and pulse of the Polynesian heartbeat in a new skin for a classic Disney theme. The Rock (sorry, still can’t say Dwayne Johnson) once again elevates a good movie to being better with his presence, and newcomer Auli’I Cravalho acts well outside her experience to make one of the more memorable Disney films in their new resurgence of popularity. Audio and video for the release are nothing short of amazing, and while I didn’t get to see the 3D disc for review, if it’s anything like the 3D in theaters you WILL want to check it out. Not to mention Disney really did go all out with the extras this time making the whole package a very VERY big “Must Buy” in my opinion.
Starring: Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House
Directed by: Ron Clements, Don Hall
Written by: Ron Clements, Jared Bush
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 7.1, French (Canadian), Spanish DD 5.1
Studio: Disney/Buena Vista
Runtime: 103 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: March 7th, 2017
Buy Moana On Blu-ray at Amazon
Buy Moana 3D On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Great Buy
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