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Moana (3D Blu-ray Review)

3 Mar, 2017 By: John Latchem

Street 3/7/17
Box Office $246.2 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 3D BD
Rated ‘PG’ for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements
Voices of Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk.

The 56th film from the Walt Disney Animation Studio draws inspiration from Polynesian culture to find a winning blend of humor, spirituality and adventure.

The story involves Moana (voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho), the daughter of an island chief, venturing across the sea in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) so he may return a sacred gem to a lifegiving goddess to end the blight that is hurting her people.

While the film covers the bases for Disney musicals, it does so with a bit of its tongue in its cheek, especially when it comes to the concept of the Disney heroine. At one point, Maui sort of provides a definitive rule of thumb: “If you wear a dress and you have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.”

Lines like that, delivered with aplomb with the charismatic Johnson, make Maui perhaps Disney’s most wisecracking supernatural force since Robin Williams’ Genie way back in Aladdin. He even threatens to puke if she starts singing.

Interestingly, directors Ron Clements and John Musker relate in the Blu-ray audio commentary and the primary making-of featurette how the original concept of the film was centered on the story of Maui, a legendary hero of Polynesian mythology credited with creating islands all across the South Pacific, including Hawaii. Making him the focus might have given the film a vibe similar to 1997’s Hercules, from the same directing team. Instead, years of research led them to creating a fantasy explanation for a thousand-year gap in Polynesian migration history, using the fictional Moana to give the film a more traditional arc of self-discovery.

Still, the film isn’t shy about humor that might seem unconventional for a Disney Princess movie: There are two separate jokes about urination (and if that weren’t enough for this Blu-ray package, the companion anatomy-themed short film Inner Workings has two more).

Inner Workings, which accompanied Moana in theaters, is actually a quirky piece about finding the balance between logic and passion in living a fulfilling life.

The animation is breathtaking, dominated by shades of blue and green to represent the water and land (the water visuals are especially impressive). The technical process for rendering all the different textures to such detail is covered in a number of featurettes. Some of the action sequences make good use of the 3D space to immerse viewers in the action, but otherwise the lush scenery should be enough to draw viewers in. While the animation is predominantly computer-generated, there are a number of hand-drawn 2D elements layered in to great effect.

The songs are catchy and carry a distinct Polynesian flair, from a triad of musicians that included Lin-Manuel Miranda. After his success with Hamilton, it really was only a matter of time before he hooked up with Disney (he actually signed on before Hamilton blew up). Though The Rock gets his own ditty with “You’re Welcome,” “How Far I’ll Go” is the key princess song here and the entry from the film nominated for an Oscar (performed wonderfully by 16-year-old Cravalho at the awards telecast). The Blu-ray also includes a music video of Alessia Cara singing “How Far I’ll Go,” and a montage of it dubbed into several different languages for international releases of the film.

The Blu-ray is otherwise loaded with hours of bonus material, from interviews with the cast and filmmakers, to nearly a half-hour of deleted sequences culled from various stages of the film. There's also a new three-minute short about Maui.

About the Author: John Latchem

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