The film opens with a woman's voice explaining the history of the world. When the planet began, it was covered in oceans - only water. Then came land - the first island was Te Fiti, who looks like plants in the shape of a woman - she lays down into the water and becomes the green, lush island. The heart of Te Fiti is an ancient green gemstone at the center of the island that brings life to the world... until, as Gramma explains, the mischievous and brazen Demigod Maui arrived. Maui has a magic fish hook that he uses to shapeshift into various animals in order to make his way through the island and using his hook he steals the heart of Te Fiti. Immediately, things that were once green being turning back. Maui attempted to flee the island, but Te Ka, a giant lava monster goddess also wanted the heart of Te Fiti, hits Maui with one of her fireballs as he tried to make his escape. The heart of Te Fiti was lost in the sea, and Maui was not seen again.
This is all revealed to be a story Gramma is telling a group of very young children. They all seem scared except young Moana, who wanders out to the ocean. The ocean has a mind of its own and begins leaving shells that lead Moana into the water... where the water holds up the heart of Te Fiti. Moana reaches for it, but then her father, Chief Tui, comes looking for her and the ocean pushes Moana back to shore and the heart of Te Fiti goes missing again.
The first song, "Where You Are" shows that Moana grows up on the island of Motonui, always wanting to wander and explore the sea, but Chief Tui teaches her his philosophy that happiness is where you are. They do not leave the island under any circumstances, and they have everything they need on the island. She is being groomed to someday be the chief and must follow the rules. Gramma, who the village thinks is a little bit crazy, encourages Moana to follow her heart first and foremost.
Moana is now a teenager, with a pet pig Pua and a chicken named Hei Hei who is incredibly stupid and doesn't even know how to eat. Moana has accepted her father's rules and seems at peace with them. But then she sings "How Far I'll Go" about how the ocean calls to her, how she wants to explore how far it goes, and how it's hard for her to be the perfect daughter to her father when what she wants to do is answer the call of the sea.
Bad news begins coming in from the people of Motonui - the harvested coconuts are black and rotten on the inside, and there have been no fish to catch for the village. Moana suggests sailing out farther to find more fish and her father gets incredibly mad at her, screaming at her that he thought she was through with this. Moana's mother Sina explains to her that her father is just protective of her - when he was a young man, he and his best friend also sailed far out, and the waters were raging so hard that his friend drowned. They stay on the island for their protection.
Moana, fed up, decides to prove her father wrong by sailing out to sea. She and Pua go out onto the waters but are nearly killed by the dangerous waters. Moana is dejected and decides to give up on her dream of seeing what's out there on the sea, and her Gramma seems to let her. When Moana asks why she isn't going to try to stop her, her Gramma tells her when she dies she's going to come back as a Manta Ray. Moana finally gives in and asks what her Gramma wants, so she takes her to a cave where the entrance is blocked by rocks and boulders. Moana goes inside and discovers a fleet of ships, and after banging the drums at the helm sees visions of her ancestors - in the song "We Know the Way" she discovers her people were voyagers, sailing across the seas and making discoveries. Moana is thrilled and asks her Gramma what changed - her Gramma explains that once the heart of Te Fiti was removed the world became dangerous and deadly, and now even their remote island isn't safe.
Once again the ocean offers the heart of Te Fiti to her, and Moana is thrilled until she alerted that her Gramma has fallen ill. She goes to her bedside, where her Gramma tells her she knows the ocean chose Moana, she saw the ocean call to her as a young girl. She tells Moana the only way to save the village is to find the trickster Maui and return him to Te Fiti to restore the heart. She can find Maui by following the hook constellation. Moana cries and tells her Gramma she doesn't want to leave her, but Gramma explains that she will always be with her. She gives her a necklace to keep the heart in. Moana is leaving, and her mother catches her going - but hugs her and lets her go. Moana sails out to sea and sees the spirit of a Manta Ray leading her way - Gramma has died.
Moana is sailing towards Maui when she discovers Hei Hei has accidentally stowed away on the ship. The waters become rough one night and Moana crashes on a tiny island - at first she is mad at the ocean for being so harsh, but she discovers she has found Maui, who has been stranded on the island for 1000 years. She confronts him and explains her plan to undo the damage he did, but Maui explains he's not the bad guy, he's the hero of men. He sings "You're Welcome," explaining he brought fire, built the sky, and lassoed the sun for humans and they should be thanking him. He has tattoos of every one of his accomplishments. He gets Moana on board with his song - then traps her in a cave and steals her boat. She manages to climb her way out and catches Maui before he's too far out to sea. He keeps throwing her overboard, but the ocean immediately plops her back on the boat.
As they're arguing, three ships filled with Kakamora - little cute but dangerous gremlin-like Pirates - begin attacking their boat, wanting the incredibly valuable heart of Te Fiti. Hei Hei swallows it, and they kidnap him. Maui is ready to leave, but in a big action sequence Moana rescues Hei Hei and manages to get the Kakamora to crash. Maui is impressed. Moana convinces Maui that if he does return the heart, he will be a hero to the people exactly like he wants... so he agrees, on the condition that they retrieve his hook which he lost. Without it, he can do no magic and can't shapeshift. He knows who would have his hook - Tamatoa, who loves collecting rare and valuable artifacts. He leads Moana, who is not the best sailor, to a tall mountain - it is the entrance to Lalotai, the realm of monsters. He assumes Moana will wait with the boat and is surprised when she follows him to the entrance.
They drop down into the monster-filled world, and Moana sees the hook on a treasure pile. She attempts to steal it, but the pile moves... it's the back of a giant monster crab's shell - that's right, Tamatoa is a giant crab. He's sassy and vain and obsessed with shiny things. He sings a song called "Shiny" as he attempts to eat Moana. Maui tries to get his hook, but Tamatoa is putting up a fight. Maui finally gets it... and still can't shapeshift. He's devastated, and Tamatoa is about to kill him when Moana holds up the heart of Te Fiti, the shiniest prize ever, and uses it to distract Tamatoa. She lets Tamatoa get it, and she and Maui escape. Maui says they have to go back for the heart, but Moana reveals she covered a rock in the bioluminescent sea floor - it was a fake.
Back on the boat, Moana asks Maui about something Tamatoa said about wanting to please the humans who rejected him. She notices his tattoo of a woman throwing a baby into the ocean. Maui refuses to talk about it, and finally admits he was born human. His parents didn't want him and threw him into the ocean, which saved him and made him a Demigod and gave him powers. Moana realizes that's why he's always been trying to please humans. Maui wants to give up since his magic doesn't even work, but Moana convinces him to keep trying. He practices his magic while also teaching Moana how to navigate the oceans - she becomes very good at it.
They finally reach Te Fiti, knowing the hardest part is going to be getting past Te Ka, who emerges from the rocks fiery and angry. They try very hard - Te Ka is made of fire and cannot touch the water - but Maui is hit, damaging his hook. They are forced to retreat. Moana says they have to go back, but Maui gives up, furious. If his hook takes one more hit, it will be destroyed, and he will have no more powers. He wants to quit, but Moana tells him she can't do it alone. He can't believe he was stupid enough to think Moana could be the chosen one. Moana pleads that the ocean chose her, and Maui coldly says it chose wrong. He shapeshifts into a bird and flies away.
Moana is heartbroken and tells the ocean to take the heart back. She tells the ocean it has the wrong girl and lets the heart begin sinking. Just then the manta ray comes through the water and appears to her as Gramma. Moana tells her she can't do it, and Gramma says if she wants to go home it's all right. She asks Moana who she is... and Moana sings "I Am Moana," and realizes that the call to action wasn't coming from the ocean, it was inside her heart. She knows what she must do. She dives back into the water and gets the heart.
The next day Moana uses her sailing skills to take on Te Ka. She wages battle against her, managing to fake her out and get past her rocks. In a pivotal moment, she loses the heart, but Hei Hei in his one moment of helpfulness grabs it with his mouth, saving it. Furious, Te Ka gets ready to deliver a lethal fireball when Maui appears. Moana is relieved he came back, and he urges her to keep going while he distracts Te Ka. He manages to protect Moana enough to get her to the Te Fiti shore, but his hook is sadly destroyed by Te Ka. Moana climbs over the rocks to put the heart of the island back and discovers... it's gone. Te Fiti is nowhere; it's just water. She is confused but then realizes. Singing "Know Who You Are," she understands that Te Ka IS Te Fiti - without her heart, this is what she became. She tells Te Fiti/Te Ka this isn't who she is. She orders the ocean to part so Te Ka can reach her, and she places the heart back inside her.
Te Ka transforms back into beautiful Te Fiti, green and full of life. The death of the planet is stopped. Te Fiti is grateful and gives Maui a new magical hook. Maui thanks Moana for helping him and even gets a new tattoo - one of the strong young woman he's come to know. Moana returns home and discovers it has been restored. Her family is happy to see her, and the fleet of ships is released so her people can become explorers once again. Moana leads the fleet out to sea, teaching her people how to navigate the ocean.
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