Moana Review
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Once known for fairy tales about princesses overcoming the obstacles to meet their Prince Charming, Disney Animation has been working hard in recent years to expand their repertoire. And in Moana, their newest princess sets out on an adventure that has nothing to do with a handsome prince.

Moana ventures out across the seas with a headstrong girl from a beautiful tropical island. Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) will one day be the chief of her village—but while she knows that she has a responsibility to her island and to her people, she’s always felt called to travel beyond the reef that keeps them safe. So when life on their island is challenged, she breaks free, setting sail on a mission to find the one being who can save them: the trouble-making demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson).

In many ways, Moana feels like a classic Disney movie. Moana is a headstrong young princess (of sorts) who dreams of breaking out of the mold that her father has created for her. Her somewhat jumbled story is filled with action and adventure, lovable characters, a couple of comical sidekicks, and plenty of musical numbers, too. And it’s all animated to be as stunningly beautiful as possible, with lifelike settings and magnificent images of seas and sunsets that will make you want to pack your bags and board a plane for anywhere tropical.

The characters here are adorable—from Moana’s batty (yet wise) grandmother to Heihei, the dim-witted chicken who joins in the journey. Admittedly, there are some strange characters, too—like bejeweled crab Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement), whose part in the film seems like a bizarre digression. But Johnson is perfectly entertaining as the conceited demi-god who wants nothing to do with Moana and her mission. He’s over-the-top and intimidating yet also silly and sweet in a way that Johnson does so well. And Moana herself is a wonderful character—the kind of strong, courageous, and conscientious young woman that you’d want your own daughter to be.

Beyond all of the typical Disney movie traits, though—beyond the cute characters and beautiful animation—Moana is a very different princess movie. Moana isn’t just a carefree teenager who sings in the forest with the woodland creatures; she’s being trained to follow long-held traditions to lead her people. And her story isn’t about finding a handsome prince and living happily ever after, either; it’s about finding herself and setting out to save her people. This young ruler follows her heart in a very different direction (much like Merida in Pixar’s Brave). And as it turns out, you don’t need a love story to make audiences’ hearts swell—because Moana’s romance-free journey still has plenty of humor, charm, and some tear-jerking drama, too.

Moana isn’t a flawless film—especially where its rather meandering story is concerned. But, with its mix of Disney traditions and an updated story, this seafaring adventure is sure to excite and inspire and entertain audiences.

3D Blu-ray Review:
It may have lost the Oscar race for Best Animated Feature to fellow Disney release Zootopia, but Moana is a striking film with its own valuable message. And the film’s 3D Blu-ray release will make you appreciate it even more.

Beyond the basics—the gorgeous 3D animation, the memorable music, the lovable characters—this release also features a number of worthwhile extras. Some are playful and fun—from the two shorts (Inner Workings, which ran with the film’s theatrical release, and the fun-filled bonus short, Gone Fishing) to the silly Things You Didn’t Know About..., which asks members of the cast and crew random questions (like “What did you have for breakfast?”). But several of the extras go deeper into the production to explore what makes Moana such a beautiful film. There are shorter features—like The Elements Of..., which examines various aspects of the film’s animation and effects (things like hair and dancing tattoos). Others go a little further—like Island Fashion, which explores the fashion design, and They Know the Way, which discusses the film’s award-worthy music. But Voice of the Islands covers a little bit of everything in one in-depth feature. Here, the filmmakers take viewers to the South Pacific, where they spent time researching the islands and their culture, to get the film and its tone just right. And, in the process, they cover everything from animation to music to characters—and they’ll capture viewers’ hearts, too.

There are other extras here, too: songs and deleted scenes and an audio commentary and more. There’s so much to explore that it’s hard to know just where to begin. But I definitely recommend Voice of the Islands—and be sure to check out the shorts and some of the lighthearted extras while you’re at it.

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