It’s important to note that the hero’s journey has other potential steps. There are seventeen identified stages in the hero’s journey, and some stories have every single one of them. Others only have the major touch stones. And most stories shuffle the order.
Disney and most YA novels have shortened and combined many of the stages. For example, the road of trials and the temptation are often merged and the belly of the whale is often moved around to serve the plot.
To get a much more comprehensive picture of the hero’s journey, check out Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces.
In most simplified hero’s journeys, Transformation occurs right on the heels of the Belly of the Whale. This is when the newly humbled hero embraces their flaws and transforms them into strengths. It’s the moment when Goku turns super-duper seyan. When Sailor Moon unlocks her latest, greatest power, when Joy embraces Sadness and returns to her quest with a renewed sense of vigor, when Hercules literally turns into a god. Simba returns to pride rock transformed into an adult lion that embraces his responsibilities.
My favorite example of this is in Wreck it Ralph when it circles right back to his affirmation. He went through the Belly of the Beast when he wrecked Vanelope’s car. He’s given his medal and finds it to be meaningless. It’s an impressive low point. He starts the road back when he realizes King Candy has deceived him, but he lacks what it would truly take to defeat the big bad until this heart breaking scene, when he comes to terms with who he is and fully accepts himself. Only then, once he’s transformed, can his character arc and the big bad be defeated.