March 22, 2017

Movie News: OVERLOOK FILM FESTIVAL Packages Available

Overlook is Coming

The festival line-up will be announced soon.  In the meantime, if you haven't secured your pass or lodging yet, there are still a few chances - but they are going fast. 


Festival Packages Still Available
 

JUST ADDED: GROUNDSKEEPER PACKAGE

Includes private 2-bedroom chalet at the Collins Lake Resort in Government Camp and All-Access Pass. Chalet features kitchen and living area with free shuttle service to Timberline Lodge provided. Perfect for individuals or large groups. Additional passes can be purchased separately.

Three Night Stay April 27-29 + 1 All-Access Pass ($1,300)
Three Night Stay April 27-29 + 2 All-Access Passes ($1,650)


CAMPER Package - ONE LEFT
(4 Nights + 6 All-Access Passes, $3,300)
Bring your friends! This hostel-like room sleeps 6 in bunk beds and comes out to only $50 per person per night for lodging! Must be booked for all 6! Package includes 6 All-Access passes to the festival. Nights are April 27th, 28th, 29th, 30th.

HALLORAN Night - VERY FEW LEFT
(Sunday Night Only, $300)

Limited Availability! Like Dick Halloran, rush to the lodge right at the end. Though the fest ends early evening Sunday, you can enjoy one night only at historic Timberline, whether you’ve been elsewhere for the rest of the fest, or just want to stop by for the end. Night of Sunday April 30th only. Passes not included.

PURCHASE PASSES HERE

LOOKING FOR JUST BADGES?
Packages are not required to attend the festival. Purchase badges here.

March 19, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: SING

Starring the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Nick Kroll, Garth Jennings, Jennifer Hudson. Directed by Garth Jennings. (2016, 108 min).

There's an early moment in Sing where a snail, perched atop a microphone, is auditioning for a spot in an upcoming singing competition by belting out the pop classic, "Ride Like the Wind." It's an ironically amusing scene in a movie which could have used a lot more of them. Most of the characters are represented by animals completely unrelated to their mannerisms (a pig as a housewife with 25 children?). They're simply human characters that just happen to look like animals.

That the film seldom finds anything creative to do with its anthropomorphic world is just one reason why Zootopia will still be talked about ten years from now, while Sing is destined for a yard sale once all the kids in the house have outgrown it. Another reason is the story itself...though "let's-put-on-a-show" has been a standard trope since the days of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, it's been given a timely spin reflective of our current culture: instant fame through a singing competition, complete with instantly recognizable rock & pop songs.

"Hey! I'm finally off the endangered species list."
Maybe I'm wrong about Sing's potential shelf life. After all, it's far from the worst film to empty parents' wallets. However, stored in my attic are a boxes of DVDs that briefly amused my daughters as kids...Ice Age, Over the Hedge and dozens of other titles with little substance beyond aesthetics. But even now, they still enjoy Monsters Inc. on occasion.

Like most of Illumination Entertainment's other recent films (Minions, The Secret Life of Pets), Sing is meant to exist in the here-and-now, where its primary audience lives; let the likes of Pixar worry about any kind of lasting legacy. As such, the film plays like the characters were designed & cast, the songs selected & arranged - before a single line of dialogue was written - with kids in mind.

Road hogs.
A cynical approach to a family film, perhaps, but that's probably okay. While in the moment, kids are likely to find Sing very entertaining. It's colorful, fast moving and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. The characters aren't all that imaginatively conceived, but they're well animated and adequately voiced by a surprisingly large cast of A-list actors. The soundtrack is filled with the type of bouncy, danceable songs your kids keep on their iPhones (even the classic standards are given a modern pop makeover).

Sing will make its rounds at slumber parties and long drives to Grandma's house before the next disposable piece of pop culture begs your kids' attention (and at no time will they care that it would have made more sense for Rosita to be depicted as a rabbit). Then it will take its rightful place with the Madagascars, Flushed Aways and Monsters vs. Aliens of the world: decent enough family entertainment with a definite expiration date. 
 
EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES: "The Making of Sing"; "Finding the Rhythm: Editing Sing"; "Character Profiles"; "Sing and Dance"
3 SHORTS: "Gunter Babysits"; "Love at First Sight"; "Eddie's Life Coach" (A separate makng-of featurette is also included)
MUSIC VIDEOS: "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" featuring Tori Kelly; inlcudes making-of featurette); "Faith"; "Set it All Free"
"THE BEST OF GUNTER" - A collection of the character's lines from the film)
"THE SING NETWORK" - A collection of faux-commercials and character 'profiles'
DVD & DIGITAL COPIES
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW

March 18, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: PASSENGERS

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia. Directed by Morten Tyldum. (2016, 116 min).

Passengers is not the movie it was promoted as, which apparently pissed off more-than-a-few critics & moviegoers. Perhaps touting the film as space lovers in peril was a bit deceptive, especially with box office darlings Jennifer Lawrence & Chris Pratt in the lead roles, but the fact that its undertones are much darker raises it above the by-the-numbers multiplex fodder it could have been.

The Avalon is a massive starship on a 120 year voyage to colonize another planet. Its 5,000 passengers & crew have been placed in hibernation for the trip, but when the ship is damaged after passing through a meteor storm, Jim Preston (Pratt) is accidentally awakened 90 years early. With no way of returning to hibernation, he's alone with only a robot bartender, Arthur (Michael Sheen), for company. He manages to last a year before loneliness and despair (and thoughts of suicide) threaten to overwhelm him.

Then Jim sees Aurora (Lawrence) asleep in her pod and becomes fixated on her, learning every aspect of her life through the ship's files, which, in a way, is tantamount to cyberstalking. Being a mechanical engineer, he figures out how to wake her up, and even though he's well-aware doing so sentences her to life on-board the ship with no chance of making it to the new world alive, Jim can't bare to face the rest of his life all alone. Over time, the two fall in love, but Jim doesn't tell Aurora he took it unto himself to wake her, maintaining a ruse that it was another pod malfunction.

"Ruff! Ruff! I'm a bad doggy!"
This is where Passengers gets interesting. Jim knows what he has done is morally unforgivable, and the guilt of his facade does weigh on him, yet at the same time, how can he possibly endure alone without losing his mind? This disturbing undercurrent is present throughout the romantic montage of their first year together, and effectively forces the viewer to ponder whether or not they would have done the same thing if they were in Jim's shoes. Then Aurora learns his secret and understandably freaks out. She can't forgive what he's done and refuses to continue living around him.

Passengers does such a great job making the viewer unsure of how to feel about the creepy aspects of this relationship that it's almost a shame when the film focuses on the actual plot: This entire time, various functions of the Avalon have been breaking down, and it turns out the meteor shower did a lot more damage than popping open Jim's pod. The malfunctions become increasingly serious and life threatening. A crew member, Chief Mancusco (Lawrence Fishburne), prematurely awakens just long enough to inform them that the ship is doomed unless they can find out what's tearing it apart. While this third act is suspenseful and exciting, it's also pretty predictable, as is the Stockholm Syndrome aspect of the resolution.

"Do we really have to watch American Hustle again?"
Until then, Passengers offers a compelling situation, and somehow, Pratt's inherent congeniality renders his character sublimely sinister; the fact we like and identify with him almost makes us co-conspirators. Since her character isn't quite as interesting, Lawrence has a less challenging task, but she's nonetheless appealing as the hapless object of Jim's affections. The special effects and production design are also very impressive, the Avalon, in particular. It's one of the more imaginatively conceived space vessels I've seen in quite some time.

Passengers may not be the straightforward sci-fi love story some people signed on for, but it would be a shame to dismiss any movie that practically forces the viewer to think long and hard about what they'd do in the same situation. Is it possible to empathize with someone who has no right to decide someone else's fate? Discovering one's own answer to that question is what makes Passengers unique. It isn't often you can say that about a big-budget, high-concept film aimed at a mass audience.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES:
"On the Set with Chris Pratt"; "Creating the Avalon" (ship and set design); "Space on Screen: The Visual Effects of Passengers"; Casting the Passengers"
"BOOK YOUR PASSAGE" - This is a multipart mock 'infomercial' for Homestead's colonization cruise.
"PASSENGERS: AWAKENING" - A promo for the VR video game
OUTTAKES (Blooper Reel)
DELETED SCENES
DIGITAL COPY
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

March 14, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: FENCES

Starring Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson, Jovan Adepo, Russell Hornsby, Mykelti Williamson, Sahiyya Sidney. Directed byy Denzel Washington. (139 min, 2016).

Troy Maxson is quite a character. 

He's harsh and abrasive. Though he may mean well, he's verbally abusive to his sons, belittling their loftier goals in life, perhaps because his own life decisions made it impossible to achieve his. He boasts about himself at every given opportunity, yet remains angry at the cards life dealt him. He's proud of everything he's worked hard for, but still resentful of those he perceives have held him back. While we never doubt his love for Rose, Troy's dutiful wife of 18 years, he commits the ultimate betrayal by keeping a mistress who ends up pregnant with his child. He drinks too much, is closed-minded, always convinced he's in the right and insists on dominating every conversation and argument he's part of.

Whether by his own doing or simply his circumstances, Troy is often a pretty terrible person, but what makes him fascinating is he genuinely doesn't think he is. Of course, the best villains were always those who don't see themselves as truly villainous. I hesitate to label Troy a villain in the purest sense, since the character's views and attitude are the driving narrative force behind Fences. After all, we've all known someone like Troy Maxson.

Someone had garlic for lunch.
He's played with almost manic gusto by Denzel Washington (who also directed), and like his Oscar-winning turn in Training Day, it's one of those performances where we forget we're watching Denzel, the Movie Star. What we see instead is a domineering, embittered man who's unwilling - or unable - to tear down the fence he's built around himself - of course, the title is a metaphor, as is the one he takes years to build in his back yard. The further he progresses on its construction, the more alienated he becomes from everyone close to him.

Washington's performance alone makes Fences worth seeing, but Viola Davis as Rose is every bit his equal (and certainly deserving of her Best Actress Oscar). Assertive yet vulnerable, Rose is strong enough to advocate for her sons when Troy is tearing them down. As someone whose love and dedication to her husband is put to the ultimate test, Rose is a better wife than he probably deserves. We suspect she knows it, too, but would never betray the sanctity of marriage, even as her respect for him threatens to wane. Davis plays off Washington perfectly, perhaps because both honed these characters on Broadway first. In fact, much of the primary cast did, which is probably why they're all so convincing.

"Ha, ha...shrimp joke. Haven't heard any of those before."
From a narrative standpoint, Washington does right by August Wilson's play, though aside from a few brief-but-effective scenes in and around Pittsburgh's Hill District (the setting for most of Wilson's work), the film never quite escapes its stage origins. Much of it takes place in a few rooms of the Maxson home and in the backyard where the fence is being built.

But that's okay. A movie like Fences lives and dies by its characters. The film isn't the most uplifting experience on Earth, but everything about these characters, from their mannerisms & expressions right down to their dialect & voice, feel completely real. Even during the most seemingly trivial conversations, we learn as much about their lives, both past and present, as the words Wilson gave them.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES:
"Expanding the Audience: From Stage to Screen" - How Fences was adapted while remaining faithful to the play;
"Building Fences: Denzel Washington" - Denzel's challenge working as oth actor and director;
"Playing the Part: Rose Maxson" - A featurette on Viola Davis
"The Company of Fences" - I did not realize much of the main cast also performed it on Broadway;
"August Wilson's Hill District" - Recreating Pittsburgh's Hill District as it looked in the 1950s
DIGITAL COPY
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS

March 11, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: ELLE

Starring Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Christian Berkel, Anne Consigny, Virginie Efira, Charles Berling, Alice Isaaz, Judith Magre. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. (2016, 131 min).

Regarding Elle: What the hell??

I had that reaction several times throughout this movie, which isn't necessarily intended as criticism. After all, it's directed by Paul Verhoeven, certainly no stranger to provocative material or ruffling feathers. It's been awhile since we've heard from him, and while it's nice to see he's lost none of his audacity, Elle is unlike anything he's done before.

In the opening scene, the main character, Michele (Isabelle Huppert) is brutally raped in her home by a masked assailant. However, she does not report it to the police, initially choosing to go on with her life as if everything is normal. Normal is a relative term, though. Michele owns and strictly runs a company which - ironically - produces video games with ample amounts of violence and sexual assault. She has a lazy, milquetoast son with a domineering girlfriend (who's pregnant with someone else's child), and is repulsed by her own aging, promiscuous mother (who is about to marry her latest man-toy). Michele infrequently sleeps with her best friend's husband, yet has mixed feelings about her own ex-husband's much younger new girlfriend. Her father, in prison for a mass murder spree 40 years ago, is due for a parole hearing; despite pleas from her mother, Michelle refuses to visit him. All the while, she's increasingly attracted to Patrick (Laurent Lafitte), who lives across the street with his wife.

Future crazy cat lady.
Michele herself is emotionally aloof (to the point of appearing cold-hearted) and accustomed to being in control. In fact, when she finally does confide to those closest to her - during a dinner party - that she'd been raped, she is shockingly non-nonchalant, refusing to let the incident change her. Though they urge Michele to go to the police, we eventually learn why she doesn't: When she was ten years old, Michele's father involved her in the murder spree (though not the actual killings), and she remains tormented by the subsequent police investigation and media attention.

Then the movie gets weird (like I said...what the hell). Her assailant taunts her with threatening texts, and she initially suspects someone who works at her company (Michele isn't liked by her mostly male staff of designers, presumably because she's strong-willed and assertive). But after her rapist attacks again and she discovers who he is while fighting back, the decisions she makes afterwards might have the viewer thinking Michele has lost her mind (or was never right-minded to begin with).

How to liven up an office party.
In either case, Elle is both genre and expectation defying. Whether or not that's a positive is highly subjective. One thing it's definitely not is your traditional rape-revenge film. The scenes of sexual assault are unflinching and graphic, as is some of the violence, made more shocking by the main character's ultimate response, which will likely upset and anger some viewers. But even though we don't often understand, approve-of, agree-with or sometimes even like her, Michele is a strong, fascinating character, perfectly played by Huppert (this is easily the bravest performance of any of this year's Best Actress Oscar nominees).

One thing is certain...Elle is probably a film only someone like Paul Verhoeven could have pulled off this effectively; artfully made, yet incendiary and polarizing. You may not necessarily like what you see, but chances are you won't forget it anytime soon. That alone probably makes it worthy of attention.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTES: "A Tale of Empowerment: Making Elle"; "Celebrating an Icon: AFI's Tribute to Isabelle Huppert"

KITTY CONSENSUS:
WTF...ULTIMATELY IN A GOOD WAY

March 9, 2017

Blu-Ray News: THE PHANTASM COLLECTION Arrives April 11

 Six-Disc Box Set Includes All 5 Movies and is Bursting with New Bonus Features,
Plus 120-page Retrospective Book & Reversible Poster
ON BLU-RAY APRIL 11 
 
EXTENSIVE ALL-NEW BONUS MATERIALS INCLUDED IN
THE PHANTASM COLLECTION:

Disc 1: PHANTASM 
Audio Commentary with writer/director Don Coscarelli, co-producer Paul Pepperman and visual consultant Roberto Quezada 
Additional home movie footage
 
Disc 3: PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD

Balls of Steel: Bob Ivy’s Stunt for the Ages - The Phantasm III Car Stunt” – This featurette shows the planning and behind-the-scenes footage of the dangerous stunt performed in the film and includes recently rediscovered material.
It’s Never Over: The Making of PHANTASM III: LORD OF THE DEAD – This featurette  includes  interviews with Don Coscarelli, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury,
Gloria Lynn Henry, Stuntman Bob Ivy, director of photography Christopher Chomyn, composer/sound designer Christopher L. Stone, sphere designer/mechanical effects artist Kerry Prior, special makeup effects designer Dean Gates and Production Assistant Kristen Deem.
Audio Commentary with writer/director Don Coscarelli and editor Norman Buckley
Behind the Scenes Compilation
 
Disc 4: PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION

Death is No Escape: The Making of PHANTASM IV: OBLIVION – This featurette includes interviews with Don Coscarelli, A. Michael Baldwin, Reggie Bannister, Bill Thornbury,
special makeup effects artist Gigi Bannister, stunt co-ordinator/actor Bob Ivy, director of photography Christopher Chomyn, composer/sound designer Christopher L. Stone, sphere designer/mechanical effects designer Kerry Prior, cameraman Justin Zaharczuk and special makeup effects artist Robert Kurtzman.
Behind the Scenes Compilation
Phantasm sequels Conceptual Art Gallery by Justin Zaharczuk
 
Disc 5: PHANTASM V: RAVAGER

The Making of PHANTASM V: RAVAGER featurette
Interview with actor A. Michael Baldwin
Interview with actress Kat Lester
Interview with actor Stephan Jutras
Behind the Scenes Promo with Angus Scrimm Tribute
Phantasm V Red Credit Sequence
 
Disc 6: BONUS DISC

Phantasm and You” – a comic recap of the first 4 films by PHANTASM V: RAVAGER director David Hartman
Flashback Weekend Chicago Convention Panel Discussion (2008)
Flashback Weekend Chicago Convention Cast Panel (2014)
Flashback Weekend concert performance by Kat Lester
2016 Fantastic Fest Premiere and Q&A
 

March 8, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: SOLACE

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Colin Farrell, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Abbie Cornish. Directed by Afonso Poyart. (2015, 102 min).
LIONSGATE

This one has an interesting history. An early version of the screenplay was once being groomed as a sequel to Se7en. Fortunately, someone wisely concluded Se7en was one of the last movies that ever needed a sequel, much less one featuring cops & killers with psychic abilities.

It's a decent premise, though, which eventually evolved into Solace. Anthony Hopkins plays John Clancy, a clairvoyant who's become a recluse since the death of his daughter to cancer. He reluctantly agrees to aid his friend, FBI agent Joe Merriweather (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), track down a serial killer. Clancy figures out that the one thing the victims have in common is they are all terminally ill, including a young boy whose brain tumor hadn't yet been discovered. This means the killer is psychic as well, with even stronger abilities. Since he can anticipate the FBI's every move well in advance, he's always several steps ahead of them, and develops a particular interest in Clancy.

"Well, someone stole the cookies from the cookie jar."
Solace is one of those movies that, while not bad, should have been much better. What could have been a solid cat & mouse thriller starts off well enough, with good performances (Hopkins & Morgan in particular) and interesting visual flourishes when depicting Clancy's 'visions.' However, once the killer, Charles Ambrose (Colin Farrell), meets Clancy in a bar and shares his motives, any sense of menace dissipates and the tension begins to unravel. This is when the battle of wits between these two should be shifting into high gear, not descending into a moral debate.

I also found myself thinking Hopkins & Farrell's roles should have been reversed. Sure, Hopkins playing another serial killer wouldn't be the most creative casting decision, but you have to admit it'd be more fun. And if, as the killer, he was still forced to helplessly watch as his daughter dies, his motives would carry more weight.

But as it is, Solace is a decent enough way to spend an evening, stylish and efficient, but ultimately forgettable. Too bad, really...with a premise and cast like that, with some narrative tweaks, this could have been something really special.

EXTRA KIBBLES
FEATURETTE: "Visions and Voices: The Making of Solace"
AUDIO COMMENTARY BY DIRECTOR AFONSO POYART
DIGITAL COPY
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...LIKE CAT CHOW

March 7, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: JACKIE

Starring Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup, John Hurt, Max Casella, Beth Grant, Richard E. Grant, John Carroll Lynch, Caspar Phillipson. Directed by Pablo Larrain. (2016, 100 min).

Natalie Portman's performance is the primary reason to see Jackie.

It doesn't seem like much, at first. In fact, although Portman certainly resembles the beloved former first lady, it initially comes across as a well-rehearsed caricature, with little depth behind the look and voice. Then again, that was how Jacqueline Kennedy was presented to the public...on television, in particular.

It isn't until Jackie delves into the first lady's tumultuous days after the JFK assassination that we realize how dynamic Portman's performance really is. Oscar-worthy? That's debatable, but there's no denying she presents a masterful dichotomy between the charming & mannered public figure we're familiar with, and the one who never seemed completely comfortable with her role as the first lady.

Presented mostly in flashback through an interview she gives to a magazine writer (Billy Crudup), we see how this national tragedy affected her personally. Aside from being obviously distraught, Jackie is confused and overwhelmed, with both her husband's death and uncertainty of what is expected from her. Feeling mostly alienated from those in her immediate circle (not-to-mention just a bit resentful of Lyndon & Lady Bird), she really only lets her guard down to a priest (John Hurt, in his last role) and this writer she barely knows. And because we see Jackie as two different people, the so-called shallower segments actually end up being quite revealing.

"These are my horseys, and I don't like to share."
Since the film is not-so-much a biography as it is the portrait of how she mourns Kennedy as a husband and honors him as a leader (it's also hinted that a bit of estrangement had crept into their marriage), Jackie isn't exactly a ball of fun. And in a late sequence that's both harrowing and graphic, Kennedy's assassination is depicted through Jackie's eyes. It's hard to fathom what it must have felt like to endure such a tragedy, especially while being watch by the world, but Portman is at her best during these moments. Other scenes, while we admire the depth of her performance, aren't quite as emotionally compelling. Somewhat surprisingly, none of the other characters, including Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), are fleshed out in enough detail to make them interesting.

Jackie is aided greatly by its attention to period detail (the costumes & production design are outstanding) and a screenplay that empathizes with its subject while resisting the temptation to deify her. While I question how often someone would want to revisit this dark chapter in Jacqueline Kennedy's life, the film does a good job humanizing her. Just don't expect to feel great afterwards, despite the joyous tune from Camelot fittingly playing during the fade-out.

EXTRA KIBBLES:
FEATURETTE: "From Jackie to Camelot"
GALLERY
DVD & DIGITAL COPIES
KITTY CONSENSUS:
NOT BAD...MOSTLY DUE TO NATALIE PORTMAN'S PERFORMANCE 

March 4, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: MOANA

Starring the voices of Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk. Directed by Ron Clements & John Musker. (2016, 107 min).

The second Disney renaissance continues with Moana, and if you're of a certain age, a sense of deja vu might creep in. You can't quite place your finger on it, but aside from the CG animation, there's something comfortingly familiar about the film that recalls the glory days of the first Disney renaissance.

Perhaps it's because Moana is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, the team behind The Little Mermaid, which arguably  made Disney animation relevant again. Despite the relative anonymity of most Disney directors, there was something distinctive about Clements & Musker's films throughout the 80s and 90s (which included Aladdin & Hercules). Though not always necessarily better, they were slightly more irreverent, the character depictions more imaginatively exaggerated, the musical numbers more effectively woven into the plots themselves (as opposed to isolated set-pieces).

Moana is their first fully CG animated feature, but their familiar stamp is everywhere and it's easily their best film since Aladdin.

"Boat? What boat?"
The title character is the daughter of Tui, her overprotective father & the village chief of the South Pacific island, Motunui. Though next in succession to lead their people, she yearns to venture beyond the reef and explore the ocean. When the their crops and trees start to mysteriously die, Moana's grandmother tells her why: a thousand years ago, the heart of the island goddess, Te Fiti, was stolen by the demigod, Maui, who in-turn was defeated by the lava demon, Te K, and banished to a remote island. The ocean itself chooses Moana to find Maui so he can return the heart to Te Fiti before everything dies.

The story is perfect Disney fodder, fraught with peril and epiphanies. And of course, it's impeccably animated, but at this point, is the quality of Disney animation a bone of contention anymore? What distinguishes Moana from the likes of Tangled and Frozen are the distinctive Clements/Musker touches. The imaginative rendering of Maui reflects the same level of creativity (from the animated tattoos to Dwayne Johnson's amusing voice performance) given to the genie in Aladdin. The obligatory non-human sidekick provides some of the funniest moments (made more amusing after we're initially led to believe it's the 'cuter' animal that'll be tagging along). As for the songs, not only are they memorable, they are a major part of the plot and character development (you can't really say that about "Let it Go"). And yes, in the context of the film, Johnson can actually sing without embarrassing himself.

Future club sandwiches.
On a side note, speaking of Johnson...do you wonder if he wakes up every morning, catches a glance of himself in the mirror and just laughs, basking in the fact he's Dwayne Johnson? He's almost obscenely likable and hardly fails at anything, which includes his work here. This isn't stunt casting; Johnson is a Pacific Islander himself, as is most of the cast, and he's terrific as Maui. Newcomer Auli'i Cravalho shines as the title character and is equipped with one hell of a set of pipes.

Storywise, Moana adheres to the tried & true Disney formula that has served them well over the years (though the climax is almost too reminiscent of the "Firebird Suite" sequence in Fantasia 2000). So while it's not as strikingly original as Zootopia, Clements and Musker's unique touches give Moana a distinct voice among Disney's other recent blockbusters..

EXTRA KIBBLES:
FEATURETTES:
"Voice of the Islands" - The longest and best of the bonus features, the directors travel to the Pacific Island region for inspiration. We get a look at its people and their culture, and how both helped shape the film. It also made me really want to visit.
"Things You Didn't Know About..." - The lead voice actors and soundtrack composers answer rapid-fire question on a variety of silly subjects.
"The Elements of..." - 4 part featurette on the challenge of animating such things as water, lava and characters' hair.
"Island Fashion"; "They Know the Way: Making the Music of Moana"; "Fishing for Easter Eggs" (titles tell all about these three features.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By directors Ron Clements & John Musker.
2 ANIMATED SHORTS: "Gone Fishing" & "Inner Workings" - The first feels like the usual Disney promotional short, while the second is original, creative and visually interesting. The latter also features an introduction by the producer and director.
DELETED SONG: "Warrior Face"
2 MUSIC VIDEOS: Both for "How Far I'll Go" - One features Alessia Cara, the other is sung in various other languages.
DELETED SCENES
DVD & DIGITAL COPIES
KITTY CONSENSUS:
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS