Author: Robert Greenberger

REVIEW: Time Shifters

Time Shifters By Chris Grine
Scholastic Graphix, 266 pages, $12.99

Everyone processes loss in different ways. For young Luke, it’s been a year since his older brother died in a bullying incident. He’s still mourning when he sees something fantastic, goes to investigate, and gets swept up in a time travel, inter-dimensional romp that lasts almost the entire 266 pages of Chris Grine’s busy Time Shifters.

He stumbles upon three of the dumbest henchmen found in YA graphic novels — a skeleton in a pressurized space suit, a hollow mummy, and Vampire Napoleon – and winds up wearing their objective, a piece of tech that lets him cross dimensional boundaries. In the process, he buddies up with a scientist, a robot Abraham Lincoln riding a mutant T-Rex named Zinc, and Artemis, a sassy female ghost about his age.

Grine, best known for his Chckenhare, presents a done-in-one story that moves quickly, too quickly. There’s a lot of running, jumping, chasing and similar kinetic nonsense that does little to actually explain what’s really happening. Grine is a solid storytelling and has inventive character designs but there is no rhyme or reason to the having a Napoleon vampire or robot Lincoln. It’s just oddity for oddity’s sake when there should be a reason.

Similarly, when they spend a large chunk of the story in the other dimension, it is styled after frontier western town from the 19th Century. Why? I don’t know. He’s on a third and I don’t give a darn. Seriously, the lack of internal logic robs this imaginative story from being exceptional. There are some large themes to work with but Grine seems almost afraid to tackle them head on.

The tonal shifts occur throughout the book so you think you’re reading one thing then we’re on to another and you feel the whiplash. As a work intended for 9-12 year olds, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and may result in them finishing the book feeling dissatisfied despite an emotionally rousing epilogue.

Because Grine is moving at such a fast clip, any attempt at characterization is left to a few panels here and there so none of the characters, including Luke feel anything more than chess pieces.

Scholastic Graphix feels strongly about this, offering an excerpt as part of Free Comic Book Day, but this is far more of a misfire that should have been more carefully planned and edited.

REVIEW: Mars

When some of the smartest people alive today insist we need to begin colonizing other worlds, you tend to believe them. When science fiction fans hear those words, we begin to salivate at the possibilities.

National Geographic cannily appeals to both audiences with their hybrid miniseries Mars, which mixes today’s science with tomorrow’s fiction by positing what the actual colonization of the planet, a mere 140 million miles away, might look like. Yeah, we got a glimpse of that in the adaptation of Andrew Weir’s The Martian, but this goes further and shows more of the risks involved.

The miniseries, out now from 20th Century Home Entertainment, is a captivating piece of work if unevenly assembled. You get all the usual suspects weighing in why and how we might get there including Space X guru Elon Musk and the ubiquitous Neil deGrasse Tyson. Accompanied by a Greek chorus of NASA scientists and engineers, we get a frim grounding on where we are today and what it will take (including how much and how long) to reach Mars and stay there.

With the firm guiding hand of Brian Grazer and Ron Howard – who took us to the edge of space with the gripping Apollo 13 – the fictional sections are visually interesting and feel like they could possibly happen over the next hundred years. The most fictional part of the story may be the notion that countries around the world can put aside their partisan issues in order to partner for such a project. Given the expertise and money required, it’s unlikely any one country can mount such a mission. Of course, it’s equally unlikely we can all come together fast enough to actually do it on the timetable envision by the likes of Stephen Hawking. That this story takes place in 2033 may be the most fantastic concept of all.

With a nice nod to Greek myth, the Daedalus is sent to Mars and we follow the crew, led by Ben Sawyer (Ben Cotton). The crew and their personal issues are far less interesting than the real science employed to get them there, which is a shame. After all, one reason America was captivated by the Mercury program was the canny PR done to turn the Mercury Seven into instant heroes, their every move followed by an eager public.

Obviously this was intended to be a utopian or dystopic view of life on other worlds, but the hazards and problems encountered are therefore representative, but also almost predictable, spoiling some of the dramatic satisfaction the fictional sections intended.

The sets and tech look fabulous as one would expect from the channel and production team. Watched as an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1, it looks great on the home screen accompanied by a serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix.

The miniseries does boast a rather impressive physical (and/or CGI) production, with decently realistic sequences set on board the Daedalus and, later, on Mars itself. The fictional element’s “look” has obviously been highly influenced by The Martian (as can clearly be seen in some of the screenshots accompanying this review), with some individual shots looking like they in fact could have been lifted directly from the film. But again and again it’s the current day scientists and explorers who provide the most riveting information. As odd as it might sound, this is one miniseries that might have benefitted from a kind of “reverse seamless branching”, where viewers could choose to skip the fictional parts and stick to the facts and only to the facts.

The three-disc Blu-ray set comes with a handful of extras, starting with Making Mars (47:17) which does a fine job recounting how the mockumentary was made. There’s Before Mars – A Prequel (33:00) which offers up some welcome backstory for the dramatic portion. There’s the brief Before Mars Behind the Scenes (2:28); Getting to Mars (13:51); Living on Mars (10:26); More Mars (10:29); Behind the Scenes (14:38); and, Cast and Crew Interviews (25:06). Taken as a whole, the extras greatly expands our understanding of the nearby world, the difficulties in getting there, and how we might extend our stay. Additionally, the behind-the-scenes interviews with the production crew shows the meticulous detail that one expects from National Geographic.

REVIEW: How to Make Awesome Comics

How to Make Awesome Comics
By Neill Cameron
David Fickling Books/Scholastic, 64 pages, $8.99

Aimed at 7-10 year olds, this book attempts to explain how to create comics when it merely scratches the surface and suggests mash-ups are the only way to design characters. Neill Cameron should know better considering his background with YA graphic novels and his role as artist in residence at Oxford’s The Story Museum. This collection is culled from weekly installments that first saw print in England’s The Phoenix.

Narrated by Professor Panels and Art Monkey, they breezily and cheekily tour the most basic aspects of telling a story, creating heroes and villains, and putting them all together to form a visual narrative. Every chapter tells you how to do something awesomely but it’s too much in too few pages.

There are some basics early on that are age appropriate for the readers but once he tells you awesome ideas are to take one from column A and one from column B and your done does the budding comics creator a major disservice. This mix and match approach is carried on throughout the book which suggests to readers there is just this one way to tell a story or creator interesting characters.

Cameron should have dropped some of the silliness in favor of elements like making sure each panel leads the reader’s eye in the proper direction. How to place balloons, captions, and sound effects to aid in the reading.  There’s nothing on anatomy, perspective, or page design which might seem too sophisticated for the age range, but these are essentials for good comics literacy.

I would warn well-meaning parents away from giving this to their budding talents and instead find other sources (or courses) that would do a better job training them.

REVIEW: Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

Condensing nearly eighty years of comics continuity, characters, and interpretations into other media allows for cherry-picking and revision to be done, so the resulting new work has the look and feel of the original while offering up something fresh, and hopefully, good.

One of the best-regarded storylines in DC’s history is “The Judas Contract” which was the culmination of a two year thread in New Teen Titans because no one saw the twists and turns in the storyline while it also dramatically shifted Dick Grayson’s status quo. It also provided readers with the origin of the Tiran’s great foe, Deathstroke. The ending was emotional and strong while the entire story holds up on rereading.

What is offered up in Teen Titans: The Judas Contract animated feature, out now from Warner Home Entertainment, is a pale comparison for a number of reasons. First, the lineup of characters is substantially different so the bonds of friendship are different. We open with a flashback to the original Titans (more or less) showing their ease with one another, their trust and teamwork. It nicely introduces Starfire and shows her immediate connection with Robin. Then we move five years into the Animated Universe continuity and we have the current Titans: Starfire (Kari Wahlgren), Robin (Stuart Allan), Beast Boy (Brandon Soo Hoo), Raven (Taissa Farmiga), Blue Beetle (Jake T. Austin), and Terra (an excellent Christina Ricci). There is little explanation of when Terra joined the team, but in the comics, she was around for quite some time before betraying the team.

In the comics, Deathstroke was hired by H.I.V.E. to destroy the Titans and manipulated Tara Markov, a sociopathic teen exiled from Markovia, to be his mole. He played the long game, getting her deep with the team’s trust, even initiating a romance with Changeling (Beast Boy), before having her deliver them to his grasp. She wound up sacrificing herself to save the team, a noble final act.

In the animated film, this is a much more condensed story, with lots of character threads that are under-deserved while the comics’ concurrent Brother Blood (Gregg Henry) story was given way too much play here. Ernie Altbacker, who did a great job on Justice League Dark, has a tough job in adapting the story for film and by using Brother Blood and his cult, serves up nonsensical action in lieu of the real emotional core. Terra’s introduction to the Tians is skipped over while flashbacks show a vastly different origin than the comics, a cliched one at that.

Terra’s romance with Beast Boy comes too late in the story and doesn’t have the same deep resonance it had in the comics, the same with Deathstroke’s uncomfortable sexual relationship with Terra. In the film, he is colder towards her, redeemed only by Miguel Ferrer’s strong (and sadly, final) performance as Slade Wilson. I still dislike how Deathstroke was appended to the League of Assassins in these films since it makes little sense and wish they’d move past that.

Blood’s device, designed to drain the Titans’ powers into him, transforming him into a god, is perhaps the weakest part of the story and an illogical one since Beetle’s alien tech or Raven’s supernatural force cannot easily be captured and transferred.

Where Altbacker excels, is with the evolving relationship between Starfire and Nightwing (Sean Maher) as they move in together at the same time she is jealous with his easy rapport with the team he no longer leads. The other character subplots – notably Beetle’s tense relationship with his father – could have been stronger. At least this film runs longer than most, clocking in at 85 minutes, allowing even this much characterization. His use of Damian is an excellent addition although he’s off the gird for a long stretch in the middle, as if Altbacker couldn’t figure out what to do with him.

Long-time fans will recognize Jericho in an early scene and we’re rewarded with a hint of things to come with a post-credits scene. Similarly, Wonder Girl is seen at the end, and should be showcased whenever the Titans turn up next.

Overall, if you take the film as the latest installment in the shared animated universe, it’s a strong entry. As an adaptation of this cherished comics tale, it falls woefully short. The film can be found in a variety of formats, of course, including a nifty gift set complete with Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD code, and a Blue Beetle figure.

The Blu-ray comes with a 28-minute chat between New Teen Titans co-creators Marv Wolfman and George Pérez which shows their easy camaraderie. Marv brought along some nifty artifacts enhancing the video.

Less interesting is the Villains United—Deathstroke (9:00), with Wolfman, Pérez, and Mike Carlin talking about Slade Wilson’s evolution and place in the pantheon of great antagonists.

There’s a fun Sneak Peek for the next offering, the stand-alone Batman and Harley Quinn with the return of Bruce Timm to the team. Rounding out the video are two thematically-related episodes from the DC Comics Vault: “Terra” and “Titan Rising”, both from Teen Titans.

Win a Copy of Split on Blu-ray

James McAvoy showed news aspects of his talent in M. Night Shyamalan’s return to scary filmmaking with Split. The film, which took the box office crown in January, is coming to Blu-ray on April 18 and we have a copy to give away to a lucky reader. Courtesy of Universal Home Entertainment, we’ll give you an opportunity to experience the frightening thriller which delves into the mysterious depths of one man’s fractured mind as a terror unlike the world has seen prepares to be unleashed. Split offers viewers a closer look at the movie fans are raving about with a never-before-seen alternate ending, deleted scenes, character spotlight, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film.

All you need to do is tell us which your favorite Shyamalan film and why.

We need your entries submitted before 11:59 p.m., Monday, April 17. The contest is open to readers only in the United States and Canada. The decision of ComicMix‘s judge will be final. The winner will receive a copy directly from Universal Home Entertainment.

Producer Marc Bienstock (Before I Falland executive producers Ashwin Rajan (Devil, The Visit) and Steven Schneider (Paranormal Activity series) who collaborated on The Visit reunite with SPLIT. Starring James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), Betty Buckley (The Happening, Oz), Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of  SeventeenFollow) and Jessica Sula (Recovery Road), critics hail SPLIT as “a nerve-shredding thriller” (Tim Grierson, Screen International).
BONUS FEATURES ON BLU-RAYTM AND DVD
  • Alternate Ending Deleted Scenes
  • The Making of  Split Filmmakers, cast, and crew discuss what attracted them to the project and how they were able to bring such a unique premise to life.
  • The Many Faces of  James McAvoy- A look at how James McAvoy approached the challenge of playing so many different identities.
  • The Filmmaker’s Eye: M. Night Shyamalan- Director and writer M. Night Shyamalan has a singular, big-picture vision of his projects. Producers, cast, and crew discuss how Night’s process gives them the freedom to execute their roles to the fullest.

REVIEW: Batman: The Brave and the Bold The Complete Third Season

Well, it’s about time. For the last twenty-five years or so, we’ve had one animated Batman series after another but to be honest only two are really good: Batman the Animated Series and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The latter has been slowly coming out on Blu-Ray with season one in 2013 and season two in 2015. This month, we’re getting the third and final season and the good news is that it is as entertaining as remembered.

After increasingly odd interpretations of Batman, Warner Animation decided to go retro and bring back the Batman of the 1960s, who was not afraid to operate in daylight and would partner with just about anyone in a mask as the need arose. Producer James Tucker saw to it that it honored the comic the series took its name from while modernizing it with contemporary characters and characterizations. The result was a delightful thirty minutes for three seasons and now we get the final thirteen installments.

Episodes 53 through 65 continues to have Batman (Diedrich Bader) mix and match heroes and villains, zaniness from emotional intensity and serving up action, laughs, and fine vocal work. Each episode has a teaser bit that as often as note, relates to the main story, allowing for tonal variety. We open with “Joker: The Vile and the Villainous!” as the Clown Prince of Crime (Jeff Bennett) comes to appear in the majority of the story, much to the Caped Crusader’s chagrin. It also shows how deep into the vault they will go for characters as they resurrect the Weeper (Tim Conway) from Bulletman’s exploits in the Golden Age of comics.

Throughout the season we see Batman dealing with Justice League International as Blue Beetle (Will Friedle) continues to grow as a hero and Captain Atom (Brian Bloom) is welcomed to the team.

We jump around Batman’s career as we see him partner once more with Robin (Grey DeLisle) to take down goes including Catwoman (Nika Futterman) and King Tut, as a nod to the 1966 TV series in addition to time travel tales that involve Kamandi,

There are Easter Eggs aplenty and many a reference to elements and stories from the comics themselves such as “Night of the Batmen”, taken from the eponymous comic book version, which was inspired by a story from Batman #177, as an injured Batman watches Aquaman (John DiMaggio), Captain Marvel (Jeff Bennett), Green Arrow (James Arnold Taylor), and Plastic Man (Tom Kenny) don the mantle of the Bat to protect Gotham City from Deadshot (Kenney), Cavalier (Greg Ellis), Babyface, Killer Moth (Corey Burton), and Sportsmaster (Thomas F. Wilson). Another episode was taken from 1976’s DC Superstars Giant #10. Then you have a variation on an old 1950s story as the Batmen of All Nations are confronted by the Jokers of All Nations (I’m genuinely surprised Grant Morrison didn’t come up with this first).

As the series wound down, the penultimate episode pulled out all the stops with four vignettes that focused on the guest stars over the title hero. We have “Adam Strange (Michael T. Weiss) in Worlds War” as Kanjar Ro (Marc Worden) makes his second appearance this season; “Flash (Alan Tudyk) in Double Jeopardy” with appearances by Captain Boomerang (John DiMaggio), Mirror Master (Tom Kenny), and Abra Kadabra (Jeff Bennett); “’Mazing Man (Tom Kenny) in Kitty Catastrophe”, a delightful use of the charming character; and ”The Creature Commandos in The War That Time Forgot” which focuses on a mission to Dinosaur Island and confrontation with the Ultra-Humanite (Jeff Bennett).

The fourth wall is shattered in the final episode when Bat-Mite (Paul Ruebens) pops up and has decided this format is tired and needs to be retired by making the show so awful the Cartoon Network has to cancel it. With Batman, Aquaman (Ted McGinley), and the whole cast endangered, the only one to stop Bat-Mite is…Ambush Bug (Henry Winkler)?

The shows are tremendous fun and if you’ve never experienced them, now’s a good time to find them all.

REVIEW: Static Shock: The Complete First Season

Animated fare was very slow to integrate, largely because there was a paucity of useful source material to mine from. In the 1990s, that began to change, largely thanks to Milestone Media, a multicultural operation that had a line of comics distributed through DC Comics.

Milestone’s best known character is Static, a young urban teen with a definite modern-day Peter Parker vibe to him. Virgil Hawkins just wanted live his life when he was accidentally exposed to mutagen gas, giving him electromagnetic powers. Donning a self-made outfit, he protected his corner of the ‘Hood as Static.

The show arrived in 2000 with a bang and became a cause because it not only featured a positive image of a black male, but closely resembled the source material thanks to Milestone co-creators Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan being heavily involved in the show. Static has been back every now and then and the 52 episodes remain well-regarded even today. Thankfully, Warner Archives has released Static Shock: The Complete First Season.

For those unfamiliar, McDuffie started on staff at Marvel, rising to be a writer with a distinct voice. At much the same time, Cowan broke in to DC, training under the last full generation of master editors, allowed to develop his own, gritty style where he blossomed on The Question. Joining them on the production side was producer James Tucker under the guidance of supervising producers Alan Burnett and Scott Jeralds along with executive producers Jean MacCurdy and Sander Schwartz.

The subject matter was certainly different for cartoons as we meet Virgil (Phil LaMarr), who lost his mom to gang violence, being recruited to join one of the gangs that rule Dakota City. When the gas explodes, not only does Virgil gain powers but so do others and they are all dubbed “Bang Babies” whether good or bad. As Static, he tries to do what is right, despite the complications and obstacles. He also pines for her best friend Frieda (Danica McKellar). Thankfully, he has a faithful best friend in Richard “Richie” Osgood Foley/Gear (Jason Marsden), who covers for him and helps make equipment as needed. During the season, he also befriends Daisy Watkins (Crystal Scales), who becomes a confidant.

There are complications aplenty starting at home with his father, Robert Hawkins (Kevin Michael Richardson), who runs the Freeman Community Center and disapproves of the Bang Babies and their antics. This is contrasted by Ivan Evans/Ebon (Gary Sturgis), leader of “The Meta-Breed”.

The show is grounded in ways most other super-hero fare has not been and did not shy away from social issues such as the gangs and gang violence that was there from the beginning. A strong episode in the first season also dealt with racism while another dealt with responsibility after he took a job but had to leave it to save the day, only to be fired. There are ties to the Milestone universe as he comes under the watch of Edwin Alva, from Hardware.

While the animation is occasionally stiff, the storytelling, writing, and soul more than make up for it. The first thirteen episodes, included here with a smattering profile-style extras, allows you to watch the series and its diverse cast grow and mature.

REVIEW: The Zeta Project

Lost amid the hubbub over the animated series based on the traditional DC Comics was The Zeta Project, a fun spinoff from Warner Animation’s first original creation, Batman Beyond. Thanks to Warner Archives the two season series, spanning 2001-2002, is being released on DVD.

The series is focused on Zeta (Diedrich Bader), formally known as Infiltration Unit Zeta, a synthoid, who works for the NSA. The machine was introduced in the season two Batman Beyond episode “Zeta,” written by Robert Goodman, who developed the spinoff.

He violates his programming when he is asked to kill an innocent and goes on the run, vowing never to kill again. Of course, the NSA wants him back and sends a team, led by the clichéd obsessive, Agent James Bennett (the well-cast Kurtwood Smith), convinced Brother’s Day, the terrorists reprogrammed the agency’s machine. He’s often accompanied by the arrogant Agent West (Michael Rosenbaum). Only Agent Lee (Lauren Tom) considers Zeta may be telling the truth. Exasperated, she will eventually leave the NSA at the end of the first season and is replaced by Agent Rush (Erika Alexander, later Dominique Jennings).

Thankfully, Zeta has 15-year-old runaway, Rosalie “Ro” Rowan (Julie Nathanson) to help him navigate the civilian world and find Dr. Eli Selig, his creator and the one person who can prove his innocence.

Being in the near future of Batman Beyond, everything is high tech, glossy, and interesting to look at. The episodes explore different settings and locales, and you can always count on an explosive action as Zeta uses his holography to disguise himself. After disposing of the weapons he was left with non-lethal tools including handheld welding lasers and extensible limbs.

Unlike its host series, Zeta was definitely aimed at a younger audience so the characters were flatter and the action more frenetic. As a result, it never found the same enthusiastic crowd, even after a dramatic shift in look and tone began with the two-part “Wired” during season two. It might have been too late which is one reason why the show ended after two seasons and it’s taken this long to collect the second season at all.

The series ended without a conclusion so Zeta is still on the run with Dr. Selig seemingly killed. He did make two appearances on BB, “Shadows” and “Countdown”, both of which originally aired on the same day and are included as bonuses in the two-disc Season One set.

REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

J.K. Rowling did a superb job creating her magical universe, populating it worldwide with schools, wizards, prisons, creatures, and muggles aplenty. She also gave her world a rich history and then has been mining it with spinoff works of varying lengths and media. One of the more popular has been Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, taking a reference book mentioned in her Harry Potter novels and telling the story of how Newt Scamander managed to pen such a fascinating work.

Warner Bros, seeking ways to continue to profit from the film series, optioned the title and has created a trilogy with Rowling taking her turn as screenwriter for director David Yates, who directed four of the eight films. He did a far more immersive and coherent job on last year’s Legend of Tarzan.

The resulting film has grossed over $800 million worldwide so the gamble seems to have paid off and yet, the film adaptation was surprisingly lacking in charm and, well, magic.

Wisely, the story is set in America so we can see a different attitude and approach to magic as Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) has come to the States in search of more magical beasties to preserve. He has the misfortune to arrive as 1926 New York City is under attack and magic exposed to the No-Maj populace. Fanning the flames is Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), peddling the New Salem Philanthropic Society. The overly complicated plot also has a search going on for dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald and schisms within the Magical Congress of the United States of America, allowing its director Percival Graves (Colin Farrell) to conduct some extracurricular work of his own.

Coming to Newt’s aid is disgraced Aurora Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and would-be baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a non-maj. The Queenie-Jacob relationship is the film’s real heart and soul and I wish there was far more of that rather than sound and fury signifying how large their budget was for CGI. Everything is loud and overly prolonged without necessarily advancing character or story.

Visually, this is a dreary version of Jazz Age Manhattan which was flying high just prior to the 1929 Stock Market Crash. There are dark clouds and somber tones permeating the film, all the more to contrast with the realm where Scamander has been housing his finds, preserving them from a magical community that misunderstands and mistrusts them.

Frankly, the film, out now for home video consumption from Warner Home Video, is a messy disappointment, missing the essential elements that made the host series a cultural event. It looks good, is very well cast, and has some nice moments, but too little is explained, and there is little genuine emotion found in the overall story. Newt comes across as a brave bumbler, far from heroic, and is remarkably uninteresting compared with Jacob or even Tina.

The film is available in all the usual formats and combo packs with the Blu-ray’s high definition transfer superb enough to make every sparkle shine. The audio is a good match so families watching at home will be entertained by the light show.

The disc offers up over an hour’s worth of extras that feel more perfunctory than special. We start with Before Harry Potter: A New Era of Magic Begins (15:31), focusing on Rowling’s process; Characters (24:19), split into five featurettes (The Magizoologist, The Goldstein Sisters, The New Salemers, The No-Maj Baker, The President and the Auror) complete with actor interviews; Creatures (20:59), divided into seven featurettes (Bowtruckle, Demiguise, Erumpent, Niffler, Occamy, Thunderbird); Design (34:33), spotlighting each location (Shaping the World of Fantastic Beasts, New York City, MACUSA, Newt’s Magical Case, The Shaw Banquet, The Blind Pig); and finally eleven Deleted Scenes (14:33), none of which would have improved the film’s messy feel.

REVIEW: Moana

“You’re wearing a dress and have a pet sidekick. You’re a princess.”

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.