Blu-ray Review: Moana

By , Contributor
The 56th entry in Disney's venerable series of animated features, Moana is a visually beautiful production that will certainly please most of its target demographic: kids. At 107 minutes, it may try the patience of older viewers. There is plenty of padding in the form of extraneous songs (though the near-Top 40 hit "How Far I'll Go" was nominated for an Oscar)—odd, considering the clutter of plot entanglements that make it needlessly complicated. But co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker hold all the usual Disney elements together well enough to ensure Moana remains a lively diversion, if not exactly a classic.

Following its $596 million worldwide theatrical run, Moana is currently available on Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, standard DVD, Digital HD, and Disney Movies Anywhere

rsz_moana_bd.jpg Whenever Disney explores another culture via an animated feature it seems some level of controversy is inevitable, but such concerns seem relatively mild here. In the Polynesia-set Moana, demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) teams up with 16-year-old Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho) to deliver a sacred, heart-shaped stone in an attempt to bring order to goddess Te Fiti's island kingdom. Something along those lines (there's a rather long, somewhat convoluted prologue that establishes the whole myth). Big-voiced and big-hearted Maui, whose animated tattoos are his most striking feature, must also protect his vulnerable magic fishing hook. As their journey progresses, Moana and Maui must face pirate crabs and a fire-demon called Te Ka. Along for the ride are Moana's cute sidekick companions—a little piglet and a colorful rooster. 

Moana 1.jpg The whole concoction feels a lot like a stew of typical Disney elements. Is any of it offensive to Pacific Islanders? Some of the film's merchandising caused a minor stir, specifically a Maui bodysuit costume that would allow wearers to not only sport his elaborate tattoos but also his brown complexion. But that's not the movie itself, which bends over backwards to be as blandly inoffensive as possible. Disney has learned lessons from some of the questionable past decisions (e.g. Aladdin, Peter Pan). In Moana the main characters speak with American accents, while some of the supporting cast (like Moana's wizened, mystical grandmother Tala) is allowed to sound a bit more region-specific (I can't speak to its accuracy). At its worst, the sort of "magic" depicted throughout Moana furthers outmoded myths about so-called "mystical" cultures that hopefully don't feed prejudices among young, impressionable viewers. 
 
Moana 2.jpg As stated at the outset Moana looks flat-out amazing on Disney's Blu-ray, with the breathtaking animation presented in perfect quality. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix is great too, particularly for any fans of the numerous songs.

Also fun for fans is Disney's roster of extras. The most prominent are: a chatty directors' commentary with John Musker and Ron Clements, a half-hour "Voice of the Islands" making-of featurette, "They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana" (12 minutes), and two short films—"Inner Workings" (which accompanied Moana theatrically) and the Maui-starring "Gone Fishing." But there's a bunch of additional mini-featurettes, a deleted song, and a couple music videos. There's plenty to explore.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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