Tamatoa is the secondary antagonist of Disney's 2016 animated feature film Moana. He is a villainous giant crab that covets all things shiny and valuable. In an effort to exude beauty and superiority, Tamatoa displays his collected treasures atop his golden shell.
Tamatoa is a gargantuan coconut crab that hails from Lalotai, a realm inhabited by monsters. Living in a giant seashell within the realm's depths, Tamatoa is known as a "beady-eyed bottom feeder," a social reputation he greatly despises. He covers his shell in gold, rare artifacts and treasures as a means to elevate his status, and this overcompensation eventually became a crazed love for all things shiny. An avid collector and hoarder, Tamatoa's materialistic obsession has driven him into madness over time.
A shiny shell isn't enough for Tamatoa, however. For centuries, he has plotted to steal and control the heart of the island goddess Te Fiti. In doing so, Tamatoa would possess the ultimate power of creation, thus ennobling him to a supreme and preeminent entity.
Tamatoa is also the long-standing arch-nemesis of acclaimed demigod Maui. The two appear to know each other extremely well, with Tamatoa even having knowledge of Maui's near-tragic beginnings. During one of their battles, Maui ripped off one of Tamatoa's legs which, according to Maui, plays a part in the giant crab's hatred for him. Maui have even received a tattoo for defeating him. Despite his own physical prowess, Tamatoa fears Maui when the latter is equipped with his magical fish hook, but not so much when he learns that Maui is out of practice using it.
Tamatoa is a self-absorbed, 50-foot crab who lives in Lalotai, the realm of monsters. The conceited crustacean wants to be more than a “bottom feeder” and overcompensates for this perceived shortcoming by covering himself in all things shiny.
Tamatoa is unpredictable and possibly insane. His mood tends to shift at the drop of a hat, going from cheeky and comedic, to murderous and menacing in a mere matter of seconds. He's quite monstrous in both size and attitude; one of his most well-known traits being his sadistic habit of eating anyone around him, be they humans, sea creatures or even deities—he even admitted to eating his own grandmother.
Tamatoa has a twisted sense of humor, specifically shown when he dryly remarked that it took a week to eat his grandmother because of her enormous size. He also takes pleasure in torturing his enemies both mentally and physically, as shown when he gleefully - yet brutally - thrashed Maui across his lair, while crushing the demigod's ego at the same time. With an apparent lack of boundaries, Tamatoa has no qualms with mocking someone's dead loved one, or exposing someone's deepest insecurities to amuse himself.
Above all, Tamatoa is extremely narcissistic. With a superiority complex, he views himself as beautiful, and others as irrelevant and disposable. Unlike Moana, Tala and Maui, Tamatoa does not believe in inner-beauty or "listening to your heart". Instead, he views anyone who is not physically attractive or outwardly strong as insignificant and lesser than him, albeit perfectly fit for a meal. This is his biggest flaw and ultimately causes his downfall, as he underestimated Moana's intelligence (because she's a human), which allowed her to best the villainous crustacean.
To some extent, Tamatoa's narcissism is superficial. In truth, he is insecure and uses his glamorous appearance and valuable possessions as compensation. As such, he welcomes anything that will increase his power and, by extension, his social status, such as the heart of Te Fiti. Tamatoa's lust for power also cripples him to a degree, as he gave up his chance at destroying Maui in favor of chasing after what he assumed to be Te Fiti's heart.
Powers and abilities
Immense Strength: With his massive size and body weight, Tamatoa possesses incredible physical strength that eclipses the raw strength of a demigod. When Maui was stripped of his fish hook's power, Tamatoa was able to mercilessly attack the former with ease. Being a coconut crab, his claws are also extremely powerful, though the magnitude of what they can destroy has not been explored.
Expert Fighter: Despite his enormous size, Tamatoa is expertly able to fight opponents of any size. He displays enough agility and dexterity to strike small, human-sized opponents with pinpoint accuracy. His coordination is so great as to thrash Maui with vicious combos, easily demount opponents on his back, and gracefully spin Maui's small fish hook in his claws. Combined with his afore mentioned strength, Tamatoa is extremely dangerous and able to defeat nearly any opponent lesser than Maui at his full power.
Bioluminescence: When in pitch darkness, Tamatoa undergoes a physical transformation in the form of a trait called bioluminescence. This is found in real deep sea creatures (including some crustaceans) and allows Tamatoa's body and the shiny objects hoarded on his shell to emit a neon, glowing light. His pupils, irises and scleras, meanwhile, can change color by alternating from vibrant and alarming pinks and blues.
Camouflage: By using the hoard of gold upon his shell, Tamatoa can perfectly disguise himself to appear as an inanimate mountain of treasures until he chooses to reveal himself. He mainly uses his shiny shell as a hunting tactic, luring unsuspecting fish from the surrounding ocean straight into his mouth, among other prey. When bioluminescent, Tamatoa can perform counter-illumination, meaning he can manipulate the neon light of his body to match the darkness of his lair, completely camouflaging his form. Only Tamatoa's teeth and eyes can be seen in this form, when grinning and when they're open, respectively.
Eternal Youth: Tamatoa is more than a thousand years old at the height of the film, as he knew Maui before his exile. He shows no signs of aging and proves to be in excellent shape.
Fourth Wall Awareness: Possibly due to his state of mind, Tamatoa is seemingly aware he lives in a fictional world. While beating down Maui, he asks the audience to look up the definition of a "decapod," then later asks them for help while comparing himself to Sebastian from The Little Mermaid.
Tamatoa is first seen during Gramma Tala's story concerning the mother island Te Fiti and her life-giving heart. According to Tala, many sought the heart for its power, and among these ancient entities was Tamatoa, though Maui was the only one capable of actually stealing the heart. In doing so, he was banished to a desolate island, while his fish hook was lost at sea in a battle for the heart against a wrathful lava demon. At some point, the fish hook would be found by Tamatoa, who added it to his collection of treasures. According to Tala, Te Kā and the "demons of the deep" still hunt for the heart long after its disappearance. Among the creatures depicted on Tala's tapa cloths is Tamatoa.
Centuries later, Maui is freed from his exile by Moana, who needs Maui to return the heart of Te Fiti to its rightful place. Maui eventually agrees, but needs his fish hook in order to accomplish the mission. Both Moana and Maui sail to Lalotai, and the two soon find Tamatoa's lair. Moana is sent in as bait, covering herself in shiny objects to attract the crab. Tamatoa soon awakens, and examines the potential new prize, only to scoff in disgust upon realizing it's a human. To keep Tamatoa's attention away from Maui, Moana indirectly asks the crab to talk about his supposed greatness, which he gladly obliges to through the song "Shiny". Tamatoa explains that he was once a "drab little crab", unhappy with who he was, until he began covering himself in all things shiny. He further explains that his shell is also used practically, as the glimmering light attracts dozens of fish at a time—all of whom become Tamatoa's meal. Hungering for more, Tamatoa prepares to eat Moana, only to pause in fear when Maui reveals himself, fish hook in hand. Unfortunately, Maui is out of practice with the weapon, crippling his ability to shape-shift.
Tamatoa sadistically sees this as an opportunity to eliminate his foe, and thusly attacks and abuses Maui throughout his lair. When Moana tries to intervene, Tamatoa traps her within a cage made from discarded bones. Tamatoa then darkens his lair so that his form becomes bioluminescent, giving him a glowing yet menacing appearance. He prepares to devour Maui, but Moana escapes her cell and creates a phony duplicate of Te Fiti's heart using a barnacle covered in luminescent algae. She calls to Tamatoa to show him the shiny prize in her possession, and the crab immediately discards Maui in favor of his coveted treasure. He chases after Moana, who drops the heart in a crevice on the ocean floor. While Tamatoa digs for it, Moana takes the fish hook and then makes her escape with Maui. It isn't long before Tamatoa realizes he's been tricked, and the enraged crustacean chases after the duo. They launch themselves onto a geyser heading to the surface, and the impact of the shooting water knocks Tamatoa onto his shell. Unable to move, he's left stranded on the ocean floor, asking if Moana at the very least enjoyed his song.
Tamatoa is last seen after the credits, where he is still trapped and struggling to get off his shell, but to no avail. He sings a short, melancholy version of "Shiny" before asking the audience for assistance, and quips that if his name were "Sebastian" and he had "a cool Jamaican accent", the audience would feel happy to help.
For the third installment of the Disney Infinity series, Tamatoa was to appear as a boss in the cancelled Moana playset. The development of the playset coincided with earlier versions of the movie, however, meaning Tamatoa's model in the game resembled that of his earlier — more refined and less grotesque — design.
In Disney's Hollywood Studios, Tamatoa appears as the central villain in Wonderful World of Animation, with "Shiny" featuring as the overarching theme of the villains' segment. When he appears, the Chinese Theater is transformed into the interior of Tamatoa's seashell lair. Following the appearances of the Kakamora and Te Kā, Tamatoa becomes bioluminescent, which leads to the appearances of various other Disney animated villains like Hades and Yzma. At the end of the sequence, Tamatoa timidly asks the audience, "Did you like the song?"
In earlier concepts, instead of a crab, Tamatoa was conceived as a giant, headless warrior from an Oceanic myth.
"Tama Toa" means "deceased parent" in Hawaiian and "male children" in Maori, while "Tamatoa" means "trophies" in Maori.
Some of the animators that worked on Tamatoa consider him to be amongst the most enjoyable assignments of their career.
Real-life coconut crabs have been known to steal shiny things like silverware, and they're sometimes called "robber crabs" or "palm thieves", so Tamatoa's greed is actually part of his animal nature.
Tamatoa breaks the fourth wall three times: First when he says that he can't hide due to his shininess during "Shiny", the second time is when he tells the audience to look up what a decapod is, and later during his post-credits scene, where he asks the audience for help.
The demo version of "Shiny" strongly implies that Tamatoa can somehow absorb Maui's powers. However, it is unknown if this ability carried over to the final film.
In the novelization of the film, Tamatoa states that he ate both of his grandparents. In the movie, only his grandmother is mentioned.
Moana's personal journey is about discovering your identity, self-worth, and embracing the person you are on the inside. As a villain of the story, Tamatoa serves as the antithesis to Moana, as he believes you're only worth something if you're physically attractive.
As the only character in the movie to spurn the film's message, Tamatoa is left feeling alone, empty, and lost during his final scenes, while the other characters find peace and love. He even contemplates how useless his shiny shell turned out to be during the post-credits scene.
The fact that Tamatoa ate his grandmother is not far fetched as in real-life, coconut crabs sometimes resort to cannibalism. In fact, coconut crabs' only predators beside humans are other coconut crabs.
There are some instances where the pitch of Tamatoa's voice drops significantly, which makes his tone deeper and more monstrous. This is most notable in the lines, "Little Maui's having trouble with his look.", "The power of creation, for a crustacean!" and "Come back here!".
Tamatoa makes several cameos in the movie before his physical appearance in Lalotai:
In traditional animation during the prologue.
As artwork on a tapa cloth when Gramma Tala first appears.
In these appearances, all of his legs (including the broken one) are intact.
Tamatoa's defeat plays differently in the novelization The Story of Moana: after being knocked onto his shell, the creatures of Lalotai swarm Tamatoa and steal his shiny treasures against his protests. As he was powerless to stop them, Tamatoa's shell was left barren.
During recording, Jemaine Clement improvised a scene where Tamatoa expressed guilt over eating his grandmother and mournfully apologized for doing so. In another riff by Jemaine that didn't make the film, Tamatoa confessed that he never actually ate his grandmother, and claimed that he only said he did to seem scary.
Moana writer Jared Bush noted in an interview that, despite their rivalry, Maui and Tamatoa share similarities. Both Maui and Tamatoa want to feel important, and both have a way of covering up their insecurities with things that give them a sense of greatness: Maui with his tattoos, and Tamatoa with his hoard of shiny treasures.
The differing pupil sizes of Tamatoa, and the different eye colors in his bioluminescent form is a direct homage to David Bowie, who died ten months before the film's release.
Tamatoa is also the title of a song by Te Vaka released in 2002.
Tamatoa was set to appear in Disney Infinity: 3.0 Edition as an enemy in the Moana toy box. However, he was scrapped along with the rest of the set after the game's discontinuation.