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.
Through its Touchstone outlet, Disney has released a film by director Derek Cianfrance that misses the total mark but has great enough great performances that it’s well worth seeing – once. Set on an remote island off the coast of Australia (the real island is off the coast of New Zealand), it tells the story Tom Sherbourne, a World War I veteran (Michael Fassbender) who takes and assignment as a light house keeper. The island can only be reached by boat and Sherbourne spends months between food and supply deliveries. But this is just fine with him as he has post war PTS issues to work out. He marries a local woman, Isabel (the radiant Alicia Vikander) and they try twice to have a child, both resulting in miscarriages. Shortly after the second tragedy, a small open boat drifts to the island containing a dead man and a baby.
Isabel convinces Tom to bury the body and keep the child. Things go well for several years but they eventually run into the real mother on the mainland and Tom’s guilt forces him to confess, with predictably intense and dire circumstances. The whole thing is overcooked and manipulative but Fassbender’s performance is a marvel of subtlety and a sea of the obvious. He proves again that he is one of our most reliable and convincing actors. You might forget the rest, but you’ll remember Tom.
The video from the Blu-ray disc is impeccable and the wind swept vistas are thrilling in their scope and detail. The audio is another thing. There’s so much wind and so many waves on the soundtrack that the dialog gets lost in the mix. There are hard-of-hearing subtitles, and I confess to turning them on so I wouldn’t miss an important word here or there. Among the extras is an interesting piece on the actually lighthouse used in the movie. Overall, The Light Between Oceans is a good date night rental (it’s rated PG-13 so no kiddies) but it’s doubtful you’ll want to see it twice.
This time posting there are two new Blu-ray Nutcrackers under consideration. One will delight and the other will leave a bad taste in your mouth. The dubious and bad one first, a production of the Staatskapelle Berlin featuring its orchestra and corps de ballet conducted by Daniel Barenboim. Credit where it’s due, Barenboim leads a wonderful orchestral performance with outstanding woodwind playing and rich and sonorous strings. But as delightful as things are in the pit, they are quite different on stage. Choreographer Patrice Bart has decided, in trying to get closer to the original E. T. A. Hoffman story, to make the ballet a psychological coming of age drama married to a power control trip. The character of Herr Drosselmeyer (Oliver Matz) has been given a new prominence and the point that he is in charge like a puppet master is mercilessly
hammered home, especially in the finale where the characters shuffle off stage looking misplaced extras from Michael Jackson’s Thriller. To add salt to the wounds, the production is somewhat colorless and drab. Still there are a few high moments, including the incredible dancing of Nadja Saidakova and Vladimir Malakhov in the second act “Pas de Deux,” a sequence so stunning in artistry that it almost makes up for the rest. Audio and video quality are just fine. Perhaps you could rent it, just to see that wonderful “Pas de Deux.”
In 1954, George Balanchine and the New York City Opera were chief among the pioneering groups that made The Nutcracker a holiday favorite now danced by every company in the land during December. The film released this year by the C Major label is the 2011 production and it’s a beauty from beginning to end. The party in the first act is festive, the transformation scene, with its tree that grows from 12 to 40 feet, is magical, as is the rest of
the production up to the end which finds Marie and her prince transported to the stars in a reindeer pulled sleigh. The dancing is first rate throughout and the orchestra plays admirably well, led by maestra Clotilde Otranto, who chooses fairly brisk tempos throughout. These never seem rushed nor do they seem to pose any problems for the dancers. Overall this is a five star production with state of the arts video and audio reproduction. Not to be missed.
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!