Role in the series
Moana, as Gramma Tala describes, "stands out from the crowd". She is adventurous, headstrong, strong-willed, practically fearless, and physically capable. Though she has moments of self-doubt, she has great pride in who she is, and is generally too stubborn to back away from new challenges. Moana approaches new experiences and tasks with the utmost seriousness and will stand her ground to fight for what she values even when all seems lost. She can present herself as an imposing force despite her size and has bested the most fearsome beasts and impossible obstacles across the seas of Oceania while relying almost solely on her own intelligence.
For all her strengths, Moana suffers from major identity crises. Surrounded by a loving family and a supportive community of neighbors, Moana cares a great deal for her people, and the village in which she was born and raised. However, she also has a passionate love for the ocean and the idea of voyaging beyond her home island's barrier reef. At the start of the film, voyaging had been prohibited as a means to keep the people of Motunui safe, but even so, Moana's spirited and tenacious attitude kept her dreams of experiencing life beyond her island alive. At the same time, Moana was happily devoted to her village during her time as chief-in-training. An intelligent and resourceful leader, Moana was quick to remedy any problems her village faced, and was masterful in keeping herself composed and optimistic during times of a crisis. Moana's loyalty towards her family and people actually played a part in her crippling identity crisis. As she cared for them immensely, she occasionally felt extreme guilt for being drawn to the sea, as lamented in her song "How Far I'll Go"; she believed that if she were to pursue the ocean, she would ultimately disappoint the people she loved. Simultaneously, she felt an obligation towards her ancestors, wanting to reinvigorate their ways of wayfinding as a means to honor them and the legacy they left for her people. These conflicted emotions would ultimately act as Moana's greatest challenge throughout the film.
When it was revealed that she had been chosen by the ocean to restore the legendary heart of Te Fiti, Moana did not put her focus on the potentially devastating outcome of her mission, but the unity between her love for Motunui and her dream of voyaging in the tradition of her great ancestors. Though this would ultimately benefit all parties, this mindset is perhaps Moana's greatest flaw. In being heroic and deathly devoted to her goals, Moana can be selfish in that she is willing to endanger the lives of others in order to prove she is capable of confronting her ambitions without fail. Both Tui and Maui confront Moana on this during the events of the film, and though she denied both accusations, she knew - deep down - that this was correct. She can also be reckless with herself in this regard, as she drove herself out to sea without proper training in the ways of wayfinding or even sailing. She fears very little, but because of this, she can occasionally bite off more than she can chew. However, these acts are not done with malicious, or even notable intent. Moana is extremely sympathetic and caring, which drives her to perform life-threatening stunts for what she genuinely believes to be the greater good.
In contrast to this, Moana grows with failure. After Maui refuses to assist her in battling Te Kā following a disastrous first encounter on her account, she works up the courage to redeem herself by facing the lava demon alone. She is also empathetic, and looks to help herself by helping and understanding others first. This is most notably seen when she puts hours worth of focus on coming to understand Maui, and the reasonings behind his own inner-demons. In doing so, she was able to exhibit self-loving wisdom (specifically regarding how one should look inside themselves for strength and guidance, and not in someone else). Moana would later use this to encourage herself during her darkest hour.
As she grew with her adventure, Moana discovered more about herself. She came to realize that no one can define who you are, other than yourself; she was neither meant to be devoted solely to the sea or solely to her people, but to herself. As such, she was able to bring her two loves together, ultimately recreating and honoring what came before her: a unity between her people and the sea.