- Moana: "Why are you acting weird?"
- Tala: "I'm the village crazy lady, that's my job."
- ―Moana and Tala
Gramma Tala is a major character in Disney's 2016 animated feature film, Moana. Known for her love of Polynesian myths and legends, Tala is the “village crazy lady” of Motunui, where she resides alongside her grand daughter, Moana.
Like her granddaughter, Tala has a love for sea exploration, having come from an ancestry of South Pacific navigators. Unlike the other villagers, Tala has not forgotten her roots (or chose to ignore them, as in Tui's case). She hopes to see her people someday return to their former greatness as master wayfinders.
Tala is said to be the "keeper of the ancient stories", having deep knowledge and understanding of her heritage and culture. She is also aware of the growing darkness that threatens her people, and looks to Moana to someday utilize her wayfinding talents to liberate the world.
- Moana's confidante and best friend, who shares her granddaughter's special connection to the ocean. Although her son Tui, the chief of Motunui, is a no-nonsense leader, Gramma Tala most definitely dances to the beat of her own drum.
Tala is spirited, eccentric, and independent. She is fiercely devoted to the idea of being true to yourself and "listening to your heart." As such, she never adhered to normality for the sake of fitting in, making her somewhat of an outcast, though she holds the reputation of "village crazy lady" with prideful awareness. She is also mischievous and playful, at one point noting that she can keep secrets from Tui if she so please, as although he is chief, she is still his mother.
Nevertheless, her independence makes her a beloved and respected figure to Moana, who takes after her grandmother more so than her parents. The two share an extremely close bond with so much in common and provide support constantly throughout Moana's early life and even following Tala's death.
Despite her individuality, Tala loved her family and people immensely. As the sole villager to believe there's truth behind Polynesia's supernatural elements, Tala lived through much of her latter years with the heavy burden of wanting to restore balance to the dying world, but having no resources to do so. She was nevertheless optimistic throughout the crises, and had the utmost confidence in Moana, the ocean's chosen savior. Trusting the ocean and believing that her granddaughter held the heart and drive necessary to return the heart of Te Fiti and save Montunui, Tala put her wisdom to good use by using her last remaining strength to guide and prepare Moana for her life-changing journey across the sea. This would ultimately benefit Tala's people and the world, as well as end Moana's case of crippling identity crises. Tala's words during "I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)" strongly imply that each of those outcomes were intentional and foreseen.
Despite her loving intentions, Tala confessed to feelings of guilt for placing so much responsibility on Moana before the former's death. So much so that she felt no disappointment after Moana's apparent failure. When her granddaughter showed a desire to return home despite the mission being incomplete, Tala remained supportive and loving, even promising to remain by Moana's side for the entire trip back. This is an example of Tala's selflessness. More than her love for the seas or respect for her heritage, Tala's greatest pride and concern is the well-being and happiness of her family.
Tala begins the film with an opening narration detailing the day Maui flew to the mother island, Te Fiti, and stole her life-giving gem heart in an act of supposed heroism. As Tala explains, this brought darkness upon the world, and if the heart is not returned to its rightful place, all of humanity will fall victim to a slow, and painful death at the hands of the lava demon Te Kā. The children gathered to hear Tala's story are terrified, but Moana is captivated. Tala's son, Chief Tui, arrives to settle the crying crowd, claiming the stories are nothing more than works of fiction. Tala nevertheless insists that what she says is true and that someone must brave the ocean to save the world. Meanwhile, at the shores of the sea, Moana is chosen by the ocean to return the heart, and is granted the jade stone. When Tui picks her up to take her back to the village, Moana drops the stone, and it falls into Tala's protected possession.
Over the years, Moana and Tala share a very close relationship. While Tui encourages Moana to discard her love for the sea in favor of her duties as future chief, Tala encourages Moana's calling. Eventually, however, Moana chooses to abide by her father's wishes and focuses on her duties until word gets out that the resources on the island are mysteriously dying out. She suggests the people sail beyond the reef to find more fish, but Tui forbids anyone from doing so. He claims Moana only wishes to journey past the reef because of her love for ocean exploration, and though Moana denies it, a part of her feels her father's suspicions are correct.
She then takes a boat and sails into the ocean with Pua in attempts to find more fish. Before she can pass the reef, she nearly drowns. She saves herself and makes it to shore, where Tala arrives and inspects the wound on her granddaughter's foot, but since she's Tui's mother, she doesn't have to tell him anything. Moana laments that she is not ready to explore the seas, and Tala suspiciously accepts her granddaughter's wishes. When Moana asks why her grandmother is acting in odd behavior, as if there's something that needs to be said, Tala takes her to the entrance of a hidden cave. She tells Moana to journey inside, bang the drums, and discover why she has such a strong connection to the sea. Moana discovers her ancestors were once great voyagers and asks why the voyaging stopped. Tala explains that once Te Fiti's heart was stolen, darkness and corruption spread across the seas, rendering it too dangerous to voyage.
To keep their people safe, the chiefs of the past forbade anyone from leaving the island, and throughout a millennium, the people of Motunui have forgotten their roots and who they are. More importantly, the danger has not decreased, and Tala shows Moana signs that prove their island is the next to die. Though Moana is horrified, Tala reveals that she has the heart of Te Fiti in her possession and explains that the ocean chose Moana as the one capable of saving the world. Moana accepts the responsibility, and Tala shows her the way to Maui through a constellation resembling his fishhook. Moana excitedly runs off to gather her people for help, while Tala, feeling weaker than ever before, takes a moment to rest while having one final look at the starry sky.
Shortly afterward, Moana finds Tala's cane on the ground and is informed that her grandmother is dying and receiving medical care, but nothing can be done to save her. Tala weakly encourages Moana to save her people, but the latter is reluctant to leave her grandmother's side. Tala promises that, no matter what, she will always be with her granddaughter, and passes down her necklace with the heart of Te Fiti inside. A heartbroken Moana leaves the hut and packs for her travels with the help of her mother. She takes one of her ancestor's boats and sails off towards the reef. As Moana looks back at the island, she's able to witness Tala's light go out, indicating that her grandmother has died. Tala's spirit takes the form of an illuminated manta ray, and guides Moana to the open ocean, beginning the journey.
Though Moana successfully manages to find Maui and convince him to sail to Te Fiti, their battle with Te Kā ends in disastrous failure. Maui's hook is severely damaged, and he blames Moana for the devastation before leaving her alone at sea, believing there's no hope in restoring the heart. Feeling she's failed her people and wayfinding ancestors, Moana sends the heart of Te Fiti back into the sea.
Suddenly, Moana is visited by her grandmother's spirit. Tala comforts Moana and apologizes for putting so much pressure on her in the first place. She lovingly supports Moana's decision to turn back home, but Moana feels hesitant to do so. With her granddaughter feeling lost and confused, Tala sings "I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)". The song leads Moana down a path of discovery; she accepts her love for the sea, and her people, ultimately deciding that she is neither bound to one or the other. With reinvigorated courage and inspiration, Moana dives into the sea and reclaims the heart of Te Fiti. When she returns to the surface, Tala is gone.
Moana nevertheless sails to Te Fiti and is successful in restoring the heart with Maui's help. With the island saved, Moana returns home and embraces her parents. She earns the role of Chief of Motunui and declares that her people are now free to voyage the seas as their ancestors did years before. Tala is reincarnated as a physical manta ray and swims alongside Moana's boat as their family celebrates the return to their roots, shortly before Maui returns, watching Moana and her people sail proudly.
Emoticon versions of Tala and her spirit appeared in the As Told by Emoji retelling of Moana.
- Tala was not present in the first version of the movie. The idea of a grandmother character came from writer Pamela Ribon.
- Gramma Tala becoming a manta ray after she dies is loosely based on the myth of Taotao Mo'na, which implies that ancestral spirits can come back in the form of animals to haunt the island.
- In a pencil test by Randy Haycock, Tala mentions that her deceased husband visits her as a shark, similar to how she visits Moana as a manta ray at the end of the film.
- In the reprise of the deleted ballad "More", Moana mentions that Tala was the one who named her.
- Originally, there was a scene where Tala and Tui had a late-night discussion regarding Moana's dream to be a navigator. It put focus on Tala and Tui's relationship and conflicting personalities, and was also the scene used for Rachel House and Temuera Morrison's auditions for Tala and Tui's voice roles, respectively. Though it served the two characters well, and was beloved by co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements, the scene was cut.
- "New ‘Moana’ Photos and Character Details Introduce You to the Animated Cast". Screencrush (July 25, 2016).
- "Moana: Ron Clements & John Musker Official Movie Premiere Interview". YouTube (November 16, 2016).
- Randy Haycock 'Tala and Moana' animation test