In Disney’s Moana, the characters are tasked with returning the heart of Te Fiti to save the world — but why did Maui steal it in the first place?
Disney’s Moana chronicles the story of Moana and Maui on a mission to return the stolen heart of Te Fiti. The heart was bestowed upon Moana by the ocean a thousand years after it was stolen from Te Fiti by the demigod, Maui. To lift the curse spreading from the ocean (and killing life on Moana’s island) and revive Te Fiti, the heart had to be returned to her — but why did Maui steal the heart in the first place?
The heart of Te Fiti is an ancient gem possessed by Te Fiti, the mother island. The heart gave her the ability to create islands filled with flora and fauna to provide homes to the people of the South Pacific. A thousand years before Moana takes place, Maui visited the mother island to steal the heart as a gift to humanity. However, the heart (and his hook) are lost to the ocean after his escape landed him in a fight with the lava demon, Te Kā.
Maui is traditionally known as a trickster god — that means he likes to cause mischief, even if his actions are mainly done to the benefit of mankind. Ultimately, Maui took the heart simply because he could. Stealing it would prove his prowess, gain him infamy with the humans, and cause chaos all in one go. It was meant to be just another adventure he could add to his tattoo tapestry of achievements — instead, his hubris caused him to lose not only the heart but his power as well.
Throughout the film, Maui’s main motivation is the praise of mankind. During the Moana song “You’re Welcome,” Maui lists the things he’s done to win the gratitude of humanity: he brought them fire to ward off cold nights, long days filled with sunshine, and coconut trees, and he controls the breeze and the tides. In his mind, stealing the gem to give humans the ability to create life would be the ultimate gift to win him their favor forever; instead, being the reason the heart is lost to the ocean tarnishes Maui’s reputation. Being something humanity can look up to and shower with praise is the demigod’s greatest goal throughout Moana. The promise of praise is what motivates Maui to help Moana return the heart to Te Fiti— lifting the curse and saving the day would most certainly return Maui’s positive reputation with the mortals he cares so deeply for.
Moana’s Maui has a greater narcissistic streak than the Polynesian legends he’s based on; while Disney’s Maui performs these actions in order to win adoration, the Maui of legend performed these feats to aid humanity. Though his listed feats are taken from Maori legends— such as raising islands from the sea, creating coconuts, and lassoing the sun— Disney’s Moana took some creative licenses with the demigod’s story (and his ego). By the end of Moana, Maui is humbled as he apologizes to Te Fiti for his reckless actions and is gifted a new fish hook in return for his heroic deeds. Helping Moana across the ocean, risking his life for her, and doing something good for humanity for their own sake instead of his has reminded him what it means to be a hero once again.
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