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On the Polynesian island of Motunui, the inhabitants worship the goddess Te Fiti, who brought life to the ocean, using a pounamu stone as her heart and the source of her power. Maui, the shapeshifting demigod and master of sailing, steals the heart to give humanity the power of creation. However, Te Fiti disintegrates, and Maui is attacked by Te Kā, a volcanic demon, losing both his magical giant fishhook and the heart to the depths.
A millennium later, Moana, daughter of Motunui's chief Tui, is chosen by the ocean to return the heart to Te Fiti. However, Tui arrives and takes Moana away, causing her to lose the heart. Tui and Moana's mother Sina try to keep her away from the ocean to prepare for her ascension as the island's chief. Years later, after Moana has grown older, a blight strikes the island, rotting the coconuts and dwindling the number of fish caught. Moana suggests going beyond the island's reef to find more fish, but Tui forbids it. Sina explains to Moana that Tui and his best friend tried going beyond the reef, but the latter perished. Moana and her pet pig Pua try conquering the reef but are overpowered by the ocean's tides and end up shipwrecked back on Motunui.