A Disney animated musical is always a comforting and welcome presence, and Moana, put together by the directors who brought us previous Disney animated musical classics like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, carries on the tradition proudly only now using CG animation to tell its coming of age story.
The Production: 4/5
A Disney animated musical is always a comforting and welcome presence, and Moana, put together by the directors who brought us previous Disney animated musical classics like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, carries on the tradition proudly only now using CG animation to tell its coming of age story. All of the elements familiar to Disney animated musicals are here: a plucky main character, a somewhat wisecracking sidekick, an oddball supporting character, and enough song and dance and spectacle to satisfy the most demanding audience, but even with that sense of familiarity that co-exists with the unique locations and centuries old characters, it’s a very enjoyable enterprise.
Despite her chieftain father’s (Temuera Morrison) insistence that his daughter Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) learn to be satisfied with life on their island Motunui (even though there are definite signs of its extinction approaching), she responds greatly to the call of the sea, and spurred on by her loving grandmother Tala (Rachel House), Moana sets off to return the sacred heart of Te Fiti (an emerald-like gem) to its owner by locating the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and gaining his help in her mission. The journey is a dangerous one, and the duo knows waiting for them at the end of the line is the ferocious lava monster Te Ka who will oppose all efforts to get past her to find Te Fiti.
A number of hands crafted the story for this venture: directors Ron Clements and John Musker along with Chris Williams and Don Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell and Jordan Kandell with the final screenplay being penned by Jared Bush. Despite the numerous cooks in the kitchen, there’s a seamless quality about the story with its quest narrative highlighted by multiple dangers which the duo must face that allows musicians Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina, and Opetaia Foa’I to weave their songs into the story so that they flow quite naturally into the narrative. We have the opening number “Where You Are” that gives us background on island life as we watch Moana grow from childhood (voiced by Louise Bush) to teenaged adolescence, Moana’s Oscar-nominated “want” song “How Far I’ll Go,” Maui’s ego-pumping paean to his greatness “You’re Welcome,” and even a classic Disney villain’s song: here it’s “Shiny” warbled by a vicious giant crab Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement). Familiarly, the songs are surrounded with wonderful production values that feature authentic native dancing and scores of islanders participating in the big group numbers like “Where You Are” and the saga of their voyager days “We Know the Way.” The animation also sets the bar once again impossibly high for future animators with CG photorealistic water and the flowing hair of the natives, both impossibly difficult achievements which the artists make look so easy and Maui’s movable 2D animated tattoos (a story unto themselves with the mini-Maui character who serves as the demigod’s hilarious conscience) which offers the mind-blowing combination of traditional animation (also seen in the movie’s prelude) with more modern computer generated illustration.
And the cast is sublime. Teenager Auli’i Cravalho is a revelation as Moana with firm acting skills and a dynamite singing voice that really displays many emotional colors so rare in someone so young. Dwayne Johnson is certainly in his element as the demigod Maui. You’ll be impressed by his singing, and the wisecracking ease with which he delivers his lines is no surprise given his large body (no pun intended) of film work. Rachel House makes an affecting grandmother, and as Moana’s parents, both Temuera Morrison and Nicole Scherzinger are excellent. Alan Tudyk gets to do the squawks and gurgles of adorably oddball chicken cohort Heihei while Jemaine Clement as the confident crabby crab Tamatoa dominates his tension-filled sequence.
3D Rating: 4.5/5
The film’s theatrical 2.39:1 aspect ratio is faithfully delivered in 1080p resolution using the MVC/AVC codec. Sharpness is thrillingly detailed throughout (a moment where Moana emerges from being buried in sand is so detailed that one could count individual grains in her hair and on her body if one wished), and the colors are achingly rich and deep (the fluorescents in the Realm of the Dead sequence really stand out), but their brilliance is always just short of blooming. Contrast is always consistently applied for the optimal picture quality. Black levels are sublime. The movie has been divided into 20 chapters.
The 3D version of the film is highly recommended with the seas offering endless depth to the eye and all of the underwater scenes gaining wonderful presence with objects placed so interestingly on different planes. There are some momentary forward projections with paddles and spears, but naturally much more could have been done with that element of the 3D work.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix offers a thrilling sonic adventure throughout with superb split effects work which immerses the listener from beginning to end. Dialogue and singing have been beautifully recorded with voices placed in the center channel. The orchestrated songs and Mark Mancina’s background score get the full surround treatment that will definitely not disappoint.
Special Features: 5/5
On the 3D disc, there is one bonus feature: Inner Workings (6:26, HD/3D), a delightful short subject which played in theaters with Moana showing the conflicts between the head and the heart in one man’s everyday existence.
All of the other bonus material is contained on the 2D Blu-ray disc enclosed in the case:
Audio Commentary: directors John Musker and Ron Clements barely have time to share everything they know and want to speak about the production as the scenes whiz by, but fans of the movie will definitely want to give this a listen.
Gone Fishing (2:29, HD): a brief adventure with Moana and Maui at odds over his choice of dinner.
Voice of the Islands (31:13, HD): directors John Musker and Ron Clements and producer Osnat Shurer talk about the three-week production excursion to several South Pacific islands doing research for the film.
Things You Didn’t Know About… (4:00, HD): directors John Musker and Ron Clements, stars Dwayne Johnson and Auli’i Cravalho, and composers Opetaia Foa’I, Mark Mancina and Lin-Manuel Miranda are asked a brief series of questions.
Island Fashion (5:13, HD): costume designer Neysa Bové talks about her choices for the wardrobe of various characters and how real South Pacific island techniques were considered in designing wardrobe for the characters, especially Moana.
They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana (12:37, HD): Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina, and Opetaia Foa’I talk about what they each wanted to bring to the song score, and behind-the-scenes shots of the trio collaborating on the music are shown.
Fishing for Easter Eggs (2:52, HD): star Auli’i Cravalho hosts a quick look at the Easter Eggs from previous Disney movies hidden within Moana.
The Elements of… (14:14, HD): four brief featurettes feature members of the animation and engineering departments (including veteran animator Eric Goldberg, Marlon West, Carlos Cabral, and Toby Jones) discussing how various facets of the production were achieved including looks at Mini-Maui, the water effects, the lava monster, and advances in hair representation.
“Warrior Face” (3:41, HD): the deleted song sequence is introduced and sung by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Deleted Scenes (25:56, HD): seven eliminated scenes are introduced by directors John Musker and Ron Clements and can be watched individually or together.
“How Far I’ll Go” Music Video (3:04, HD): performed by Alessia Cara.
“How Far I’ll Go” Around the World (2:44, HD): the Oscar-nominated song sung in numerous languages.
Promo Trailer (HD): Beauty and the Beast (2017).
DVD/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.
An outstanding Disney animated musical, Moana combines state-of-the-art animation with an interesting story from thirty centuries ago and featuring a tune-filled song score with bracing melodies and delightful characters. Highly recommended especially in 3D!