Truer words have never been spoken in a Disney film and possibly for the first time, we have a Disney Princess film that breaks the fourth wall and acknowledges that their characters pee. In so many ways, the delightful Moana is a refreshing take on the classic kids fare. It is funny, the CGI animation is charming, and the songs have a fresh sound to them.
Now out on disc and Digital streaming from Walt Disney Home Entertainment, the film plays well and will withstand repeated watching, a requirement given the target audience. What’s interesting to note is that this continues a trend, started in The Little Mermaid where the characters interact with one another in song, as opposed to the usual assortment of lullabies and I Want songs that fueled the original era of Princess tales.
It is certainly refreshing that the army of writers and directors behind Moana left European legends behind to base their culture on a mixture of Polynesian Islands with dollops of Hawaiian, Samoan, Maori, Tokelauan, Fijian, and Tahitian found within the societies depicted. The people are at peace and live in harmony with their lands until a supernatural blight threatens Moana’s people. The next-to-be-chief has been chosen by the ocean itself to set things to right and in a delightful prologue sequence, we see that this has been a decade or more in the making.
Essentially, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) needs to seek the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) convince him to restore a magic jewel he stole ages before in the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. He has been in self-imposed exile since being nearly defeated by the fiery Te Kā. As in the current era, Moana must defy her parents and cultural expectations – in this case, not paddling beyond the barrier reef – to do what must be done in order to save everyone.
Accompanied by her demented chicken Hey Hey, Moana goes on the Hero’s Quest, collects Maui, dodges some animated coconuts, and goes on to battle Te Kā. We discover how plucky she is and resourceful and talented, everything one wants in a Disney protagonist. In this regards, the film does too little original as it checks the boxes and adults and some older kids can predict what happens next. The worst such moment may be when a defeated Maui abandons Moana to her fate when we all know he will return. Audiences have been so conditioned since the Millennium Falcon returned to hold off the TIE Fighters so Luke Skywalker could blow up the Death Star. A little variation to the trope would be appreciated.
That said, I laughed and thought the animators superbly gave Moana some terrific body language and facial expressions, enhanced by Cravalho’s performance. Johnson’s Maui is also entertaining and they form a fine buddy team. They are surrounded by engaging supporting characters led by her grandmother Tala (Rachel House).
The 1080p high definition transfer is gorgeous, which is necessary given the rich, bright colors found throughout. It is accompanied by an only slightly wonderful DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 lossless soundtrack.
The Blu-ray comes packed with the usual assortment of extras adults have come to enjoy with these releases. The combo pack comes with the Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD code. We get the bonus short “Maui Mini-Movie: Gone Fishing” (2:29) which the kids will enjoy. They will also get a kick out of the Deleted Song: “Warrior Face” with Introduction by Songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda (3:41), presented with the basic animation. They may also appreciate the Deleted Scenes (25:56) and the music video for “How Far I’ll Go”, performed by Alessia Cara (3:04) and “How Far I’ll Go” Around the World (2:44) as the song us seamlessly performed in multiple languages.
There is also Theatrical Short Film: Inner Workings (0:48): The filmmakers discuss the short film ((6:26) that life and daily routine; Voice of the Islands (31:13); Things You Didn’t Know About…: co-directors Ron Clements, John Musker, Auli’i & Dwayne (2:02) and Mark Mancina, Opetaia Foa’i , & Lin-Manuel Miranda (1:57); Island Fashion (1080p, 5:13): Neysa Bové discusses the challenges and specifics of costuming the characters; The Elements Of…: Mini-Maui (3:34), Water (4:38), Lava (2:56), Hair (3:05); They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana (12:37); and Fishing for Easter Eggs (2:52).
Finally, there is some interesting Audio Commentary from Musker and Clements.