While Moana is the latest in a long line of Disney musicals featuring princesses, the new film looks very different than its predecessors in many ways. Its lead character and its setting don't look at all like what a traditional Disney princess film would look like, for examples.
Whether or not this is a point for or against Moana is a different conversation. We're not reviewing Moana here, we did that here. Instead, we're going to assume that you're going to go see Moana and now the only question is, do you spend the extra few bucks on the 3D glasses to get an added experience? Let's break it all down.
Animated films are pretty much the reason 3D exists as a format today. It's the one category that you can be sure will be presented as a 3D feature as soon as it's announced. Moana is a fantastic story, of magical and mystical characters and locations, it's just the sort of story that lends itself well to the larger than life presentation of 3D. One of the main characters is a shapeshifting demigod voiced by The Rock. Three dimensions is required just to contain that.
It's clear from the beginning that the 3D presentation was kept in mind throughout the production of Moana. When you're producing a computer-animated feature, you don't wait to make the movie 3D after the fact, it's all done at once so it's something that's at the forefront of the mind of the production team. While Moana goes old school in a few points with some classic 2D animation, even that is done in a way that enhances the 3D around it.
While pushing parts of the image into the audience is something that is often overlooked as a gimmick, Moana doesn't do that. If there's a scene where something is flying through the air, it's going to fly at you. It doesn't overdo the effect, so while on the one hand, it would have been nice to see more, it fits in the scenes where you get it and doesn't go to gimmick levels to be used when it's not needed. It succeeds at immersing you deeper into the movie by making you feel like part of the action, which is the point.
As with most 3D movies today, Beyond the Window is where Moana shines. Much of this has to do with the absolutely beautiful movie that Moana is -- from a purely visual standpoint. The wide vistas of the ocean look amazing and they seem to go on forever thanks to the benefits of 3D. Every inch of the frame looks amazing thanks to 3D. On the occasion that Moana stops using the depth of the frame, it's only done for style, and it works as well as anything else.
Animated films usually have little to worry about when it comes to brightness and the tropical setting of Moana is one that lends itself to bright blue skies and sunlight making for naturally bright scenes. Of course, on the flip side, that means that a scene taking place at night on open water, with nothing to illuminate it but the moon, has a bit more trouble, but the movies still handles that well, the darkness feels natural, and it's never so dark that you can't see what's going on.
3D is created by combining multiple images together, without glasses those images look like a single image out of focus. The more out of focus the image is, the harder the 3D is working to create the picture and show you the depth of the image. While not every image in Moana is so blurry that you can't really see it, much of the movie would be nearly impossible to watch if you weren't. While this test is far from scientific, the movie does pass it.
While the vast majority of Moana takes place on the open ocean, it's highly unlikely that you'll be getting seasick watching it. While your mileage may very, the camera is steady throughout Moana and isn't prone to the sort of fast and chaotic movements that can make 3D impact people more in the gut than the heart. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.