- Movie Rating -

Shark Tale (2004)

| November 27, 2004 | 0 Comments

It may not be possible to view Shark Tale and put Pixar’s Finding Nemo completely out of your mind. That great film, one of the best of 2003, still lingers in our minds and, I suspect, will stay there for years to come. It should, it is infinitely better than this lackluster, badly-made mess that does nothing special and tells a machine-made story that kids aren’t likely to enjoy.

Let’s begin with the story, which is bland and uninspired.  It involves a near-do-well fish named Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) who works at a station under the sea that scrubs whales like cars in a carwash.  He’s in charge of scrubbing the slime off the beast’s tongue.  Like every other character in the movies, he wants a better life, away in the penthouses, up in the lap of luxury.  He makes some financial mistakes and finds himself in Dutch with some sharks by gambling their money on a seahorse that seemed a sure thing.  Sharks, you see, are the mafia of this movie.  When a ship anchor accidentally kills a nasty shark named Frankie (voiced by Michael Imperioli), Oscar is credited with his death and becomes a local hero with the nickname The Shark Slayer.  This information comes mostly from Frankie’s brother Lenny (voiced by Jack Black), an effeminate shark who is an embarrassment to the family.

Frankie’s death doesn’t sit well with the Godfather Shark Don Lino (voiced by Robert DeNiro), who is the dead shark’s father.  He wants Oscar’s head on a plate, and doesn’t have to look very far to find him.  After all, Oscar is currently basking in the sweet glow of celebrity from those who think he is a killer of sharks.  This leads to the old tired cliché of the supposed hero becoming too big for his britches, offending his loyal friends and eventually having to tell the truth.  Are you yawning yet?

As stories go, this one is pretty thin.  It pads the emptiness with a gaggle of movie references that kids aren’t likely to understand.  This movie depends greatly on your knowledge of gangster pictures; The Godfather, Goodfellas, Scarface.  And other movies like Jaws, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, Once Upon a Time in America, A Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire.  Will small children have seen these movies, God I hope not.  Will they get the reference to DeNiro’s role as the Godfather.  Will they know that he and Scorsese made all those great pictures together?  Martin Scorsese is pulled in to provide the voice of Sykes, a fast-talking puffer fish with massive eyebrows, but it is a wasted opportunity.  His role is to play Oscar manager and haggle over percentages.

Is this what kids care about?  Do they care about loan sharking?  Family conflicts?  A love triangle?  Betting on horses?  Financial management?  There’s even a tired, creaking old subplot about Oscar’s relationship with a good-hearted fish named Angie (voiced by Renée Zellweger) that is thrown asunder by a seductress fish named Lola (voiced by Angelina Jolie) who only takes an interest in Oscar when he becomes famous.  This is a kid’s movie, right?

As baffling as those clichés are, just looking at Shark Tale is no picnic either.  The colors are bold but the animation is half-hearted.  They look like characters out of a bad cereal commercial.  Thinking back on it, I find it really difficult to understand exactly what the movie is trying to accomplish from a visual standpoint.  While Nemo created a wondrous and beautiful world in the depths of the ocean, this film transplants the human world into a world under the sea without a sense of purpose.  Like The Flintstones, it doesn’t succeed at creating a world unto itself but rather takes our world and refits it with sea life parodies.  Why then do the characters even need to be fish?

Some of the parodies are cute for a few sight gags but they grow tiresome after a while.  It becomes apparent that the movie is not really interested in its undersea world so much as it is in pop culture references, guest voices, sight gags, one-liners, and a long stream of current hip hop buzzwords.  Under the weight of trying to desperately to get us on the movie’s side, Shark Tale drowns itself.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2004) View IMDB Filed in: Animated, Kids