Disney’s ‘Moana’ on Blu-ray and Digital HD: Salt Life Memories

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Image credit: Disney Animation Studios

This week our family was able to check out Disney’s latest Princess-but-not-really feature film, Moana. This story really hits home with me personally. I love the beach. The ocean. The water. The salt air. And as I got older, I grew to love and appreciate the magical ecosystem that the ocean provides, as well.

Moana, the film’s eponymous heroine, feels the same way. She is drawn to the water, but her family’s and tribe’s past means her family tries for years to keep her away from the vast ocean’s dangers. When a blight strikes the island, Moana enthusiastically offers to voyage outside of the island’s surrounding reef to seek the source of the blight and save her tribe.

Except it isn’t that simple: in this story, we venture into some of Polynesia’s most popular legends with the source of the blight and the solution for curing it, including that of the demigod Maui. To restore Moana’s home island of Motunui to being a productive for its natives, Moana must venture far to the island deity Te Kā to restore the greenstone that Maui had stolen a thousand years ago and had been brought to Moana when she was a toddler. [There is evidence in real life of the thousand years of native islanders not leaving the islands to venture out, known to historians as “The Long Pause.” As of now it’s unknown why that was.] I’m not going to go into it in detail, since it’s already been done in depth when the film first came out last November. Here is one of my favorite deep-dives on the juxtaposition of Polynesian legend and Disney’s storytelling, by Smithsonian scholar Doug Herman.

An Origin Story

The story Disney created in Moana brought back all sorts of memories of my years growing up near the beach. Like the heroine in the film, I am also happiest near the water. Even though I live near the mountains now, if I were given the choice, I would always prefer to be near the ocean (despite the hurricane risk).

My dad and me, 1977. Floating in the (surprisingly calm) Pacific Ocean. I was 3 or 4 years old here (I don’t know what month this was taken). I can see why Moana’s parents were nervous about her being out there.

I lived near Waianae, Hawaii from 1977-1980, while my father was stationed on the island for the U.S. Navy. For those unfamiliar with Hawaiian geography, Waianae is on the “leeward” side of the island of Oahu, the same island that has the state’s capital, Honolulu, as well as the military installations at Pearl Harbor that were attacked in 1941. I am too young to remember details, but my parents helped me out with a fun scrapbook of some of the highlights of our time there.

My grandparents came to visit in 1978. Our family did a full-fledged Hawaiian welcome for them, complete with handmade plumeria leis and my Mom making me wear my Lilo-like muu muu. I remember that banana tree in our yard. It produced a bunch while we were living there.

I took hula lessons** at one point while we were living there. I was probably in first grade (1979 or so) but I remember learning one of the most basic hula dances, which involved the story of the fire goddess Pele running away from her sister to the “big island”, the island of Hawaii, where some of the most active volcanoes now are and is home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

**Don’t ask me to perform the hula today. I’ve no earthly clue now. 

Being a Navy family, we continued to live near the ocean; we moved from Hawaii to Norfolk, Virginia in 1980 and stayed in that area until I left for college in 1991. I have many fond memories of beach and fishing trips along the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean near Virginia Beach and the North Carolina Outer Banks.

Once I started my Air Force service, I was still able to spend a lot of time near the ocean, having been stationed in places such as Melbourne, Florida (near Daytona) and Navarre, Florida (near Pensacola). During our time in North Carolina, my sons were happiest at the beach, and the Air Force resort in Kure Beach offered a great landing zone for our family.

My sons and me at Kure Beach, North Carolina, June 2016. Even though we don’t live anywhere near the beach now, getting the chance to hang out there for one day during our vacation was wonderful. In this photo, my youngest son is playing Aquaman, and I was his seahorse (I am not making this up!). Image credit: Maryann Miller.

So upon seeing Moana in theaters last Thanksgiving, let me tell you I was totally sympathizing with that pull towards the water. I feel it too.

Moana on Blu-ray and Digital HD

So let’s talk about the Blu-ray and Digital HD versions of this film, which are now available at your favorite video retailer. As always, I’m sticking with the bonus features that you didn’t get to see in the theaters. Keep in mind that if you seek out the DVD alone, many of these bonus features are unavailable. Do your best to go for the combo pack for maximum fun. Here are some of my family’s favorites:

Gone Fishing. This “Maui Mini-Movie” got a lot of buzz in commercials about the Blu-ray launch and there was a little sticker on the front of my Blu-ray featuring this, but our family wasn’t quite impressed. This is a 2 1/2 minute short featuring Maui trying to catch a fish. Moana, and her ally the ocean, try to teach Maui a lesson in respecting the sea life…not “commanding” it, as Maui suggests.

Inner Workings. Of all the bonus features on the digital download, this was the one my family was the most excited about. This is the 6-minute short that was featured before Moana in theaters last fall. Enjoy this version of the short with an introduction by the filmmakers, including Leo Matsuda of Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero Six, after whom the main character was designed, blending his hardworking Asian side with his free-spirited Brazilian side. The main character, Paul, struggles with doing what he’s supposed to do…with doing what he wants to do. Most of us will sympathize.

Voice of the Islands. This 30-minute documentary features Moana’s directors Ron Clements and John Musker as they took a team on research trips to the islands of Fiji, Samoa, Savari, Tahiti, and New Zealand between 2011 and 2016. They met with the natives of these Polynesian islands to learn about their cultures, traditions, legends, and their incredible relationship with the ocean. Viewers will get a sense of this personal friendship Polynesians have with the ocean, a characteristic fully embraced in the development of Moana, with the ocean serving as a character in and of itself. Explore the ideas behind the singing, dancing, community, Moana’s gorgeous hair, and yes, even Maui’s tattoos!

They Know the Way: Making the Music of ‘Moana’. We all know now that Lin-Manuel Miranda is the most well-known songwriter in the universe, but did you know that Miranda was chosen as one of the primary songwriters for Moana almost a year before Hamilton’s off-Broadway debut in February 2015? In this 10-minute documentary, you’ll enjoy the stories of how Miranda, legendary Disney composer Mark Mancina, and Samoan music sensation Opetaia Foa’i worked together at a studio in New Zealand to brainstorm the hit songs that helped bring Moana to life. In addition, learn about the layered approach the filmmakers needed to combine the film stars, South Pacific choruses, and orchestrations.

The Elements of…Hair. This is one of the four mini-documentaries on the Blu-ray and Digital HD movie. Meet the CGI magicians charged with animating Moana’s and Maui’s hair, in both wind and under water. Learn the evolving process with the Quicksilver graphics engine that has progressed through Big Hero Six and Zootopia and met its match working with traditional Polynesian thick, dark, curly hair. I have always been fascinated with animation of hair, and it’s traditionally a challenge with animators through the years. In this mini-doc you will learn about the progression from Ariel to Moana.

There are another dozen or so extras that you can explore on your own, full of fun facts about the making of the film and the cultures being featured. It’s a fun story for the whole family, with themes of trust, respect for the earth, and family throughout.

Buy the Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack at your favorite retailer at an MSRP of $39.99 but can be found on Amazon for $22.99. In addition, you can download the digital copy through Amazon Video, iTunes, and the Google Play Store for only $19.99.

GeekMom was provided a complimentary sample of Moana for review purposes.

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