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Polynesian princess 'Moana' will dance into your heart (spoiler-free review)

Disney's latest animated feature takes you sailing into the big blue ocean on a breathtaking adventure.


Disney's "Frozen" took us to a fantastic land of glacial, snowy mountains, but "Moana" has a warmer destination in mind and transports us to tropical oceans. But while their settings may be different, both movies share themes and leave a lasting impact.

"Moana" will make you long for sunshine and idyllic beaches this winter. The charming film follows new Disney princess Moana, played by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho, as she sets sail on an adventure to save her world alongside Maui, a demigod voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Moana's island paradise is slowly turning to ashes because the heart of Goddess Te Feti was stolen. The culprit is Maui, who took the heart and subsequently lost it in a misguided act of heroism. He's reluctantly roped into redemption by the plucky Moana, who hopes to save her home from blight.

Like Jon Snow, I know nothing about Polynesian culture apart from hula dances and what I saw from Disney's "Lilo and Stitch", so diving into the world of "Moana" was new and refreshing. The movie is stunning. Lush green coconut trees and foliage sit beside an endless and beautifully animated blue ocean -- which is also a character in the movie.

This is the first Disney princess movie where the star doesn't have a love interest. Instead, Johnson's Maui feels more like a protective elder brother to Cravalho's enthusiastic Moana. It's refreshing to have a princess that doesn't need to go all lovey dovey. She still has familial love, though, and her relationship with grandma Tala (Rachel House) will tug at your heartstrings.


The Kakamora pirates are evil coconuts!


Like all good Disney movies, there's also plenty of fun to be had from side characters. These include the magical ocean and Heihei, Moana's dumb-and-dumber pet chicken who steals every scene he appears in.

Moana features a musical soundtrack by "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. The title track, "How Far I'll Go," isn't quite as catchy as "Frozen" ballad "Let It Go" on the first hearing, but it grows on you. My favorite piece is a rock-ish track that's sung by a villainous monster played by Flight of the Conchords' Jermaine Clement. I could tell you more, but that would spoil things -- you'll know when that scene happens because it's pure magical fun.

"Moana" is a beautiful story, set in a location that's probably new to lots of Disney fans. It's great fun.

The film opens in US theatres on November 23, on December 2 in the UK and on December 26 in Australia. Be sure to arrive early to catch "Inner Workings," the short film that screens before the main picture.