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Blu-Ray : Highly Recommended
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Release Date: March 7th, 2017 Movie Release Year: 2016


Overview -

Continuing the fun-filled adventure, families can continue their journey filled with hours of extensive and entertaining bonus offerings including: a new, hilarious mini-movie featuring Moana and Maui; an in-depth look at how the people, cultures and heritage of the Pacific Islands shaped the story of "Moana;" revealing Q&A with co-stars Auli'i Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson, and famed animation directors Ron Clements and John Musker; insider access to Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa?i, the trio behind the film's moving music; four mini-documentaries highlighting the movie's groundbreaking effects; deleted scenes; a deleted song; hidden Easter Eggs; music video; "Inner Workings," the theatrical short film directed by Leo Matsuda that spotlights the internal struggle between a man's Brain and Heart; and much, much more.

Highly Recommended
Rating Breakdown
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
Audio Formats:
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Special Features:
Audio Commentary – With directors Ron and John.
Release Date:
March 7th, 2017

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take


See the light where the sky meets the sea
It calls me
And no one knows how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I'll know
How far I'll go

As parents, we set boundaries to keep our children safe from harm. Ultimately, this is a necessary, but impossible task. There's no such thing as a life without bumps and bruises and broken hearts. Yet we strive onwards, guiding and teaching as we try to soften the world until the day comes when our children face the world entirely on their own.

Disney's 'Moana' is an adventure set on one such day.

A young woman destined to be chief somewhere in the South Pacific, Moana lives in paradise. She loves her island, her people, her family... and yet, something deep down inside is calling her away. Calling her beyond the safety of the island's reef.

Beyond the boundaries set by her father.

'Moana' is the story of a young woman who wishes she was happy with her life, but in faking her happiness, is denying her truest self. Turns out Moana is special -- chosen by the ocean itself to find and escort a rascally demigod, Maui, across the sea so he can return the stolen heart of an island. If Moana fails, her island will die along with everyone she knows and loves.

It's also a musical that manages to honor the rich tapestry of Oceana voyager culture while featuring a stupid chicken sidekick, a shapeshifting demigod who argues with his living tattoos, pygmy pirates, a lava monster, and a ginormous crab with a fondness for sparkling treasures.

Like 'Frozen' and 'Tangled', 'Moana' is a modernist Princess story. Our female heroine is fully realized, imperfect, on a journey of her own making, and actually crucial to the story's climax. I loved every minute of it, from the rich visuals to Lin-Manuel Miranda's culturally-infused songs to Moana's relationship with her Grandmother to The Rock act like a selfish dick to the playful action sequences to the beautiful climax where our female lead finds strength in -- spoiler -- avoiding violence.

After stumbling to transition between hand-drawn and CGI animation in an era ushered forth by Pixar and DreamWorks, Disney Animation Studios is on a creative run right now that harkens back to the company's first and second golden eras (and quite honestly is far more inventive than Pixar's release schedule of just-okay sequels). From a cultural standpoint, I love how they're diversifying their princesses while giving girls stories of strength and perseverance and self-reliance.

Visually, 'Moana' is like taking a vacation to the south pacific. Rich in detail and fine textures, it's not quite as technically precise as Pixar's best, but this world feels realized, awash in sumptuous tropical aesthetics. This story is efficient, thematic, and smartly crafted. The catchy musical numbers strike a nice balance of emotion, character, and story. Maui's 'You're Welcome' invites viewers into a world of living tattoos and tribal art, while Jemaine Clement's (as Tamatoa) 'Shiny' blends action and tension with a lounge singer act that builds to a phosphorescent fever dream (all while pushing the story!).

Speaking of the action. While not quite Spielbergian in its control over cinematic language, the set-pieces are a lot of fun and visually grand. Example: I didn't expect to see coconut-wearing pygmy pirates that look a bit like 'Mad Max: Fury Road' extras, but now I don't know how I ever lived without them. The climax too blends furious danger with just enough humor to engage but not terrify the little ones

Is there anything I'd change about 'Moana'? Perhaps. I'm not a huge fan of destiny stories, so I wish the ocean -- represented by a playful wave -- was less helpful when Moana and Maui were in jeopardy. The first act is also a little choppy -- I wholeheartedly admire the efficiency of the way the beats are laid out, mind you, but at times it feels like it could breathe a touch more. I also see how the tonal variations might not play for some audiences (for example, the 'You're Welcome' and 'Shiny' musical numbers, for example, don't match the style of Moana's songs), but this wasn't a problem for me.

Juggling visuals and tones and multiple character arcs and the way it establishes and reprises musical themes, 'Moana' exudes craft and joy in every frame. No boundaries required.

And the call isn't out there at all
It's inside me
It's like the tide, always falling and rising
I will carry you here in my heart
You'll remind me
That come what may, I know the way
I am Moana!

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray

'Moana' debuts on Blu-ray in two separate high definition combo packs. This release includes one Blu-ray, home to the feature film and special features, one DVD, and a Digital HD redemption code that, via Disney Movies Anywhere, works with services such as iTunes and VUDU. According to the packaging, the Blu-ray will play in Regions A, B, and C. The only Pre-menu trailer is the 'Beauty and the Beast' (2017) teaser.

'Moana' is also available as an Ultimate Collector's Edition, which includes a 3D disc. (We'll have that review up tomorrow).

Video Review


[For this Blu-ray, I'm in the middle of reviewing the Epson Pro Cinema 6040UB projector, available through custom installers -- the 5040UB is the sister model -- with a 1,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, support for HDR, 4K pixel-shift technology, and the ability to produce 100% of the DCI P3 color space. I also have a 100" Silver Ticket STR-169100-HC 16:9 projector screen. More on both soon!]

We all expect CGI animation to produce the best Blu-rays and 'Moana' fulfills its demo destiny, but only when comparing it to other SDR / Rec.709 content. I had the luxury of seeing 'Moana' in Dolby Vision theatrically, where the HDR / DCI P3 grade produced much more vivid imagery with richer colors and more spectral highlights.

Still, 'Moana' is a staggeringly beautiful Blu-ray. Vivid and dynamic and saturated locations offer sublime textures and fine details. Look at the lava rocks or the characters' flowing hair. The color palette of the movie is fantastic, looking a bit like 'Life of Pi' at times (a very good thing). If you think the tropical island and ocean sequences look good, just wait until some of the nighttime scenes or the phosphorescent / fluorescent colors appear. Black levels are appreciably inky, and contrast is excellent. I don't have one in for review at the moment, but I can't wait to watch this movie on an OLED or FALD equipped display later this year. 

If I were to nitpick at all, there are a couple shots where the background ocean should be moving and it's not (as far as I could tell), but nothing worth dropping down a half-star in our rating. Otherwise, awesome disc.

Audio Review


[For this review, I'm testing out the Integra DRX-R1 11.2 channel AV Receiver, which is capable of fully processing and powering up to 7.2.4 Dolby Atmos and DTS:X configurations. More soon!]

While 'Moana' offered a wonderfully immersive Dolby Atmos mix during its theatrical run, Disney Home Entertainment remains stuck in 7.1. And the results are, okay I guess, but there are a lot better 7.1 tracks in Disney's arsenal. This Blu-ray sounds a bit more like, though better than, a lesser Marvel Blu-ray. Dialogue is clear, but the mix is a touch front heavy and surprisingly quiet for my liking. I'm relatively new to the DRX-R1, mind you, and it's not fair to compare lossless and lossy sources, but I had to boost this track 5-10db versus other movies like 'Tangled' (which is far more dynamic).

Musical numbers are more enveloping but, outside of 'Shiny', don't do much with the surround environment. Side and rear surround panning is precise -- voices calling out, etc -- but not utilized often to build Moana's environments. LFE is also slightly underwhelming save for that 'Shiny' song and the lava monster sequence. Still, I've been watching the movie's musical numbers repeatedly on YouTube with my toddler and, outside improved fidelity, this Blu-ray wasn't leaps and bounds better.

That said, it's not a bad track, per se. It serves the story, first and foremost, and is actually dynamic during action-heavy sequences. It's just not overall demo material, even when up-mixed to 7.2.4 in DTS:Neural:X. For what it's worth, the best scenes, sonically speaking, are the pigmy-pirate sequence, 'Shiny', and the climax.

Special Features


[NOTE: due to an insane schedule and no advanced copy from the distributor, all bonus material descriptions come courtesy of Disney's press release announcing 'Moana' on Blu-ray.]

Here's what you'll find on the DVD and Blu-rays:

Theatrical Short Film: “Inner Workings” – With introduction by the filmmakers, is the story of the internal struggle between a man’s pragmatic, logical side and his free-spirited, adventurous half. Created by a small team at Walt Disney Animation Studios in a unique, fast-paced style that blends CG and traditional hand-drawn animation, the short explores the importance of finding balance in daily life.

Music Video: “How Far I’ll Go” – Performed by Alessia Cara.

Audio Commentary – With directors Ron and John.

Final Thoughts

'Moana' is another triumph in Disney's growing library of modern princess fairy tails, effortlessly blending Pacific Islander culture with catchy musical numbers, thrilling action set-pieces, a universally emotionally storyline, and sumptuous visuals. If you enjoyed 'Tangled' or 'Frozen', 'Moana' is definitely worth checking out.

As a Blu-ray, 'Moana' offers an excellent video presentation coupled to a good-not-great sound mix and a bounty of special features. If you don't need 3D, this set comes Highly Recommended.