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Moana (Blu-ray Review)

Moana is finally here on Blu-ray!  “How far will you go” to get yourself a copy?  Target? Best Buy? Fry’s? Amazon? Deep Discount? Or was the walk too long and you just settled to buy the digital one and call it a day?  Hopefully not, especially if you’re a reader on a site that’s called Why So Blu.  But, its a weird world that doesn’t seem to make sense anymore, so I kind of understand that.  Yes, this might be the weirdest intro paragraph to a Moana review there is.  The box office and global sensation IS indeed coming to home video and its got plenty of bonus features to boot.  This movie was gonna make “ze monies” no matter what, but its kinda funny that you can add that “The Rock” bump to it if you so want to please.  You can order yourself a copy of the newest Dwayne Johnson epic by clicking the Amazon link below (I also appreciate that when you do!). 

Film 

A sweeping adventure about a spirited teenager who sails out on a daring mission to prove herself a master wayfinder and fulfill her ancestors’ unfinished quest. During her journey, Moana meets the once-mighty demi-god Maui, and together, they traverse the open ocean on an action-packed voyage, encountering enormous fiery creatures and impossible odds.

Moana is another successful jaunt through a Disney princess adventure, but one with a completely fresh setting and story.  Using a minimal amount of characters, this one features a journey that focuses on one learning to become one with the sea while following your determination and learning to have teamwork while trying to humble an ego driven demi-god.  Its got some tropes of the Disney princess films, but it sort of pokes at those and plays against their type while embracing some others.

I’m guessing this is the follow up to Frozen, but succeeds on being completely its own thing and not trying to piggy back on that.  While I think Frozen overall has the edge, Moana is no slouch and betters it in a few areas of its own.  For one, Moana’s animation is incredibly gorgeous and just candy on the eyes to look at.  Frozen was going for a different aesthetic and looks good at that, but Moana is full on embracing the CG and really feels like its taking the medium to some new heights.  Things look like you could touch them and sand and water move and act so damn naturally, its spellbinding.  The way the cinematography catches it all is quite fantastic as well and I think shot for shot, this looks better than Frozen too.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is sort of a behind-the-scenes MVP here, providing his expertise to the music of the film.  Dwayne Johnson even sings here with a catchy, fun “You’re Welcome”.  A lot of the music feels very of the land and culture with “We Know The Way” soothing and really relishing in that.  Of course, the biggie from the movie is “How Far I’ll Go”, which is just an instant classic the moment a note is played.  Just money.  I don’t know where it falls in the lexicon of big singles from Disney animated movies, but its gotta be in contention for a place among the best of them.  And the way it was in the movie please, I’m not a fan of the one at the end of the credits or the music video here on the disc.

Its another big win for Disney with Moana.  No, it didn’t become the phenomenon that Frozen was, but that movie was a big “break out” movie, whereas no people are expecting greatness like this time in and time out.  Plus, Sing! came in and did fantastic around Christmas.  Our two characters we follow here are a lot of fun, their adventure is both good and an incredible visual treat.  I stress, I loved the visuals, places and creatures created in this movie.  Outstanding stuff.  Check out Moana, though I’m not sure why you haven’t already.  Good for you, the kids, the dog, the hamster, everyone.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: Moana comes to Blu-ray looking fan-frickin’-tastic.  I’m sure once Disney caves, a 4K UHD edition will top this, but by how much?  While not for one second do I think this looks like stop motion or do I want to compare it to it, it does have the look and feel of characters (Like figures made) that have come to life.  Like I almost feel like these were made from the same material as Stretch Armstrong.  All details like hair, water and sand will wow you at how its down to the little increment that looks lifelike for a piece of animation.  Maui’s tattoos and skin texture is also an area of being impressive.  Disney’s animated movies always look the finest on Blu-ray, but this is a whole other level of top notch.

Depth:  Really impressive here is the dimensional work. While this was the 2-D edition, it still comes off looking very 3 dimensional.  Everything is free, loose and independent with its movements and freedom.  As mentioned above, it almost feels like you could pick up the characters and know what they feel like.  Movements come across, clean and natural, especially with water, which is always tough and looks relatively easy here in this image.

Black Levels:  Blacks carry many shades and performs with good strength.  Sharpening as well as shading get a bump from the blacks.  They also carry many different tints and hold onto finer details everywhere across the image.  No crushing witnessed on this viewing.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are absolutely gorgeous on Moana.  There are some that present a fluorescent glows that this transfer easily handles and it keeps things vivid and popping while no bleeding occurs.  Any color in this mix is given a rather natural, bold look or a bright smashing one.

Flesh Tones: N/A

Noise/Artifacts:  Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, English, French, Spanish

Dynamics:  As expected, Moana rocks your surround system.  There’s a good crisp clarity to it all and the film really feels open and alive at sea with all the terrific ambient sounds.  If I had one little grievance is that all the lower end sounds kind of come across as a bit monotonous without any sort differentiating.  I get that a hit is a hit when it connects, but it seems they could have had more depth.  A nit pick though, as the songs really elevate here and sound concert-like as well as the action feels in tune and perfectly mixed for a great home theater presentation of animated action.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  The subwoofer is very active with Moana, considering there is plenty of ocean activity in the film with waves, splashing and whatnot.  Many battle sounds and attacks (arrows, Maui’s fishook) give a nice thump.  The big hits though, come in the music and usage of drums throughout the film.  Those things thump really good.

Surround Sound Presentation:  It does not surprise that Moana is a well realized 7 channel mix that includes sides and rear speakers naturally and frequently.  Sound travels seamlessly around, sounding crisp and full.  Ambiance and all the outdoor sequences put you right there with good sound engineering that never goes overboard, but keeps things honest and always present.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is clean, clear and plenty loud and audible at all times.  Vocals elevate a hair when it comes to singing.

Extras 

Moana comes with the DVD edition and DisneyMoviesAnywhere digital copy of the film.

Audio Commentary

  • With Directors John Musker and Ron Clements

Theatrical Short Film: Inner Workings (HD, 6:26) – Features a 48 second intro from the creators.  This is the short that ran before the film theatrically that depicts the bores of having a perfectly fine, normal and secure form of employment.

Maui Mini-Movie: Gone Fishing (HD, 2:29) – Maui tries to show off how to fish to Moana while a little song plays.  More a music video than mini movie.

Voice of the Islands (HD, 31:13) – This is a really excellent educational piece on real life islands, people and culture the film is inspired by.  The filmmakers discuss a trip they took that changed their lives and approach to the film.  This also weaves into making the film, but really does service to the culture first and foremost.

Things You Didn’t Know About… – A quickfire question session with the stars, directors and other people who worked on the film. Like favorite foods, favorite Disney songs…what would you turn into if you were Maui…you know, important things.

  • Ron, John, Auli’i & Dwayne (HD, 2:02) 
  • Mark, Opetaia & Lin- Manuel (HD, 1:57) 

Island Fashion (HD, 5:13) – This piece goes over the costumes of the film with the visual designer who researched and tried best to come up with the apparel.

The Elements Of… – This 4-part series is really cool and actually focuses on some of the more minor, but incredibly interesting elements of the animation.

  • Mini-Maui (HD, 3:34) 
  • Water (HD, 4:38) 
  • Lava (HD, 2:56) 
  • Hair (HD, 3:05)

They Know The Way: Making The Music Of Moana (HD, 12:37) – A pretty detailed look at the music in the film with Mark Mancina, Opetaia F’oai and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Deleted Song: “Warrior Face” with Introduction By Songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda (HD, 3:41) – Manuel introduces the song which is shown with storyboards (Slightly animated).

Fishing For Easter Eggs (HD, 2:52) – Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson quickly go through all the neat little sneaky animated easter eggs (Though its pretty much all Cravalho talking) like stuff from Aladdin, a cameo from the directors, Flounder from The Little Mermaid and more.

Deleted Scenes (HD, 25:56) – Comes with introductions by directors John Musker and Ron Clements.

“How Far I’ll Go” Performed By Alessia Cara (HD, 3:04) 

“How Far I’ll Go” Around The World (HD, 2:44) – Shows the scene where the song is performed in the movie switching through different languages.

Summary 

Moana is another one over the fence for both Disney animation and the princess canon of films.  Its not really a matter of how it stacks up to Frozen (Though I am guilty of doing a little of that in my review), because its just fine on its own.  This Blu-ray is a great release, as well.  There are a load of worthwhile extras here, that I found pretty intriguing and checked off all the important production aspects as well as kid fun stuff, too.  Oh, and the film looks and sounds terrific.  As a matter of fact, the video on this look really impressive.  This thing sells itself, you don’t need my approval.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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