Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Moana

Natalie Portman's Oscar-nominated "Jackie" is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

All right, time to talk about a colorful Disney movie with catchy songs, about an overly protective father who forbids his young daughter to venture too far out to sea, but she does so anyway and ends up battling a giant demon creature in the movie’s climax. No—not “The Little Mermaid.” I’m talking about “Moana.”

This time the young girl in question is not a mermaid, but rather the daughter of a Pacific Island Chief named Tui (voice of Temuera Morrison). Her name is Moana (voice of Auli'i Cravalho). She’s the adventurous type who wants to sail out beyond the barrier reef and across the expansive ocean. She has a mandate to do so, in that when she was a tiny girl, the ocean chose her to find a demigod named Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson) and return a long stolen gem that has put a curse on the islands for a thousand years.

Whether or not Moana is considered a princess is up for debate, even within the movie itself. She insists that she is not a princess, but rather just the daughter of a chief. Shortly after meeting Maui, he insists that it’s the same difference and if a girl wears a dress and has an animal sidekick—in this case a crazy-eyed chicken named HeiHei (voice of Alan Tudyk)—she’s automatically a princess. I’ve decided to wait and see how Disney treats this one in future merchandising and let that be the judge.

The songs in “Moana” are great, particularly one on which Maui recounts all of his past exploits and explains why he’s to be revered. By this point, that is to be expected in a Disney movie and anything less than at least a great song or two would be downright catastrophic.

What’s less expected is the humor. The character of Maui is pretty funny (his explanation of a tweet still has me laughing just thinking about it), and Moana’s hair is practically a character all on its own. I think the last time I laughed this hard this consistently through a Disney movie was “Wall-E” back in 2008. Before that was “The Emperor’s New Groove” in 2000. Before that was “Aladdin” in 1992. Hmm…sensing a pattern here. Seems like every eight years, Disney gets a sense of humor and doesn’t lay the life lessons and platitudes on as thick. They’re still there to be sure (all the follow your heart to achieve your dreams stuff is strong in “Moana”), but they’re easier to swallow with a nice, healthy dose of humor. It is refreshing.

The animation in “Moana” is bright and colorful, as it should be in order to elicit the rich, verdant landscapes of the Pacific islands. The tones are warm and comforting. The ocean, by contrast, is blue and cool, as it should be. There is a scene down deep below the ocean’s surface that is dark and murky, as it should be, and features another funny performance and memorable song by Jemaine Clement as giant crab Tamatoa.

While “Moana” may not break any new ground for a Disney movie—even the Pacific island setting has been done before with “Lilo and Stitch” taking place in Hawaii—it takes all of the things that have historically made Disney movies great and plays them like a greatest hits album. Even better, it plays them pretty darn well. Buy it on Amazon: Moana (2016) (With Bonus Content).

Also New This Week


The event that took place in Dallas, TX on November 22, 1963, is among the most tragic in American history. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy shocked and stunned the nation, sending people from coast to coast into grief and mourning. Perhaps the one person most shocked, stunned, and in grief was the woman who was sitting right next to the president when he got shot—his wife, Jackie Kennedy.

As portrayed by Natalie Portman in “Jackie,” the former first lady is the picture of poise, elegance, and sophistication. She is also strong-willed and a bit temperamental. In the days following the assassination, a journalist—known simply as “Journalist” (Billy Crudup)—interviews Jackie. She shows him all sides of her personality, knowing that he will only write good and wonderful things about her in order to preserve the idea of “Camelot” that she worked so hard to achieve. Plus he knows that if he tried to write anything other than graceful, flowing prose about this grieving widow, he’d most likely get edited out of a job.

“Jackie” the movie flashes back and forth in time to give us a fully rounded portrayal of the woman in the title. Recreations, such as Jackie’s tour of the White House on Valentine’s Day 1962, are faithfully and painstakingly recreated. Other events that would be more private, like her ride in the ambulance with Bobby Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard) are more based on speculation of what the two might have talked about—if they talked at all.

This is where “Jackie” gets a bit schizophrenic. It couples recreations of known events that were seen and witnessed with fill in the blanks speculation of what might have happened in private moments. It’s an interesting watch, to be sure, and Portman is fantastic in the role, but it all felt a bit hollow at the end knowing that this particular portrayal may not be accurate at all. The movie wants you to think it’s accurate, which is the point of the recreations, but the rest needs to be taken with a heaping mound of salt. Rent it.

More New Releases:  “The Red Pill,” documentary about the Men’s Rights Movement and gender equality in America; “Banking on Bitcoin,” a documentary about the impact of the cryptocurrency/payment system; and “Incarnate,” about a scientist confronting a demon inhabiting a little boy, starring Aaron Eckhart and Carice van Houten.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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