With the release of Moana on Blu-ray and DVD this week, let’s take a look at the plot, the quality of the release, and the many (many) bonus features included on the Blu-ray disc. Throughout this review, you’ll also find a few behind-the-scenes clips that you can view right here.
“From Walt Disney Animation Studios comes Moana, an epic adventure about a spirited teen who sets sail on a daring mission to save her people. Along the way, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) meets the once mighty demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), and together they cross the ocean on a fun-filled, action-packed voyage. Bring home the movie full of heart, humor and oceans of bonus extras!”
Cast and Credits
Running 107 minutes, Moana stars the vocal talents of Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Oscar Kightley, Troy Polamalu, Puanani Cravalho, Louise Bush, Chris Jackson (uncredited), and Alan Tudyk. The film is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. This duo has been directing Disney films since 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective, but Moana marks their first use of CGI. Moana’s screenplay was written by Jared Bush, and the film’s story was written by Don Hall, Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, Pamela Ribon, and Chris Williams, and directors Clements and Musker. Produced by John Lasseter and Osnat Shurer, the film was edited by Jeff Draheim.
Like most Disney films, Moana is full of music. The film’s original score was composed by Mark Mancina, with original songs written by Mancina, Opetaia Foa’i, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda is known for his hit musical Hamilton.
Moana is an excellent Disney movie that has something to offer every viewer. Aside from catchy music and beautiful use of color, the movie presents compelling, likeable characters and a strong message about the importance of knowing who you are.
Discovering and knowing who you are is a central theme in this movie. Moana is told by her parents that she will be the next chief of her people. (Despite what many people initially thought, Moana is not a Disney princess. On at least two occasions, it is stated that she isn’t a princess.) Her grandmother, on the other hand, thinks she can bring back the ways of the ancestors and cross the seas as a voyager. Moana (voiced beautifully by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho)is caught in the middle and isn’t entirely sure which path she wants to choose. What she does know is that the ocean calls to her and she desperately wants to cross the barrier and explore why she is drawn to the water.
Viewers know that Moana is drawn to the ocean because it has chosen her to fulfill a prophecy that will save her people. The movie opens with narration from Moana’s beloved Gramma Tala (House), who tells the story of the heart of Te Fiti. Once a source of growth and prosperity, Te Fiti had her heart stolen by the demigod Maui. After its loss, a curse began to spread from Te Fiti and her island that eventually kills all life it reaches. Maui was never seen again after he stole the heart. Legend says that someone must find the heart of Te Fiti, locate Maui, and force him to return it to the island. Given the name of the movie, viewers likely have a strong inkling that this “someone” might just be Moana, and if they are still unsure, the fact that an adorable toddler-age Moana finds the heart of Te Fiti while playing along the beach may be another helpful clue.
Moana’s journey is not an easy one, but it is one she must take. The curse has started to reach her island. She faces strong resistance from her father (Morrison) and doesn’t know how to sail. Neither of these hindrances stop her for long. Leaving behind her family and her adorable pet pig, Pua, Moana sets forth on her journey. She also attempts to leave behind her pet chicken, Heihei (Tudyk), but this proves to be a little bit more challenging. Heihei is not the smartest chicken in the coop, but is certainly funny and entertaining to watch.
Moana is guided by the ocean itself, which becomes a semi-character in the movie. Though it has no lines, it is given personality and plays a role in several humorous moments. Viewers understand that the ocean is not at Moana’s command, but that it is there to help her on the journey it chose her to take.
After a particularly nasty sea storm, Moana happens (thank you, Ocean!) to wash up on Maui’s beach. She learns that the legends about him may not have told the full story and that he may not be as villainous as she initially believed. Maui, too, doesn’t entirely know who he is anymore. He often converses with “Mini-Maui,” a comical tattoo that serves as Maui’s conscience at times. Once Moana convinces Maui to return the heart, the two form an uneasy friendship.
The journey to Te Fiti is dangerous. They encounter coconut pirates, a greedy crab, a lava demon named Te Ka, and all manner of creatures in the Realm of Monsters. Parents of young children should note that while the coconut pirates are more cute and funny than anything else, some creatures in the Realm of Monsters may come across as frightening and intense.The adventure ends in a high-stakes battle with Te Ka; however, realizing and accepting who they truly are may be the most important weapon Moana and Maui can bring to the fight.
Overall, the pacing of the movie is excellent. Humor is incorporated throughout, and the movie does not excessively dwell on scenes of exposition or battle. Scenes are kept brief and should be able to hold the attention of younger viewers. Most of the film’s songs are performed in its first half, but the movie’s most powerful and emotional song is saved for the finale.
The music is highly enjoyable and catchy. Lin-Manuel Miranda and his team wanted to find sounds that felt authentic to the culture represented in the movie. Though the exact location is never specified, Hawaiian or Polynesian roots are heavily implied. The song “We Know the Way” tells a bit of the story of Moana’s ancestors and is a strong example of the music style Miranda wanted for the movie.
Two of the best songs are Maui’s self-introduction number, “You’re Welcome,” performed by Dwayne Johnson and the David Bowie-esque “Shiny” sung by Jemaine Clement’s sparkling crab, Tamatoa. “How Far I’ll Go” and “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors) are both Moana’s anthems. She sings them as she makes discoveries about herself and the path she wants to take.
Both songs are performed beautifully by Auli’i Cravalho. Moana is her debut role, and she excels. She voices Moana with confidence and strength, yet there is a quieter vulnerability and uncertainty that makes it easy to relate to her. Moana is not given a love interest and is much more of an action hero than a damsel in distress. Though her character doesn’t have all the answers, she is willing to be brave, work hard, and learn from those around her to save her family and her people.
Dwayne Johnson also gives a great vocal performance as Maui. He is tough when he needs to be, vulnerable on rare occasion, and most frequently funny. His singing voice is an excellent fit for his song. Johnson genuinely sounds like he’s having a good time in this role. His character could actually have used a bit more screen time.
In addition to strong vocal performances, the movie also goes above and beyond in its use of color and detail. The movie is beautiful, and the use of computer-generated animation really works well here. Everything is bright and vibrant, yet clear details and textures are easily seen. The use of color and detail is just wonderful!
If you haven’t seen Moana yet, try to catch it in Blu-ray. It really makes all those bright colors and tiny details even better. Regardless of how you watch it, though, be prepared to hear some fun songs, have a few laughs, and follow likeable characters on a journey of self-discovery. Moana is definitely worth watching – possibly several times.
Let’s look at some of the technical aspects of the release:
The Blu-ray features English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 Descriptive Audio, as well as Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital, whereas the DVD offers English, French, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and 2.0 Descriptive Audio. Subtitles for both come in English, French, and Spanish. Moana’s audio is clear and crisp. Dialogue is easily understood and well-balanced against background noises including the ocean. Song lyrics are easily understood, which makes it simple to learn the words and sing along with at least the choruses from home.
The movie is absolutely beautiful! Both Blu-ray and DVD play in widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.39:1. You will have black bars across the top and bottom of your screen, but the movie’s vibrant colors will likely prevent you from really noticing. Moana’s colors are gorgeous. We see lots of blues and greens surrounding the characters and the occasional pink and purple sky. This movie is directors Musker and Clements’ first use of all computer animation. Everything from a wide shot of the ocean down to tiny details in woven rugs is sharp, clear, and visually captivating. Given that this was not a 4K UHD release, the degree of detail is a bit surprising. (Check out the detail on the chicken, Heihei, for example.) Some of the special features address the challenges the animators faced when working with this much detail, but their efforts clearly paid off well. While the Blu-ray does offer a better picture, even fine detail in the DVD version is noticeable. This is one of Disney’s best-looking movies to date.
The movie’s menu plays an instrumental version of Maui’s “You’re Welcome.” Viewers see clips of characters like Moana, Maui, and Pua in front of brightly colored backgrounds. Options are presented across the bottom of the screen. ‘Play’ simply allows viewers to watch the movie. ‘Scene Selection’ shows viewers thumbnails and scene titles from four scenes at a time. ‘Set Up’ allows for the audio adjustments and the addition of subtitles. ‘Bonus Features’ will be discussed in the next section of this review. ‘Sneak Peaks’ include previews for Beauty and the Beast (2017), Cars 3, and Elena of Avalor. Finally, Disney’s ‘FastPlay’ is a feature that allows viewers to watch the movie and bonus features without clicking through menus. Select this option, sit back, and enjoy your film.
All bonus features are found only on the Blu-ray version unless noted otherwise.
1. Audio Commentary* – Directors John Musker and Ron Clements discuss their history of working with Disney, the origin of their ideas for Moana, the animation process, last-minute story changes, and how they got Troy Polamalu (former safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers) to make a voice cameo in the film.
2. Deleted Scenes – All deleted scenes are presented in chronological order, have unfinished artwork, and are accompanied by optional commentary from the directors.
a. Grandmother’s Warning/Legend of Maui (2:42) – Toddler Moana learns that the ocean is not a toy and can be quite dangerous.
b. Canoe Race (4:31) – This scene reveals that Moana originally had six older siblings and excellent sailing skills. Both are missing from the final film.
c. Father, Daughter, Boat (3:36) – Moana, around age 8, talks about the dangers of the ocean with her father. She then meets a baby pig and names him Pua. (Adorable!)
d. Education of Moana (3:46) – Using her unconventional methods, Gramma Tula teaches Moana (and Baby Pua!) about navigating.
e. Discussing Moana’s Future (2:16) – Moana overhears her father and grandmother arguing about her future.
f. Race the Wind/Ties That Bind (3:50) – This scene also showcases Moana’s sailing skills that were removed for the final film.
g. Under the Sea (4:23) – Maui argues with Mini-Maui and then faces an 8-eyed bat with Moana once they enter the Realm of Monsters.
3. Deleted Song “Warrior Face” (3:41) – Introduced by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the unfinished scene shows Maui singing a song that teaches Moana to put on her “Warrior Face” before they enter the Realm of Monsters. The song is performed by Miranda’s Hamilton co-star, Christopher Jackson.
4. The Elements of . . .
a. Mini-Maui (3:34) – See the inspiration and artwork behind Mini-Maui and hear from animator Eric Goldberg (also the animator of the Genie in Aladdin).
b. Water (4:38) – Learn how the special effects team created “performing water.”
c. Lava (2:56) – We see how the lava demon Te Ka was created.
d. Hair (3:05) – Discover the challenges of giving animated hair lifelike movement.
5. Fishing for Easter Eggs (2:52) – Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson discuss some of the movie’s hidden references to other Disney movies including Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Tangled, Big Hero Six, Frozen, Zootopia, and more.
6. “How Far I’ll Go” Around the World (2:44) – Hear Lin-Manuel Miranda’s song performed in nearly 25 languages.
7. “How Far I’ll Go” Performed by Alessia Cara* (3:04) – This live-action music video sees Cara singing alone on a beach similar to Moana’s home.
8. Island Fashion (5:13) – Costume designer Neysa Bove talks about designing authentic costumes meant to represent over 3,000 years of culture.
9. Maui Mini Movie: Gone Fishing (2:29) – A hungry Maui wants to go fishing, but the ocean is uncooperative.
10. Theatrical Short Film: Inner Workings* (7:14) – This interesting short follows a day in the life of a man stuck in a boring job. We see the interaction between his heart, brain, lungs, kidneys, etc. working inside of him. The idea for the story is described by the producer and the director in the short’s brief introduction.
11. They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana (12:37) – Composers Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Opetaia Foa’i discuss the importance of music in a Disney movie and how they decided what sounds and elements to incorporate in Moana’s music.
12. Things You Didn’t Know About . . .
a. Ron, John, Auli’i & Dwayne (2:02) – The directors and lead cast members answer a series of rapid questions about themselves including fears and favorite foods.
b. Mark, Opetaia & Lin-Manuel (1:57) – The composers answer a set of similar questions about themselves.
13. Voice of the Islands (31:13) – In a short documentary-style piece, the crew discuss the cultural research that influenced the writing of the movie. A research team was sent to explore and study several islands. We follow their emotional and educational journey as they learn about the history of navigation, interact with people of different cultures, explore the beauty of islands and mountains, and discover how a mountain can connect to a culture’s lineage and heritage.
14. Info – Find copyright information for the movie and bonus features here.
*Found also on the DVD version
If you haven’t seen Moana yet, be prepared to see some beautiful colors and excellent computer-generated animations, hear some fun songs, have a few laughs, and follow likeable characters on a journey of self-discovery. Moana is definitely worth watching – possibly several times.