WARNING! WARNING!: What follows is a full and complete summary of the film with every kind of spoiler under the sun!!!! DO NOT CONTINUE if you have not seen the film and don’t want to know what happens!!!
From the moment I saw the first teaser, I knew that Moana would knock the ball out of the park. Everything about this film felt right, but knowing that in advance still didn’t prepare me for seeing this gorgeous masterpiece (which I did on Saturday night).
Moana could very easily be the perfect Disney film (it’s at least equal to Beauty and the Beast, and you know what high regard I hold THAT film in), I could probably find a flaw if I nitpicked, but really nothing jumped out at me.
The young Moana is the daughter of the village chief and will someday lead her people on the island of Motonui. Since she was a toddler, she has been fascinated by the ocean, but it’s a fruitless desire because her father (who means well), forbids anyone to sail beyond the reef at the edge of the island’s lagoon. This is because years ago, he and his friend snuck out beyond the reef in a small boat to explore and were caught in a storm. Moana’s father came back…his friend didn’t. As Moana gets older, she actually does a great job of suppressing her love of the ocean because she understands her responsibility as a future chief and she might have happily lived the rest of her days on the island….except things are starting to go wrong.
First the coconuts begin to spoil even before they’re harvested, and even worse, no one can find any fish in the lagoon, or anywhere within the reef. Moana believes she understands why this is happening: for years her grandmother has told the story of how the demi-god Maui stole the mystical heart of Te Fiti (a goddess considered the mother of all islands) and as a result, a dark blight has been spreading across the ocean, destroying everything it touches. And now, this blight has come to Motonui, but Moana’s father doesn’t want to believe it.
Moana wants to help her people, but she’s not sure how, until her grandmother tells her a secret…her people didn’t always live on Motonui. A long time ago, they were sea voyagers, travelling the ocean in HUGE boats, sailing using only their knowledge of the stars and sea currents. But, due to the blight, boats eventually stopped returning, and it was decided to hide the boats away forever. But now, with the island in danger, the only way to save Motonui is to return the heart of Te Fiti, and the only way to do that is to sail far past the reef. Moana’s father won’t listen and actually wants to burn the boats, but then Moana’s grandmother (his mother) becomes deathly ill, and with some of her last words she urges Moana to go and do what must be done.
Taking a small canoe, Moana grabs some supplies and sets off to find Maui, and boy does she find him. Maui is a cocky demi-god, rather full of himself because in ages past he helped the humans by giving them fire, coconuts, various islands and other gifts. After much arguing, Moana convinces Maui to come with her to restore Te Fiti’s heart, but first they need to find Maui’s magic fish hook, a weapon that Maui uses to shapeshift into any form he chooses. Maui is certain his hook can be found in the realm of monsters, and it is…it just happens to be in the possession of a giant crab with a penchant for all things shiny and valuable. Moana and Maui do manage to retrieve the hook, but not before the crab reveals that Maui was abandoned by his family.
It turns out that Maui wasn’t born a demi-god, he was actually born a normal human to human parents. But for whatever reason, as soon as he was born, they abandoned him by throwing him into the sea. But he didn’t die…the gods found him and raised him, giving him the magic fish hook when he was grown.
Fish hook found, the pair sails on to Te Fiti, and along the way Maui teaches Moana all about how to sail. (I forgot to mention, before this, there was a hilarious encounter with Kakamora, basically pygmy sprites that resemble little coconuts. It’s hilarious and a little freaky all at the same time, but I loved it!!!) It’s not as simple as sailing up to the island and restoring the heart…there happens to be a fire demon named Te Kaa in the way.
The first attempt to reach Te Fiti ends very badly. Moana believes she can slip the boat past Te Kaa before he swipes them out of the water, but Maui really wants to turn back. When Moana doesn’t listen, Maui is forced to use his fish hook directly against Te Kaa’s body: the resulting explosion blasts the boat far out to see, and critically damages the fish hook in the process. Believing his entire worth is wrapped up in the fish hook, Maui refuses to have anything more to do with Moana or the quest and takes off (literally, he turns himself into a giant hawk). Initially despondent, Moana resolves to continue on alone after an inspiring meeting with her grandmother and a vision of her seafaring ancestors (in a sequence that made me cry, but in a good way).
Moana makes it to the island (with a late assist from Maui who changed his mind), but while Maui is keeping Te Kaa distracted, she makes an earth-shattering discovery: Te Fiti isn’t there!! Maui told her that the heart belongs in the center of a spiral on Te Fiti’s chest, and when Moana looks back, she notices that Te Kaa has a spiral on HIS chest. And that’s when it dawns on her…Te Kaa isn’t just some fire demon…he, actually she, is Te Fiti without her heart!!! Knowing this, she calls Te Kaa over and reminds the goddess who she really is while restoring the heart to her. Rejuvenated, the blight is destroyed and Te Fiti thanks the pair by restoring Maui’s fish hook and making Moana’s boat good as new before returning to her slumber.
Moana returns to Motonui, and having seen the benefits of sailing firsthand, the great boats are retrieved from their cavern and the entire village is off on a sailing adventure with Moana leading the way!
I literally cannot praise this film enough, it left me in tears by the closing scene and I’m already making plans to see this film at least one more time in the theater (and I almost never do that). If you haven’t seen this film yet, please go, and if you have and your friends haven’t, take them with you and go see it again!
Final verdict: Moana is a masterpiece that rivals the greatest of the Disney classics.
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