“I know a girl from an island,
She stands apart from the crowd,
She loves the sea and her people;
She makes her whole family proud”
The earliest memory that Moana can vividly recall is a scene where she stands by the water. Her tiny toes dig into the sand, careful not to get too close to the salty ocean; her father would never let his toddling daughter set foot into the water. She doesn’t particularly mind that she’s forbidden from entering the sea at that age; she’s simply content to pluck shiny seashells from the shoreline. Taking clumsy steps along the way, she searches for something to bring back home and spots the perfect shell. It’s a little too close to the water, but she desperately wants to pick it up and bring it back to her village.
She goes after it, and her view of the ocean is never quite the same.
It’s in this moment she learns that the sea is a living thing. It parts itself so that she can walk along the sand and view the marvelous contents of the ocean without having to actually immerse herself in it. Her eyes light up as if she’s seen the answers to the universe unravel before her. Such an astonishing event is short-lived as the ocean nudges her back to the shore with a gift: a small green rock. Unfortunately, her small hands fumble with this gift and accidentally drop it back into the water. As she searches for it, her father swoops in and removes her from the water, ready with a lecture about how the water is dangerous.
It’s that moment that solidifies her love for the sea, and every day she hears its beck and call to come to it. As years go by, she tries to run to the ocean to embrace it with arms wide open only to be stopped by her father each and every time. Though her heart lies with the ocean, her father reminds her that she has a duty to her island of Motunui. He is the chief of their people, and he needs his daughter to follow his footsteps, not splashing her toes in the water.
Unfortunately for Chief Tui, his daughter is every bit as stubborn as he is. He tries to set her down so that she may learn the ways of the island, but as she gets older, she gets more creative when it comes to sneaking away to the water. Her grandmother encourages this behavior and dances by the water with Moana, enabling her rebellious need to see what’s beyond the sea. She’s sure that her heart belongs out there, and she simply cannot understand why her father would refuse to let her explore the ocean for herself.
She’s certain she’s meant to be in the water until her father takes her to a sacred place. High up into the mountains where Earth and sky kiss is a place where every chief has left their mark on Motunui, leaving a stone behind to signal that they led the island. Listening to her father talk about how some day she’ll leave her own stone on the stack fills her head with a sudden urge to take her responsibility as the next chief more seriously.
When she returns to her village, she stands tall with her head held high while every step is filled with confidence as she greets her people. Though she still hears the ocean call to her, begging her to return to it, it sounds more like a faint whisper than the irresistible call of a siren.
She learns how to tackle the duties that come with being chief with ease. When a problem arises, she comes up with a solution on the spot. Her parents look upon her with pride, positively proud of their daughter for being willing to step up and take responsibility for the people.
Everything goes smoothly until the food goes bad. The coconut trees begin to produce fruit that is inedible and the fish Motunui has grown to rely on are nowhere to be found. As Moana tries to come up with solutions to help the people who will depend on her one day, she suggests going out into the water in search of more food -- an idea immediately shut down by her father who berates her for wanting to swim out into the damned water.
He doesn’t get it. She wants to go out into the ocean to find a way to help her people, not just because she wants to go out there. Her mother reassures her that he only wants to keep his people safe; he’s watched his best friend become a victim to the ocean’s grasp of death, and he would go to extreme lengths to ensure that the same thing never happens to any of his people -- especially when it comes to his daughter.
Even after hearing about the tragic tale of her father’s friend losing his life to the sea, Moana knows for a fact that many more people will die if they do not venture outwards for a new source of food. It’s getting late when she sets out to brave the crashing waves on a flimsy raft, and adrenaline rushes through her as she heads out. For the first time, she’s finally out on the ocean, a creature that has been crowing for her arrival for far too many years.
Her inexperience with being out on the water overwhelms her as she’s thrown off of her raft and forced to return to the shore. No longer does she want to be on the waves; she chastises herself for disobeying her father, for thinking she could actually help her people, for thinking she was making the right decision. All she wants is to put her own stone on the stack representing her ancestors’ and never look upon the ocean ever again.
Well... that’s not entirely true. Part of her does still want to grab a boat and go right back out there, yet the other part of her is screaming at her to stay on the island. Her heart is torn on what to do. Her grandmother senses this unease and urges her to investigate a hidden cave to find a solution to her identity crisis. Inside this cave is a plethora of boats and the revelation that her ancestors were voyagers, adventurers who sailed the seas.
...So why did they voyage no longer?
Her grandmother explains that it’s all Maui’s fault. Maui, the demi-god himself, had stolen the heart of the goddess Te Fiti thousands of years prior, enraging the lava demon Te Ka and dooming the world to famine and chaos as a result. Because of this, the oceans were riddled with danger and her ancestors had to stow away the boats, vowing to never go back.
She’s heard this story plenty of times since she was young, but she didn’t quite realize that it was true.
Moana’s grandmother has the solution to solving their food problem: with Maui’s help, all Moana has to do is bring back Te Fiti’s heart. She shows a familiar rock to her granddaughter, the very same one Moana had thought she lost back when she was a toddling babe, and her grandmother reveals to her that it’s the heart of Te Fiti. The ocean had chosen Moana to enlist Maui’s help to return the heart.
With this new information, Moana believes that her father will allow her to seek out Maui so that she can save her people, but he won't budge on his policy to never leave the island. As she attempts to persuade him to let her go, however, her grandmother falls ill and is rushed to her deathbed. Her dying breath is used to tell Moana to go while her parents aren’t watching, and though Moana is loathe to leave her dying grandmother, she is reassured that her grandmother will always be with her in spirit. Bidding her grandma goodbye, Moana slips away, heart of Te Fiti in her possession. After gathering as many supplies as she can for her journey, she sets sail with much weighing on her mind.
She falls off of her raft quite a few times, but every time she’s thrown off, she climbs back up. She has to find Maui, she has to bring the heart back to Te Fiti. There are lives counting on her success, and if she gives up, she’s failed them.
She falls asleep on her raft one night and awakens to find herself on a small island where she finally finds him: Maui. Boisterous demi-god Maui has little interest in helping Moana return the heart. Instead, he simply wants to take her boat and leave her behind on the desolate island he’s been imprisoned on for far too long; she refuses to let that happen, and try as he might, Maui just can’t get rid of her.
She’s come this far. She can’t turn back now, and she’s going to make sure Maui helps her bring the heart back.
Unfortunately for Moana, there’s plenty of creatures out there that want the heart for themselves. As she attempts to convince Maui to help her return the heart, they find themselves engaged in a battle on the sea against coconut monsters, a fight for Te Fiti’s heart, and Moana and Maui find themselves the victors in the end. After seeing how Moana could stand up for herself, he decides to help on one condition: they have to find his legendary fishhook first. Without it, he’s effectively powerless, but when it's in his possession, he can change his shape to various creatures, a skill that would be invaluable in reaching Te Fiti. The last he heard of its location was that it was taken by Tamatoa, a gigantic crab creature residing in the realm of monsters. Moana agrees to help him, and the pair have to reach the monstrous world to locate Maui’s fish hook.
To get there, Moana asks for his help in order to become a better voyager. Though extremely reluctant, he decides to advise her on how to become a wayfinder, a master of navigating the seas. He teaches her valuable lessons that help lead them to Lalotai: the monster world.
The mere thought of entering a realm such as that frightens Moana, and she quickly finds out that physically being there is even more terrifying, but she absolutely must find Maui’s hook there.
In a stroke of luck, they locate Tamatoa and the hook, and not only are they able to retrieve the hook, but they also manage to make it back to the human world in one piece.
Upon their return, however, Maui seems deflated. He expresses concern that the two of them should give up, uncertain if he’s fit to help Moana anymore. Such a sudden change in his behavior sparks curiosity in Moana, leading her to ask about why he doubts himself so much. This only angers him, and she finds herself apologizing and explaining that she has her own doubts about how successful they’ll be. There’s so much depending on her completing this quest that the fear of failure latches onto her very being. If she can’t bring the heart back to Te Fiti, what will happen to her family? To her people? To all life? Failing terrifies her and makes her second guess herself, and she tells Maui that she relates in that she’s not entirely sure if they’ll make be able to return the heart to Te Fiti.
All she knows is that they have to try.
In response, Maui tells her that his fishhook is what makes him Maui. Without it, he feels as though he is nothing, and since retrieving it, he hasn’t been able to use it correctly, and that alone has reduced him into a state of self-doubt. Moana reassures him that even without his hook, he’s still a hero, a demi-god, but all the same offers to help him rediscover how to use it properly. This offer resonates with Maui, and he finds himself far more enthusiastic in his role as a mentor to Moana in the art of wayfinding in return.
With help in the form of motivation from Moana, Maui finds himself able to finally use his fishhook the right way yet again. There’s only one thing left to do: they have to return Te Fiti’s heart. In order to do so, they must face Te Ka. The two of them are overconfident when it comes to believing they can bypass Te Ka, for when Maui attempted to return the heart, he was stopped by the lava monster. Realizing that they made a mistake, he urges Moana to turn back.
She refuses to do so, not when she’s closer than she’s ever been before.
It’s a mistake. She sails straight towards where Te Fiti should be only to nearly die at the hands of Te Ka. Had it not been for Maui’s intervention, she would have died. His intervention comes with a price: his hook becomes damaged. He blames her for the damage, citing that if she had listened to him in the first place and turned around, it would not have in such poor condition. Angry and rattled, he leaves Moana to fend for herself, despite her pleas for him to stay and help her.
Lost. Alone. Frightened. Those are the perfect words to describe Moana’s thoughts and feelings.
Shackled with self-doubt and no one to turn to, she debates on whether or not to return home and face the consequences for not being able to bring back Te Fiti’s heart. In her current state, she cannot find the drive she once had to finish what she started, and decides that perhaps returning is the only choice she has left. Much to her surprise, a spirit comes to her. The spirit of her grandmother arrives to comfort her, knowing that she is filled with uncertainty and doubt. Her grandmother tells her that she will always be by her side and will not fault her if she decides to return home. With these words of encouragement, Moana readies herself for the voyage back home... yet she hesitates to commit to the decision and stops herself from moving the boat.
Why can’t she bring herself to go back?
It’s the love of her people and the love of her island holding her back. This entire time, she’s pushed forward and risked everything just for them. To give up now would be to give up on them, and she can’t bring herself to do that. She realizes that no matter what happens, she has to bring back Te Fiti’s heart -- with or without Maui’s help.
More determined than ever, she sets sail to Te Fiti once more. This time, she’s certain that she can maneuver around Te Ka to get to Te Fiti. She manages to nearly reach Te Fiti, but is nearly stopped by the lava monster. Much to her surprise, Maui returns and intervenes once more, having a sudden change of heart. He no longer seems quite so attached to his hook. At the moment, his only desire is to distract Te Ka so that Moana can finally restore the heart.
Once she reaches where Te Fiti's body should lay, she’s confused. There isn’t anywhere to place the heart. Frantically, she searches for where to place the heart when she looks back to Te Ka and notices that there’s a pattern on its chest almost identical to the one on the heart. It’s when she does this is when she realizes that Te Ka and Te Fiti are one and the same.
And so she approaches the creature with words to remind her of who she truly is.
Her words are used to tell Te Ka that she is not a creature of destruction, but one who creates life. With strong hands, Moana returns the heart to Te Ka, and her volcanic form crumbles. In its place is one full of life: Te Fiti’s true form.
With her heart restored, the goddess undoes the damage she once did so many years ago by restoring life to the world and removing the darkness plaguing it. Finally, Moana’s heart can rest easy in knowing that she’s saved her people. In the aftermath, she asks Maui to come with her, wanting her friend to stay on Motunui with her, but he declines. He has other places to go, and he feels that she doesn’t need to be held back by him. Tears swell up in her eyes when she tells him goodbye, but deep down, she’s sure that someday, she’ll see him again.
At least, she sincerely hopes that she’ll see him again.
Setting sail once more, she guides herself back to her homeland, and the sight of it warms her heart. Her family rushes out to greet her, and instead of scolding her for leaving, they utter words of how happy they are to see her and embrace her with comforting arms. Her father realizes that perhaps it would be in the island’s best interest to return to its voyaging roots, and its his daughter who leads them as chief.
At the front of a boat is where she stands, one hand acting as a visor while the other reaches for the sky to measure where they are. Behind her are other boats, packed to the brim with the people of her village. It’s in this moment where she smiles to herself, with the sound of waves splashing and the smell of saltwater all around her.
This is who she’s meant to be: a wayfinder for her people.