Moana is set somewhere in the Polynesian Islands and is the ultimate animated film about girl power. Its heroine (Moana, voiced by Auli’i Cravalho) is daughter of a tribal chief. Things are not going well fro the tribe as a goddess is angry that one of the islands has been desecrated by the demigod Maui (playfully voiced by Dwayne Johnson. There are no fish to be caught and the people of Moana’s village, once mighty voyagers, are afraid to venture outside the reef that surrounds the island. The ocean chooses Moana to find Maui and set things right, and her perseverance and upbeat personality help to achieve those goals. Maui has his own catharsis but in spite of the fact that he’s a real scene stealer, looking something like an animated version of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, it’s Moana’s journey that really counts. Humor and song are used to propel the plot in a delightful manner and there are just the right number of zany subsidiary characters to keep one interested.
The video and audio transfers on this Blu-ray disc are state of the art and then some. Animation techniques using computers have come a great way. Look at the detail in the elaborate hair designs of the main characters. Or the sand all over Moana when she is shipwrecked toward the middle of the movie. The Blu-ray faithfully conveys these details and every other, often creating astonishing scenes. Color plays a big part, too. The bright primary colors used literally seem to jump off the screen and into one’s consciousness and the softer, psychedelic hues used for spiritual oceanic scenes add mystery and intrigue. Overall the video on this Blu-ray is of demonstration caliber. The dts 7.1 sound is also magnificent, exemplary in reproducing music, dialogue, and sound effects. There are also plenty of entertaining extras on board, including the riotous short film Inner Workings.
Disney has had great success of late producing new versions of familiar classics. First it was The Jungle Book, and now Pete’s Dragon. Both the original and this update mix live action with an animated dragon but in very different ways. In the original, the dragon (Elliott) was intentionally made to look like a cartoon character. The studio wanted to extend its success with Mary Poppins, which had mixed live action with animated sequences so successfully. In the current version, Elliott is , through the magic of CGA, made to look real. He’s a dragon with fur, instead of scales, and with his broken tooth and goofy grin, he’s like a big plush teddy bear.
The current movie is interesting in that it mixes in some L’Enfant Sauvage to the story. When Pete’s parents are killed while the family is on an outing in the remote woods, Elliott raises him for 6 yeas before he’s discovered by mankind. He was 5 when he went missing so apparently doesn’t have all that much trouble fitting back into society. The movie is a great little family film and says a lot of family and loyalty. It’s also a two-hankie film, but they’ll persevere, they’ll be tears of joy in the long run. That’s the magic of a movie like this, which carries on the Disney tradition of wholesome entertainment, something we certainly need as an antidote to this age of lies and corruption. The Blu-ray, seen on a 4K display, is breathtaking at times; there’s also a DVD in the package in case you haven’t upgraded formats lately, and an HD copy you can take with you. Highly recommended.
The Disney studio has a long history with Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Back in 1967 the Disney animators created an animated version of the tale with lovable characters, at least one hit song (“The Bare Necessities”), and a lot of charm. Kipling wrote and published the stories largely in magazines from 1893-94. Now in 20016 Disney has revisted the stories with a combination of live action, motion capture, and digital processing for an extravaganza that looks nothing like animation per se.
Everyone talks but the elephants, who are quite above it all. This is not as jarring as you might think, especially given the talented voice actors on hand. Bill Murray is ideal as the jovial bear, Baloo, and Idris Elba terrifying as the disfigured tiger, Shere Khan. The boy, Mowgli, is played with charm and restraint by newcomer Neel Sethi. The vistas, the visuals of the jungle world, are nothing short of jaw dropping, as is the integration of many types of animation and live action. Two minutes into the film, you believe you’re in a real location. The fun extra on the making of the movie will show you how much you’ve been deceived. The Blu-ray disc is one of the sharpest and colorful that I have ever seen. Did I mention King Louie (Christopher Walken)? It seems a crime that an actor should be paid for having so much fun. Fabulous family fare!
I love movies that make me think or that deal with some social condition or the human spirit, but let’s face it – once in a while I just want to see an action adventure movie that thrills and entertains in doing so. This past week I was lucky to see two really good ones. Spectre at my local Regal theater and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation in the comfort of my home on the 65″ screen. Spectre might be the best James Bond movie yet, and I’ll talk about it when it’s available to view at home. Mission…is available on a dandy Blu-ray disc that gets four stars easy.
Once again Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, the indefatigable agent who always gets the job done, no matter the obstacle. Simon Pegg is back on board as his often humorous sidekick, Benji Dunn, as is Jeremy Renner as the head of Hunt’s elite squad. This time, that elite squad has been squelched by the CIA (led by a snarky Alan Baldwin), and the guys are on their own in trying to discover if The Syndicate, a collection of rogue agents, really exists, and if so, to annihilate it. Matters are complicated by Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) a gorgeous and athletic agent who may or may not be playing them. There are car chases, motorcycle chases, shoot outs, and a tense underwater sequence. The pacing is breathless but there are enough resting places that one can catch his breath before the action starts again. In short, the pacing is perfect, the acting is perfect, the plot is engaging, and the mystery never lets up until the final twist. The Blu-ray disc has a drop-dead-gorgeous image and the sound is full bodied and has lots of presence. For once the balance between dialogue and lease breaking sound is perfect. Too many movies these days drop the dialogue way down and the effects way up so you’re faced with the dilemma of having to be blown out of your house by the effects just to hear the script. Not so with Mission..it serves as a model of how it should be done. There are lots of extras, by the way, that explain how some of the stunts were done and enhance the viewing experience. Four stars and maybe a half more – don’t miss it.
Poldark is a remake of an earlier BBC series, and both are based on a series of novels by Winston Graham. Ross Poldark fights in the American Revolution, body on the English side but heart on the American, and gets severely wounded and left for dead. Two years later, very much alive but with a scar to prove his nearness to the grave, he returns home to Cornwall to find that his father has died, his inheritance is next to nothing, and his girl, thinking him dead, is about to marry another man. He sets out to reinvent himself and once again become a recognized leader in his community.
The actor playing Poldark must hold the screen whenever he appears and smouldering Irish actor Aidan Turner fills the bill, reminding us that in spite of the popularity of Magic Mike, hirsute men can still reign as sex symbols. Like the old Bond saying, women will want to be with Poldark, men will want to be him. Turner’s Poldark has swagger and then some. The other characters are ideally cast and the magnificent, craggy Cornwall coast also plays a great part in the visual impact that this series has. The photography is stunning and the period details feel entirely real; the costumes look lived in. PBS is airing the show on Masterpiece at 9 p. m. on Sundays. One episode has gone down – use “on demand” for that and set your DVR for the rest.