Shark Tale (2004) / Comedy-Family
MPAA Rated: PG for some crude humor
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast (voice): Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renee Zellwegger, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese, Katie Couric, Doug E. Doug, Ziggy Marley, Peter Falk, Michael Imperioli, Vincent Pastore, James Madio
Director: Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson, Rob Letterman
Screenplay: Rob Letterman, Damian Shannon, Mark Swift, Michael J. Wilson
Dreamworks would like to be the next Disney, but if they ever want to be the industry leader in animated family fare, they're going to have to beat Disney to the punch. Shark Tale would like to be the next Finding Nemo, but lacks the essential qualities that made the Pixar gem so wonderful, namely, a genuine feeling of warmth and respect for the characters to draw them as fully as possible within the limited confines of the animation. Shark Tale pits its characters in a similar underwater world, but does little but offer up stereotypes and a barrage of pop culture references, as if getting a few yuks from the adult audience justifies not really having that much of a story to begin with. The motto here is, "Something for everyone", and while all of the different parts of the audience will find things to relate to, this kitchen sink approach backfires. Shark Tale is an unfocused effort, not really knowing if it wants to be Nemo, Shrek, or any of the other dozen films it emulates. One thing it isn't is a movie that stands on its own terms.
Shark Tale puts us in an underwater world where sharks rule the seas, while the other forms of life lower in the food chain live in terror. Here, the sharks are like the Italian mafia, using their iron will and muscle to exert a lifestyle opportune for themselves. Don Lino (voiced by Robert De Niro, Analyze This) is the godfather of the sharks, but his son Lenny (Jack Black, School of Rock) is a disgrace to their kind, as he is a pacifist and a vegetarian, eschewing that which defines the shark's existence. Through a fluke, one of the sharks is found dead and Oscar (Will Smith, I Robot), one of the lowly fish living under the shark tyranny, claims to be the one that did the shark in. Oscar becomes an overnight sensation in the fish world, but with his fame comes great changes in his life, and he soon wonders if his dreams are worth compromising what he holds dear for.
Purely on a technical level, Shark Tale is a great looking film, with wonderfully rich and fluid animation -- it's a treat for all lovers of eye-candy. The voice acting is also quite good, with plenty of stars like Angelina Jolie (Taking Lives) and Renee Zellwegger (Down with Love) to round up the supporting cast. Plenty of pop songs fill up the soundtrack, as well as sight gags, some obvious and some you have to look for. Everything appears to have been set properly to deliver another wonderful family animated adventure.
So what happened? This falls far short of Finding Nemo and Shrek, even if you ignore the fact that Shark Tale is a derivative film. First, Will Smith is an appealing actor in films that utilize his intelligence, but in Shark Tale they injected his fish character with a little too much of his "Fresh Prince" side, and at no time can he ever seem like anything more than a broad character playing for laughs. It's one thing for Smith to ham it up in a live-action setting, but seeing a computer generated representation try to squeeze out a few feeble laughs is grating to the extreme, especially when it is just not necessary. The whole mob aspect has been played out to death as well, especially in comedy of late, and outside of the fact that these are sharks and not Sicilians, there isn't a fresh idea to be found anywhere in the premise. At regular intervals, Shark Tale is crammed endlessly with songs that serve little purpose than to hock the soundtrack.
What it really boils down to is this: Shark Tale has no heart, no soul, no originality, and no message. It's merely a product to try to capitalize on the mega-blockbusters in a similar vein that came before -- the way they inject gratuitous product placements should tell you what's in the minds of those who produced this film (Are fish really all that crazy about Krispy Kreme donuts?) Every scene is constructed with a need for mass appeal, targeting slapstick for the kiddies and plenty of old film references for the adults, and almost all of these are a distraction from the main story, rather than a means to enhance the characters or plot.
It isn't all bad, but definitely not anywhere near the quality you've come to expect in the 3D animation genre. Modestly amusing from time to time, Shark Tale is the kind of movie that might be adequate for a family outing, or perhaps as a rental to keep the kids quiet for a bit, but it leaves no lasting impressions and won't exactly have anyone clamoring for more. It's a niche movie, a broadly designed and marketed flick to make money for its production company by giving the audience something to tide them over until the next release by Pixar or Shrek sequel.
©2004 Vince Leo