Tamatoa is a villainous giant crab and the secondary antagonist of Disney's 2016 animated feature film Moana.
He was voiced by Jemaine Clement.
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 longstanding 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. Despite his own physical prowess, Tamatoa fears Maui when the latter is equipped with his magical fish hook.
- 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 gods—he even admitted to eating his own grandmother.
Tamatoa also has a twisted sense of humor, specifically shown when he nonchalantly commented that it took a week to eat his grandmother and blamed the delay on her enormous size in a dry tone. He also takes pleasure in torturing his enemies both mentally and physically, as shown when he playfully - 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. This is only surface-level, however, which actually serves as an antithesis between Tamatoa and the film's overarching message of identity and being true to yourself: 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. Though he considers himself beautiful, however, he welcomes anything that will increase his power and, by extension, his social status, such as the heart of Te Fiti.
Powers and abilities
- Immense Strength: With his massive size and body weight, Tamatoa possess 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 had not been explored.
- 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.
- Immortality: 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 torturing 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.
Role in the film
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.
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 shapeshift.
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. She calls to Tamatoa to show him the shiny prize in her possessions, 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 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.
- In earlier concepts, instead of a crab, Tamatoa was conceived as a giant, headless warrior from an Oceanic myth.
- 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".
- 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.
- When Tamatoa rants during the post-credits scene, he directly mentions and references Sebastian from The Little Mermaid.
- 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.
- The overarching theme of the movie is discovering your identity, self-worth and embracing the person you are on the inside. As a villain of the story, the filmmakers used Tamatoa to act against this theme, 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 found 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, "The power of creation, for a crustacean!," "Your granny lied!," 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 Tui first appears.
- As a spotlighted tattoo during "You're Welcome".
- 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.
- Helfman, G. S. (1977). Agonistic Behaviour of the Coconut Crab, Birgus latro (L.). Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie, 43(4), 425–438. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0310.1977.tb00490.x
- Reyne, A. (1939). On the Food Habits of the Coconut Crab (Birgus Latro L.), With Notes On Its Distribution. Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie, 3(2), 283–320. doi:10.1163/036551639x00345