Doctor Strange (2016) — PICK
Moana (2016) — PASS
New on Blu-ray, Doctor Strange — last year’s best blockbuster spectacle — was directed by Christian filmmaker Scott Derrickson, and amid mind-blowing visuals is a moral and even a spiritual thoughtfulness unusual in an action movie.
Many superhero movies indulge in “God talk.” Doctor Strange asks whether materialism explains man or whether he has a spiritual dimension — and definitively endorses the latter. Benedict Cumberbatch plays arrogant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange, who believes a human being is “just another momentary speck with an indifferent universe” — but, in time, he realizes that’s the philosophy of mankind’s enemies. That would be an evil sorcerer (Mads Mikkelson) and his followers, whose devotion to a malevolent, primordial “destroyer of worlds” makes them functional Satan worshippers.
Eventually, Strange becomes a sorcerer himself, though, as in Harry Potter, it’s only bad magic that has occult trappings; good magic is semi-demythologized and treated as quasi-scientific, rather than ritual or invocatory.
Also new on Blu-ray, Disney’s Moana combines almost everything I enjoy about contemporary Disney with almost everything I dislike.
Infectious musical numbers, a great heroine who actually has two good and loving parents, sparkling voice work (including Dwayne Johnson as Maui), and a new cultural setting (indigenous Polynesian culture) are undercut by those exhausted family-film tropes, “Junior Knows Best” and “Tradition Is Wrong,” and some muddled religious themes.
Bottom line: Disney animation is getting better at building worlds and creating characters than at telling well-crafted stories in those worlds.
Caveat Spectator: Doctor Strange: Varying degrees of violent imagery, including a suggested decapitation, fleeting impalement and an intense vehicular accident and some medical gore; references to a past sexual relationship; brief bad language. Moana: Animated menace and action; pagan religious themes; a few rude jokes and words.