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Featured Blu-ray and DVD Review: Moana

March 5th, 2017

Moana - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack
Video on Demand


Moana was the third animated film distributed by Disney this year. All three earned excellent reviews, but Moana was by far the weakest at the box office. Is it also the weakest in terms of quality?

The Movie

The plot summary here is going to be a little short, because almost the entire plot is explained in the prologue. The prologue has Grandma Tulu telling the story of Te Fiti, the mother island, who created all life. However, others wanted to steal her heart, the source of her power, so that they could control it. When one such person, Maui, stole Te Fiti heart, he was attacked by another who wanted the heart, Te Kā. The two fight and as a result, Maui and the heart are lost in the ocean. To this day, a darkness has spread from the mother island chasing away the fish and destroying the life on any island it reaches. One day, a chosen one will find Te Fiti’s heart and travel beyond their reef to find Maui and make him return the heart to Te Fiti, thus stopping the spread of the darkness. Tulu believes that will be Moana. Moana’s father Chief Tui, on the other hand, wants her to have nothing to do with the sea. She needs to stay on the island, because she is the daughter of the chief and will someday need to rule.

Moana does grow into a great leader and even at just 16, she’s proving she will know how to rule and solve their island’s problems. However, she’s still drawn to the ocean and has been since she was a toddler and the ocean tried to give her Te Fiti’s heart. Her Grandma is the only one who encourages her desire to leave the island. The conflict comes to a head when the darkness arrives and the fish leave and the crops wither. Moana wants the fishermen to travel further outside the reef to get fish. Chief Tui just thinks this is an excuse for her to leave the island and refuses to even entertain the suggestion.

Tragedy strikes when Grandma Tulu becomes gravely ill. On her deathbed, she gives Moana Te Fiti’s heart and tells her to go and find Maui and restore Te Fiti. It is the only way to save their island.

I’ve seen three of the five animated films that earned Oscar nods this year, the other two are too small to reach the theater in town, so I will have to wait for the home market to see them. Of the three, Moana has the most personal emotional story. I would still argue that Zootopia is the better movie, because it has a larger social impact, but it is really close.

There are only two minor complaints that I think can be levied against this film. Firstly, while the setting of Moana is unique, there’s not a lot about the story structure that is outside the usual adventure tropes. Secondly, there’s no really compelling villain in the movie. Both of these problems are not issues in my mind. Yes, the story structure is very familiar and there’s no well-developed villain, but that allows the film to concentrate more on the main characters and that’s more important.

The two main characters in Moana are very engaging. It should come as no surprise that Dwayne Johnson is charming as Maui; there are very few people on this planet with more charisma than Dwayne Johnson. On the other hand, Moana is Auli'i Cravalho’s first major role, so she’s a major discovery. On a side note, everyone in the main cast is Polynesian, except for Alan Tudyk, who provides the voice for Heihei, the chicken. I really like more diversity in entertainment, so I’m very happy they didn’t whitewash the casting.

Another main asset the film has is the music. I’m still surprised that “How Far I'll Go” didn’t win an Oscar. Overall, there’s an excellent mix of rousing inspirational songs, as well as catchy songs that the kids will enjoy singing over and over again. There’s nothing as catching as “Let it Go” from Frozen, but that’s probably a good thing. You want a song that’s fun to sing to, but won’t stick in your mind and slowly eat at your sanity.

Finally, this movie is a top-tier digitally animated movie. I don’t need to mention how it is a technical marvel. However, I never got wrapped up in the technical side of things while watching the movie. The characters and story are the top draw here. What is worth noting is the authenticity. The filmmakers went to great lengths to make sure the Polynesian cultures were represented accurately in the movie. You can tell how much they cared.

On a side note, and this is a major spoiler for the ending, was it supposed to be a twist that Te Fiti and Te Kā were the same person? I just assumed that was the case right from the beginning.

The Extras

Before we get into the extras... my Blu-ray was labeled a DVD, so I think there was an error in the manufacturing process. It is definitely a Blu-ray, but it has Disney DVD on it. Strange.

Extra begin with an audio commentary with the two co-directors, Ron Clements and John Musker. Up next are two short films, Inner Workings and Gone Fishing. Voice of the Island is a 31-minute long making of featurette that focuses on the research the filmmakers did to make the film as authentic as possible. Things You Didn’t Know About... has very short interviews with some of the cast and crew. Island Fashion is a five-minute look at the costumes in the movie. The Elements of... is a 14-minute making of featurette that focuses of topics like the 2-D animated mini-Maui, dealing with water, etc. Up next is a 13-minute featurette on the music. There is a deleted song and deleted scenes. Auli'i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson point out Easter Eggs in the movie. On a side note, that’s not flash. It’s a Guardian Beast in a mask. You can watch “How Far I’ll Go” performed by Alessia Cara, as well as the song sung in different languages.

The Verdict

Pick of the Week. Moana on Blu-ray Combo Pack is the Pick of the Week. It is as simple as that.

Filed under: Video Review, Moana, Ron Clements, Dwayne Johnson, Temuera Morrison, John Musker, Alan Tudyk, Rachel House, Auli'i Cravalho