- Two subtle moments during the "Where You Are" song:
- One can't help but feel a tinge of sadness when a young Moana sings the line "And no one leaves...".
- When Moana looks back on Gramma Tala dancing in the water at the end of the song and decides she needs to move on and forget about that part of her past as a future chief.
- Combined with Nightmare Fuel, Tui's backstory in regards to why he doesn't want Moana going near the ocean. He and his friend went sailing late one night and ended up getting caught in a storm, which destroys their canoe and results in his friend's death. What makes this scene even more heartbreaking as Tui's friend drowns, Tui is crying out for his friend.
- Think about the above when Tui sings "In time you'll learn just as I did," during Where You Are...
- And there's also the part where he sings the line "And no-one leaves," in the part where Moana has accepted her role as future chief. In hindsight, it can easily come across as relief that he won't lose his daughter to the sea.
- Moana is packing supplies before sneaking off to leave the island against her parents' wishes, but is interrupted by Sina, her mother, who wasn't ever really part of the conflict between Moana and Tui. It almost seems unfair that she would be the one to discover their daughter leaving. It turns heartwarming when Sina helps Moana pack rather than try to stop her.
- The death of Gramma Tala. It's never shown but becomes clear when the lights go out around her deathbed and a glowing manta ray appears. Earlier she had stated that when she died she would come back as one.
- And then Moana looks down and notices the manta ray... It's pretty clear she figured out what happened, but she can't do anything about it at the moment.
- Maui's backstory. When he was born his parents decided they didn't want him and threw him in the ocean. The gods decided to give him a second chance and turned him into a demigod. This resulted in him developing a serious Inferiority Superiority Complex and causing him to define himself by the magical powers provided by his fish hook. He comes to see this as the source of his self-worth and feels inadequate without it. It's also revealed that he performed so many heroic deeds for humanity because he so strongly desired the praise and love he received for them. Tamatoa even tears into Maui about it during his Villain Song.
- This revelation makes a couple funny moments from earlier in the movie absolutely gut-wrenching upon reflection, especially the "you're no one's hero" scene. What was originally a satisfying win for Moana becomes a heartbreaking blow to Maui. The horrified, vulnerable expression on his face hurts quite a bit more when you know how much being a hero means to him.
- Maui finishes his explanation of his origins and the motivation for the things he did for humans by stating quietly that "it was never enough." implying their praise never fully filled the emptiness he felt from being unwanted by his family.
- Alternately, he could mean the more he gave them, the more they wanted, so he kept giving more and more to please them until finally he tried to get one thing too many.
- It's Harsher in Hindsight how he kept throwing Moana into the ocean, because it implies that he learned from his parents that if there's something or someone you don't want, just throw it in the ocean.
- And how many times does Maui dismiss Moana for her belief that the ocean choosing her actually means anything? He never goes into detail about how the gods found him floating in the sea...What if he's seeing a little bit of himself reflected in her?
- Maui leaves after his magical fish hook is damaged and flakey because Moana failed to listen to him about leaving, he bitterly states that the Ocean was wrong in choosing her. Ouch.Maui: I told you to turn back.
Moana: I thought we could make it.
Moana: I thought I could make it. We can fix it.
Maui: It was made by the gods. You can't fix it!
Moana: Next time we'll be more careful. Te Ka was stuck on the barrier islands. It's lava, it can't go in the water. We can find a way around.
Maui: I'm not going back.
Moana: We still have to restore the heart!
Maui: My hook is cracked. One more hit, and it's over.
Moana: Maui, you have to restore the heart!
Maui: Without my hook, I am nothing.
Moana: That's not true!
Maui: WITHOUT MY HOOK, I AM NOTHING!
(Moana backs away in shock. Maui drops the heart at Moana's feet. He paces past as she picks it up)
Moana: We're only here because you stole the heart in the first place!
Maui: No, we're here because the ocean told you you're special and you believed it.
(Moana recites her speech, getting closer to tears with every word)
Moana: I am Moana of Motunui. You will board my boat...
Maui: Goodbye, Moana.
Moana:...sail across the sea...
Maui: I'm not killing myself so you can prove you're something you're not!
Moana: ...and restore the heart of Te Fiti! THE OCEAN CHOSE ME!
Maui: It chose wrong. (He turns his back on Moana, transforms himself into a hawk and flies off, leaving her behind)
(Moana slumps as she watches Maui fly into the dark sky)
- Moana telling the ocean to choose a new voyager since she thinks she's failed.
- The worst part? After Moana says this, the ocean takes the heart back and returns it to the depths with great reluctance.
- Heartwarming Tear Jerker tag team: Moana's reunion with her grandmother after she'd given up all hope. This is full-on Mufasa-in-the-clouds territory, people.
- She also gets to make eye-contact and nod at the Wayfinder who founded her home village (her ancestor) as he and the others pass by on their canoes.
- Gramma Tala even acknowledges how difficult the task is for Moana to do all by herself, admitting she feels like she put too much on Moana's shoulders.
- The Cut Song "More - Reprise" was an absolutely sad song about Moana remembering her grandmother and wanting to live out her dream.
- The lyrics from Tamatoa's song: Far from the ones who abandoned you /Chasing the love of these humans /Who made you feel wanted. Any member of the audience suffering from abandonment issues will probably feel cut through the heart and feel like crying just like Maui looks.
- Te Fiti. This innocent, compassionate, all-loving goddess is turned into Te Ka, an entity responsible for wiping out life on entire islands, because someone stole her heart. Te Fiti felt so much loss and despair and emptiness that she literally wasn't herself anymore. It sounds a little cliche at first, but actually thinking about it is, well, heart-wrenching.
- What's probably worse is that Maui stole Te Fiti's heart to begin with so he could feel loved by humanity by giving them its power. Everything he's done in the past to get humanity's appreciation was genuinely good and useful (giving people fire, lifting up the sky, pulling up islands), but he got so lonely (or even neglected) at some point that committing a crime against a god seemed like the only option to get what he wanted... only for it to horrifically backfire on him. The poor guy.
- The forehead touch between Moana and Te Fiti/Te Ka after Moana calms her down. The symbolism of what pain and loss and violation can do to a person. That whole sequence, really.
- When Moana confronts Te Ka to give her heart back, she's very gentle and compassionate. Her Unflinching Walk as she sings the ethereal "Know Who You Are" elicits Tears of Joy AND Tears of Remorse, since it easily sounds like she's talking Te Ka down from suicide or self-destructive habits.They have stolen the heart from inside you,
- The track "An Innocent Warrior" was based on a song called "Loimata E Maligi". It tells the tragedy of a dormitory in Tuvalu catching fire; killing many of the girls inside. The people of the island mourned the loss through song.
- Meta example: This was the very last movie from Walt Disney Animation Studios to be spearheaded by Disney legends Ron Clements, and John Musker prior to the latter's retirement in March of 2018. After 30 years of directing classics from the company including The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog, and many others, the duo were able to bring that legacy to a close with what critics and audiences have claimed to be their best one since Aladdin, becoming their highest grossing film in the process and earning it an Oscar nomination alongside Zootopia the same year it was released. Ron and John had made an impact on Disney and its fans through the movies that they created alongside people like Glen Keane, Alan Menken, Eric Goldberg, and it will never be forgotten.
Tear Jerker / Moana