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“I am Moana of Motunui. Aboard my boat, I will sail across the sea and restore the heart of Te Fiti.”
Moana is a teenager who dreams of becoming a master wayfinder.
Moana, as Gramma Tala describes, "stands out from the crowd". She is adventurous, headstrong, strong-willed, practically fearless, and physically capable. Though she has moments of self-doubt, she has great pride in who she is, and is generally too stubborn to back away from new challenges. Moana approaches new experiences and tasks with the utmost seriousness and will stand her ground to fight for what she values even when all seems lost. She can present herself as an imposing force despite her size and has bested the most fearsome beasts and impossible obstacles across the seas of Oceania while relying almost solely on her own intelligence.
For all her strengths, Moana suffers from major identity crises. Surrounded by a loving family and a supportive community of neighbors, Moana cares a great deal for her people, and the village in which she was born and raised. However, she also has a passionate love for the ocean and the idea of voyaging beyond her home island's barrier reef. At the start of the film, voyaging had been prohibited as a means to keep the people of Motunui safe, but even so, Moana's spirited and tenacious attitude kept her dreams of experiencing life beyond her island alive. At the same time, Moana was happily devoted to her village during her time as chief-in-training. An intelligent and resourceful leader, Moana was quick to remedy any problems her village faced, and was masterful in keeping herself composed and optimistic during times of a crisis. Moana's loyalty towards her family and people actually played a part in her crippling identity crisis. As she cared for them immensely, she occasionally felt extreme guilt for being drawn to the sea, as lamented in her song "How Far I'll Go"; she believed that if she were to pursue the ocean, she would ultimately disappoint the people she loved. Simultaneously, she felt an obligation towards her ancestors, wanting to reinvigorate their ways of wayfinding as a means to honor them and the legacy they left for her people. These conflicted emotions would ultimately act as Moana's greatest challenge throughout the film.
When it was revealed that she had been chosen by the ocean to restore the legendary heart of Te Fiti, Moana did not put her focus on the potentially devastating outcome of her mission, but the unity between her love for Motunui and her dream of voyaging in the tradition of her great ancestors. Though this would ultimately benefit all parties, this mindset is perhaps Moana's greatest flaw. In being heroic and deathly devoted to her goals, Moana can be selfish in that she is willing to endanger the lives of others in order to prove she is capable of confronting her ambitions without fail. Both Tui and Maui confront Moana on this during the events of the film, and though she denied both accusations, she knew - deep down - that this was correct. She can also be reckless with herself in this regard, as she drove herself out to sea without proper training in the ways of wayfinding or even sailing. She fears very little, but because of this, she can occasionally bite off more than she can chew. However, these acts are not done with malicious, or even notable intent. Moana is extremely sympathetic and caring, which drives her to perform life-threatening stunts for what she genuinely believes to be the greater good.
In contrast to this, Moana grows with failure. After Maui refuses to assist her in battling Te Kā following a disastrous first encounter on her account, she works up the courage to redeem herself by facing the lava demon alone. She is also empathetic, and looks to help herself by helping and understanding others first. This is most notably seen when she puts hours worth of focus on coming to understand Maui, and the reasonings behind his own inner-demons. In doing so, she was able to exhibit self-loving wisdom (specifically regarding how one should look inside themselves for strength and guidance, and not in someone else). Moana would later use this to encourage herself during her darkest hour.
As she grew with her adventure, Moana discovered more about herself. She came to realize that no one can define who you are, other than yourself; she was neither meant to be devoted solely to the sea or solely to her people, but to herself. As such, she was able to bring her two loves together, ultimately recreating and honoring what came before her: a unity between her people and the sea.
Master sailor: Though inexperienced at first, Moana has always been drawn to the sea as a result of her ancestral heritage. When she first embarked set sail with Pua in attempt to go beyond the reef, her sailing skills left much to be desired, and as a result, she was nearly killed by the strong currents. However, she made it passed almost effortlessly the same night, and throughout her adventures with Maui, steadily learned various necessities and tricks that would ultimately lead her to becoming a talented sailor — and by extension — a master navigator.
Athleticism: Growing up on an island has provided Moana with an environment that allows her to use her strength and agility to traverse throughout it. As first seen during "How Far I'll Go", Moana is physically dominant, as she was seen zip-lining and running at a fast pace without losing stamina. She also has a natural talent for swimming, and can endure being underwater for a considerably long period of time for a human. During her brief time trapped in Maui's cave, Moana demonstrated incredible leg strength by moving and toppling over a statue of the demi god many times her size and weight so she can climb out through a tiny crevice.
Moana is first seen as a toddler, being told an ancient story about the legendary demigod Maui. According to Gramma Tala, the dramatic storyteller, Maui stole the coveted heart of Te Fiti centuries before their time. As a result, a lava demon known as Te Kā swore vengeance and plunged the world into a slow-burning darkness. The only hope for humanity lies in the hands of a fearless hero, who must journey to find Maui and have him return the heart to its rightful place. While the other children are terrified by the story, Moana is captivated. Chief Tui claims there is no such darkness consuming the world, and stresses the law that forbids anyone on the island from traveling past the reef. Moana fails to heed her father's words and waddles to the ocean shores in bliss. There, she helps a struggling newborn sea turtle make its way to the ocean against predators. Just then, Moana is acquainted with the ocean, which reveals itself to have a mind of its own. Having witnessed her purity with the baby sea turtle, the ocean grows fond of Moana and chooses her as the heroine destined to save the world. It provides her with the heart of Te Fiti, but when Tui arrives and takes her back to the village, Moana drops the heart and leaves it at the shore.
Tui notices his daughter's love for the sea, and over the years, he and the people of Motunui try to convince Moana that their island home is a paradise and that her destiny is to follow in her father's footsteps by becoming chief. Though she loves her people, Moana continues to feel drawn to the sea, something Tala encourages. One day, Tui takes Moana to a sacred place on the island: a high mountain, where chiefs from every generation place a stone to signify the start of their leadership. This inspires Moana to finally accept her role as soon-to-be chief of the village. She thusly spends her time learning under her parents in how to assist her people across the island. One day, the islands' supply of food begins to die out. Moana believes that traveling beyond the reef to find food elsewhere is the best solution, but Tui strongly forbids it. She nevertheless tries against his wishes and nearly drowns before she can even make it past the barriers.
Believing she's failed as a sailor, Moana declares that she is not fit for the sea and wishes to place her stone on the mountain. She tells this to Tala, who responds by showing Moana a hidden cave created by their ancestors long ago. Moana learns that she's drawn to the sea because her ancestors were voyagers. When asked why their voyaging stopped, Tala explains that it was Maui's doing, referring to his crime of stealing Te Fiti's heart, which filled the seas with monsters and demons. Tala reveals to have the heart of Te Fiti in her possessions and explains that the ocean chose Moana to restore it. Not knowing how to sail, Moana rushes to Tui and her people to ask for their assistance in restoring the heart. Once again, Tui forbids leaving the island and throws the heart away. As Moana recovers it, she finds Tala's walking cane on the grass.
Moana and her parents rush to the medics, where Tala lies on her deathbed. She encourages Moana to find Maui and restore the heart with her last ounce of breath. Moana reluctantly accepts her grandmother's dying wish, packs supplies, and takes one of her ancestor's boats that unknowingly had her rooster friend, Heihei, aboard as well. As Moana leaves, her grandmother's light fades out, and her spirit guides Moana past the reef and into the seas. The following night, the ocean carries Moana to Maui's island, where the two meet and fail to see eye to eye. Maui is more concerned with the sight of Moana's boat, which he steals by trapping Moana in a cave. She manages to use her wits to escape and makes it to Maui with the help of the ocean. She orders him to return the heart, but upon seeing it, Maui tries to leave the boat, only to be brought back by the ocean. He claims the heart is cursed, something Moana refuses to believe until they fall under attack by a band of pirates called the Kakamora.
The Kakamora crave the heart of Te Fiti's power, but Moana stands her ground and fights back. She successfully recovers the heart and defeats the pirates. Though Maui commends her on surviving, he still refuses to help return the heart. Moana persuades him to do otherwise when she claims such an act will help Maui regain a positive reputation amongst mortals. Maui agrees to help, but not without his fishhook, which is said to be in the clutches of Tamatoa, a giant crab living in the Realm of Monsters. As they make their way, Moana watches intently as Maui proves himself to be a master wayfinder. She asks him to teach her, and after he refuses at first, the ocean uses one of the Kakamora's blow darts to numb the demigod, leaving him unable to sail. With no other choice, he teaches Moana how to wayfind. After much mentoring, Moana falls asleep and has a nightmare in which she watches as her home and parents are destroyed by Te Kā's curse. When she awakens, she finds that Maui has taken over the boat and has successfully led them to Lalotai's island.
As they climb a mountain to reach the entrance to the underworld, Maui questions why the ocean chose Moana to save the world, though she doesn't seem to know, herself. Despite her sudden feeling of self-doubt, Moana follows Maui into Lalotai, and eventually finds the fishhook. She distracts Tamatoa long enough for Maui to take back his hook, but the demigod finds that his shapeshifting abilities are out of whack. Feeling powerful, Tamatoa attacks Maui and imprisons Moana to prevent her from interfering. As she watches helplessly, Tamatoa taunts Maui on his hidden insecurities and alludes to a tragic past. As such information was previously unknown to her, Moana is confused by Tamatoa's words. She nevertheless escapes her cell while Tamatoa is distracted and uses a makeshift duplicate of Te Fiti's heart to drive the crab's attention away from Maui. The two escape, and once they've reached safety, Maui thanks Moana for her actions, though he berates himself for failing to defeat Tamatoa and almost letting Moana be killed as a result.
They set sail once more, but a down-on-his-luck Maui feels unable to defeat Te Kā and restore the heart without his hook. Moana, wanting to get to the root of Maui's self-doubt, pries to uncover the demigod's backstory. This only angers Maui, which prompts Moana to confess her own feelings of self-doubt by revealing she is unsure why the ocean chose her. She further explains that she pushes herself regardless in order to save her dying island, though she can only do so with Maui's help. Moana offers to lend an ear for the demigod, and Maui eventually opens up to her by revealing he was born a human and was abandoned by his parents. After being adopted by the gods, he became a hero and protected mankind to earn the love he was denied by his parents. Maui admits that he feels worthless without his hook, but Moana sees a true hero in the demigod, regardless of his magical attributes. This resonates with Maui and gives him the courage to train in order to recover his power, under the guidance of Moana and Mini Maui (Maui's sentient tattoo). Simultaneously, Maui furthers Moana's mentoring in wayfinding, eventually turning her into a master navigator on par with her ancestors, though Maui contends that she may have surpassed them.
It is eventually decided that they're ready to face Te Kā. Maui encourages Moana to utilize her skills and sail the rest of the way, and with the demigod's teachings in mind, Moana makes it to Te Fiti, much to the delight of a prideful Maui. Maui then takes the heart and flies to Te Fiti, but he is immediately attacked by Te Kā and quickly defeated. Landing back on the boat, Maui urges Moana to turn back for their own safety, but Moana refuses, unwilling to back away after coming so close to accomplishing their goal. She sails them towards Te Fiti and straight into Te Kā's reach. The lava monster strikes down to kill Moana, but Maui intervenes and uses his fishhook to block Te Kā's blow. The wave created by the powerful impact drives Moana and Maui far from Te Fiti's shores. After they recover, Maui confronts Moana on her recklessness, which severely damaged his fishhook. Believing the ocean chose wrong in Moana as the world's savior, Maui refuses to return to Te Kā, instead suggesting they part ways as all hope is lost with his fishhook in such critical condition. Moana stands her ground at the thought of backing down, and tearfully tries to force Maui to stay, only to be met with rejection as the demigod uses some of his remaining power to shape-shift into a hawk and fly off into the night.
Lost and alone, Moana is approached by the ocean. She mournfully confesses to her incompetence and demands that the ocean choose someone else to restore the heart. The ocean accepts Moana's decision and takes the heart of Te Fiti back into the sea. As Moana breaks down in tears, she is visited by Gramma Tala's spirit, who comforts and apologizes to her granddaughter for placing so much pressure on her. Tala encourages Moana to return home if she wishes to, promising to remain by her side on the journey back. Moana prepares herself to sail home, but finds that she cannot bring herself to actually do so. Unable to understand, Tala encourages Moana to open up to her emotions to understand why she feels hesitant to return home. Moana comes to realize that the everlasting love she holds for her people and the sea is what brought her so far, is what ultimately defines who she is, and explains why she's the one capable of saving the world. Encouraged, Moana dives into the sea and retrieves the heart of Te Fiti. When she resurfaces, Tala is gone, but Moana's determination is now stronger than ever.
She repairs her boat and travels back to Te Fiti with Heihei by her side. They confront Te Kā, who Moana manages to outsmart in order to make it past Te Fiti's barrier islands. Unfortunately, Te Kā eventually catches on and attacks. Moana is thrown off her boat and is nearly killed by the lava demon until Maui returns with a change of heart. Determined to defend Moana despite the damaged state of his fishhook, Maui distracts Te Kā while the ocean helps Moana to Te Fiti's now molten shores. There, Moana cannot find the spiral in which the heart is to be placed. Looking out into the distance, she notices a glowing spiral on Te Kā's chest, and quickly comes to the realization that the lava demon is Te Fiti. Moana uses "Know Who You Are" to tame Te Kā, who finds peace in Moana's inspiring words and turns herself into molten rock. Moana places the heart into Te Kā chest, and the lava monster's body crumbles away, reviving the radiant and lush Te Fiti.
The goddess revives the dying islands across the world, as well as Moana's boat and Maui's fishhook. Moana asks Maui to return home with her, but Maui warmly denies, instead showing Moana a new tattoo on his body, inspired by her heroism. The two warmly embrace before Maui shape-shifts into a hawk and flies off. Shortly afterward, Moana and Heihei sail for Motunui. They arrive just as Motunui recovers from the curse entirely. Tui and Sina spot Moana arriving home, and lovingly greet her. With her deed having restored the safety of the sea, Moana becomes chief and the people of the village break out their ancestor's boats. Voyaging starts again, and Moana makes her mark of leadership on Motunui's sacred mountain with a seashell given to her by the ocean, symbolizing the unity of her duties to her people and her passion for the seas.
Moana interacts with the Ocean back on her home island of Motunui. She is interrupted by Maui who tried teaching her to 'command' it instead. This leads to Maui getting humiliated by the Ocean while trying to fish, much to Moana and Mini Maui's amusement. After his ego is completely deflated, Moana then returns the fish (intended to be Maui's lunch) to the Ocean as she corrects him on her name, leading to Maui being thrown to the sky by the Ocean through a geyser.
On November 18, 2016, Moana made her debut at the Disneyland park during the "You're Welcome" pre-parade, in which she toured through the parade route to the music of Maui's signature song. She later began making meet-and-greet appearances at the Art of Animation attraction on November 20.
Her name means "ocean" in many Polynesian languages, including Hawaiian and Maori.
Animators put a considerable amount of effort into ensuring Moana's hair added to her performance. They did so by developing new software to give the hair a realistic look. They also changed her hairstyle in different scenes, depending on her current action (such as tying her hair in a bun as she sails).
In one version of the story, Moana had nine older brothers that left the island. Their sister would eventually journey to rescue them.
Moana was designed to have a body that is considerably more realistic than the thinly stylized proportions of previous Disney animated heroines.
The jr. novelization gives her age as 16.
Moana was, at one point, a secondary character as the film was initially centered around Maui. Moana's story involved going on a mission to save her love interest.
The red in Moana's clothing represents her royal heritage as daughter of a chief.
Over forty designs were proposed for Moana's necklace. The final appearance was chosen to represent Moana's ties to both the land and sea. The stars on the necklace represent Moana's identity as a navigator.
She is the second protagonist of Polynesian descent in a Disney animated feature, the first being Lilo from Lilo & Stitch.
During the credits of that movie, one of the photos showed Stitch holding a giant leaf over a sea turtle and its baby the same way Moana did.
In some foreign versions of the film (mainly in some countries in Europe), she is renamed Vaiana due to copyright reasons.
Moana was originally going to be a playable character in the third installment of Disney INFINITY, but after the series was confirmed to have been discontinued in May 2016, it was implied that Moana was cancelled.
At one point, Moana says "You lying, slimy son of a b...!" to Maui while she was stuck in the cave, nearly saying a curse word in the process.
In keeping with the tradition of other Disney Princesses, Moana does not have a last name. There are some reports of the last name "Waialiki" having been heard at the original D23 announcement or seen in early promotional material, but no examples have been found to verify this.
Writer Jared Bush reported that past iterations of the film had her last name be Waialiki, while others has Motunui, though he wasn't sure on what was ultimately canon.
In the reprise of the deleted ballad "More", Moana mentions that Gramma Tala was the one who named her.