Moana has been on my mind recently thanks to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s adorable video singing his rap to his one-year-old.
Like most kid’s movies, Moana’s structure is impeccable. And, like most musicals, some of the nine story structure checkpoints even get their own song!
Here’s how this movie breaks down:
The Hook in this screenplay is a cleverly disguised information dump. It’s the story of how the demi-God Maui stole the heart of Te Fiti. To make it interesting, it’s been illustrated using a tapa cloth (presumably made by Moana’s grandmother).
The (somewhat) gruesome story is interrupted by Moana’s father. We see the ocean choose Moana and bestow the heart of Te Fiti into her toddling care.
It quickly becomes evident Moana longs to voyage out to see what lies beyond the forbidden reef. Much of Motonui’s backstory is related in the song “Where You Are.”
Moana grows into her role as a future leader, but her heart is always called to the ocean.
Moana’s stolen fishing boat gets swamped as she tries to cross the reef and she nearly drowns.
She doesn’t believe she’ll ever make it off the island (she lacks self-confidence) so she deciders her father is right about crossing the reef. She resigns herself to staying in Motonui forever.
Moana’s grandmother shows her the boats left by her distant ancestors, who used to voyage across the ocean. She learns she must find Maui and make him return the heart to Te Fiti in order to restore balance and save her island from the blight it faces.
She sets sail in a canoe and finds Maui. She refuses to take “no” for an answer and convinces him to go with her and return the heart. They face many trials as he tries to convince her to abandon her quest.
They finally almost make it to Te Fiti, but are thwarted by Te Ka, a lava monster who also wants to steal the heart. Maui’s magical fishhook is badly damaged and he abandons her and the quest.
Moana faces a black moment and asks the ocean to take the heart back from her and choose someone else.
Then, the spirit of her grandmother comes to comfort her. Her grandmother tells her she will support her if she decides to go home instead of completing the quest. But she asks, “Moana, do you know who you are?”
Moana realizes she was born to do this and, for the first time, truly believes she can succeed, even without Maui. She finds her self-confidence in the song, “I am Moana.”
She sails back to Te Fiti and plans to outwit the lava monster Te Ka by slipping between a break in the rocks she failed to sail through last time.
She confronts Te Ka and slips between the rocks, but when she makes it to the shores of Te Fiti she sees most of the island is missing. She realizes Te Ka is actually Te Fiti without her heart.
Now that Moana has found her self-confidence and knows who she is, she is able to make Te Ka remember who she is. Moana returns the heart and Te Ka transforms back into Te Fiti.
Life flourishes again. Moana returns to Motonui and reintroduces her people to the way of the voyagers, embracing both home and her sense of adventure.
Note: You’ll notice despite his large role in the film, Maui is almost entirely absent from this brief summary. That’s because Moana is the protagonist and the checkpoints all follow her growth.