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!
Disney’s newest, Zootopia, is a beautifully animated feature length film with somewhat ambiguous messages about tolerance and discrimination. Against all advice from her parents and 225 siblings, Judy Hopps, a young rabbit, goes to the big city of Zootopia determined to be a police officer. She perseveres through vigorous training to graduate first in her class, but is assigned, on her first day at work, to be a meter maid. She runs into scam-artist Nick Wilde, a wily fox, and the two end up trying to solve a case of missing predators. Zootopia, you see, is set up so that predators and prey can live together, but the desire to stray can be understood as it’s in the genes. It’s like the alcoholic who goes to AA meetings and adheres to a spiritual program. His natural bent is to drink, but by practicing a program he or she can keep from acting out on his/her natural desire.
There are lots of lovable characters in this movie. Both Judy and Nick, of course, but also a lot of animals we meet briefly along the way in the source of the investigation. Then there are animals behaving with human twists that will elicit smiles from most viewers. For instance, the DMV is staffed by sloths, who naturally take more time than anyone to process simple forms and answer to the point questions. But secretly… The Blu-ray transfer is state of the art for both video and audio presentations, and there are copious extras to let you in on how the movie was made. There are also sections devoted to deleted characters and scenes. All in all Zootopia will delight the kids while giving adults fodder for discussing social issues with those children. Highly recommended.
Pixar Animation Studios has created one animated hit after another – Toy Story, Up, Inside Out, and many more. But with The Good Dinosaur, I think the company has stumbled and come up with its first genuine “miss.” Derivative, with no appealing characters and little character development , the movie is good only for a Saturday rental to keep the kids entertained – for a while, anyhow. The premise is interesting. In this film, the meteorite that caused the extinction of the the dinosaurs actually misses the earth and dinosaurs live long into the age of the cave man and prosper in a terrain that looks like the American Northwest. An apatosaurus couple raise corn on a farm and has three youngsters. The last to be born, Arlo, turns out to be the ultimate hero of the story. During his journey to get home, after having been swept away
by a raging river, he encounters a human child who walks on all fours and behaves more like a dog than a boy, so Arlo names him Spot. For a while then, we have a species bender of a boy and his dog played as a dino and his human. A lot could have been built out of this relationship, but the producers settle for stock humor and treacly emotions. The Blu-ray disc looks fabulous. Technically, The Good Dinosaur is as good as any Pixar masterpiece, especially in the sound department, with a surround mix that could serve as “how to do it” lesson for all. But ultimately it’s all on the bland side. That goes for the extras, too, which are at best, merely cute, and at worst, boring. But stay tuned. The included trailer for Finding Dory indicates that Pixar will bounce back with a bit hit in June!