Sunday, March 5, 2017

Video review: "Moana"

As it happens, my family and I watched “Moana” right before the Oscar telecast, just in time to see it lose to the solid-but-inferior “Zootopia.” I actually think “Kubo and the Two Strings” was better than either. But still, this has to go down as one of the bigger travesties in recent Academy Award history.

While “Zootopia” is virtually indistinguishable in look and themes from various other critter cartoons to arrive in theaters in recent years, “Moana” is a completely original tale that pulls its inspiration from the mythology of the various Polynesian cultures.

The central (though not main) character is Maui, a legendary demigod who committed great acts of heroism, and mischief, on behalf of humans. He’s voiced by Dwayne Johnson, who actually looks like a pipsqueak next to the blocky, stocky hero festooned with tribal tattoos. Johnson even gets to sing a song, and shows off some solid pipes.

But really the story is about the title character, a teenage chieftain’s daughter – not a princess! she insists – who goes on a voyage of discovery and quest. She has been charged with returning the glowing heart of Te Fiti, the earth mother who spawned much of island life, after Maui stole it eons ago. Since then, a slow rot has crept over the lands, eventually making its way to the shores of Moana’s idyllic village.

Her job: find Maui, convince him to return the heart while battling any number of monsters, from a massive lava creature to spear-chucking pygmies wearing coconuts as armor. There’s also a stop along the way to retrieve Maui’s massive, magical fish hook from Tamatoa, a huge crab with a penchant for bling.

It’s a terrific-looking movie, the cartoony creatures set off by amazingly realistic seas and lands. And the music and songs are eminently hummable.

“Moana” made something like half what “Zootopia” did at the box office, perhaps explaining the oversight at the Oscars. Make sure to check it out on video to see what truly audacious animated filmmaking looks like.

Video extras are quite good, though most of them aren’t on the DVD version. Still, that contains the music video for “How Far I’ll Go,” the animated short film “Inner Workings” and feature-length audio commentary with directors John Musker and Ron Clements.

Upgrade to the Blu-ray combo pack and you add a new mini-movie starring Maui, “Gone Fishing”; the inspiration of the Pacific islands people for the movie; making-of featurettes on various aspects of production, from costumes to hair and special effects; deleted scenes; and a deleted song, “Warrior Face.”



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