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I first became aware that this movie was being made in October 2014, thanks to a link on facebook to a D23 article. So, by the time it hit theaters in November 2016, I had already been looking forward to it for a little over two years. And then I didn't see it until I got it on DVD, in August 2018. Which explains why it feels like I waited more than two years to see it... it's because I actually waited a little under four years. Of course, I always assumed I wouldn't get to see it in a theater, but looking back after watching it in 2018, I think I might have thought there was a possibility of going to the theater to see it in December 2016, but that didn't happen. But whatevs, I've seen it now, and it was better than I expected it to be, which is saying a lot, because I expected it to be totally awesome. So I'm happy. Um... and if you want me to mention another date, in February 2017 I added a video for the song "How Far I'll Go" to my facebook group, The Music Exchange. That version was sung by the movie's star, Auli'i Cravalho. But before watching the movie itself, I watched a bonus feature on the DVD, a music video of the same song, performed by Alessia Cara. I am a fan of hers, and her version of the song was good. But as is usually the case with animated movies that have songs performed by voice actors and secondary versions by celebrity singers, I prefer the original by Cravalho. Anyway, Cara's video was the second bonus feature I watched. The first was the short film Inner Workings, which had been released in theaters with this movie.
It begins with a legend being told to a group of small children on the Polynesian island Motunui. Most of the kids are afraid of the story, but one little girl, Moana, loves it. It's about a demigod named Maui stealing the heart (literally) of a goddess named Te Fiti. (She had turned into an island, and her heart was a green pounamu stone.) After that, Maui was attacked by a volcanic demon named Te Ka, who wanted to take the heart from him. The legend is told by Tala, Moana's grandmother. She says all this happened a thousand years ago, but someday someone will find Te Fiti's heart and restore it to its rightful place. After hearing the story, Moana wanders out onto the beach, where she spots a shell she wants to pick up. But she also sees a baby turtle being attacked by some birds, and she decides to help the turtle instead of going for the shell. However, the ocean then begins to recede so that she can gather more shells, apparently as a reward for her selflessness. And then she finds the heart... but drops it when her father, Tui, the island's chief, picks her up and carries her away from the water. Then we see a montage of Moana growing up, and always wanting to go out onto the ocean, but her father always keeps her away from it. (It may seem unfair, but there's a great song to go along with the montage.)
When Moana is a teenager (voiced by Auliʻi Cravalho), a blight strikes the island, ruining coconuts as well as making the fish disappear. She thinks her people should fish beyond the reef, but Tui forbids it, because it's dangerous out there. She tries anyway, and fails. But later, Tala shows Moana a secret cave where the boats of their ancestors are hidden, and Moana learns that her people used to be voyagers, exploring the ocean and discovering new islands. Later, when Tala is on her deathbed, she gives Moana the heart, which she had picked up the same day Moana had found it as a young girl (which Moana now thought had been a dream). She insists Moana take a boat and find Maui, and get him to go with her to restore the heart.
Soon after leaving Motunui, Moana discovers that her pet rooster, Heihei (Alan Tudyk), has stowed away on her boat. (He doesn't speak, or anything, because he's just a natural chicken, though I wouldn't exactly call him "normal." He is... probably the least intelligent chicken that has ever lived.) Anyway, they end up being shipwrecked on an island where Maui (Dwayne Johnson) has been stranded for the past thousand years, ever since losing his magical fishhook, which had been given to him by the gods, which allowed him to shapeshift into any animal. (Incidentally, before I got to see this movie, I became aware of his hook because it played a role in the plot of the final season of Once Upon a Time.) Maui is kind of a self-centered jerk, but he does have a fun song. Anyway, he just wants to take Moana's boat and go find his hook, and wants absolutely nothing to do with Moana's quest to restore the heart. But despite his best efforts, he can't get rid of her, both because of her determination, and because the ocean keeps helping her.
Eventually, they make their way to the realm of monsters, where a giant crab named Tamatoa lives, because Maui was sure he had stolen the hook. And he was right. There's quite a struggle to retrieve Maui's fishhook, but Tamatoa has a good song. Once they do get the hook, Maui finds that he's lost the knack for shapeshifting. But meanwhile, he teaches Moana how to sail (or "wayfind"). And we eventually learn his tragic backstory. And he rediscovers the ability to shapeshift properly. And Moana finally convinces him to help her restore the heart... but that means they'll have to get past Te Ka, which is quite challenging. And then... there's a plot twist that I won't spoil, but it was pretty great. Nor will I spoil how the whole story ends, but it's awesome.
So, yeah, I'm leaving out a few details. But it's a really funny movie, with a lot of heart, and great songs, and adventure, and it's all very clever. And Moana can be pretty badass, at times, in addition to being brave and smart and caring and funny (and of course adorable at every age we see). And Tala is pretty great, herself. ...There is, naturally, some criticism involving cultural appropriation, and homogenizing diverse Polynesian cultures, and so forth. And all the criticisms are perfectly valid... so I feel bad about that, but it didn't stop me from loving the hell out of the movie.
Oh, and Tamatoa has an amusing post-credits scene.