Moana finds a midpoint.
The Midpoint is a scene or sequence in the middle of a story that marks an inflection point for the main character. If we look at the middle of Disney’s Moana, what will we see?
Note: this will probably make more sense if you’ve seen the movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, fret not – we’ll have more midpoint examples soon!
The Premise of Moana
Moana is the story about the princess of Matsunui island. The fish and coconuts that sustain her people are dying out thanks to a curse brought upon them by a renegade demigod named Maui that stole the heart of the goddess Te Fiti. According to the prophesy, a chosen one will find Maui and force him to return Te Fiti’s heart to save the people of Matsunui.
To really help her people, she’ll need to undergo a transformation to become the kind of leader a nomadic people needs: a Wayfinder. Wayfinders don’t just know how to sail or navigate based on the stars – they maintain their sense of identity by remembering where they came from.
So, what is the Midpoint scene’s job in Moana?
For Moana, it needs to help her understand that just simply going on an adventure to fulfill a prophesy isn’t enough to save her people. It isn’t about learning simple skills like sailing; she needs to find a deeper sense of who her people are so they can look to the future by remembering their past.
Lets take a look!
The “Midpoint Sequence” is of Moana is easy to locate: it consists of a single conversation and it is almost exactly in the middle of the movie. More importantly, Moana and Maui are going to face two villains in Act II (the Coconut Pirates and the giant crab) and the midpoint occurs right between them.
Moana shares her Midpoint Scene with Maui, “shape-shifter, demigod of the wind and sea, hero to all.” Before we get to the midpoint scene, Moana and Maui have had their first success together: they escape a race of coconut pirates thanks (mostly) to Maui’s expert and heroic sailing. As evening sets, Moana is proud of the victory, but Maui is less impressed.
We can track Moana’s struggle to sail as beats in a the movie: In the beginning, Moana yearns to sail and almost kills herself trying. Just before the midpoint scene, Maui’s ability to narrowly out-wit the pirates keeps them alive, and in the movie’s climax, it will be through heroic sailing that Moana will accomplish her quest.
At the midpoint, though, Maui helps Moana (and us, the audience) understand that it isn’t sailing itself that is important…
As the ancient hero for Moana’s people, Maui’s philosophy of wayfinding reflects the philosophy expressed by her grandmother, the sage character in the beginning of the movie. From this point forward, Moana will learn the skills of a “Wayfinder,” skills that will be tested at the end of the story.
Maui challenging the stubborn princess: after telling her how important it is to be a Wayfinder, he reminds her that she isn’t one.
Looking Ahead: Maui changes his mind
Moana, of course, eventually proves herself as a competent Wayfinder, and Disney chose an extremely strategic point in the narrative structure to show it: Minute 72 – the transition from Act II to Act III.
For clues about script writers chose to place Maui’s challenge at the midpoint and resolution at the second act break, read about the roles each act plays in a narrative.