Cast & Crew
Robert De Niro
Bill Damaschke, Janet Healy, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Allison
Lyon Segan; Directed by Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson
and Rob Letterman; Written by Rob Letterman, Damian
Shannon, Mark Swift and Michael J. Wilson
Animated/Comedy (US); 2004; Rated PG for some mild
language and crude humor; Running Time: 90 Minutes
Domestic Release Date:
October 1, 2004
by DAVID KEYES
divers see only what their eyes permit when they descend
into the deep corners of the sea, but animators come equipped
with the privilege of imagination which allows them to perceive
such things in both a brighter and more amusing framework.
Innocent schools of fish can become civilized societies,
while vibrant coral reefs can become big urban habitats.
The fact that the floodgates have opened thanks to computer
animation now allows these images to be pure realities -
but just as innovation can breed creativity, so can it too
breed repetition. Disney/Pixar's "Finding Nemo,"
released last year to immense commercial success, was the
first computer-generated endeavor that gave personality
and narrative flair to deep-sea creatures, and now we have
"Shark Tale," in which the filmmakers fill the
screen with the same familiar backdrops and characterizations
that seem to have grown all too common by animation standards.
If not for the fact that the visuals remain so colorful
and distinctive, in fact, one would almost accuse the studio,
Dreamworks, of being too predictable a competitor.
On the other
hand, the studio doesn't insist on making a direct carbon
copy, either - upping the ante a bit, they fill "Shark
Tale" with a lot more pop culture references than what
occupied the bulk of "Nemo." It's also a lot more
urban than the latter, directed in part by the fact that
its characters feel like they've been lifted from a UPN
sitcom instead of an innocent child's storybook (and anyone
who doubts that the main character is purposely modeled
after Will Smith's own teen persona from the "Fresh
Prince of Bel Air" years is obviously not looking at
the celluloid clearly). Most would argue that this is the
exact approach one should utilize when a movie may or may
not tread so obvious a line of familiarity (especially if
it were being released in the shadow of a film as big as
"Nemo"), but somehow the result in "Shark
Tale" isn't nearly as appealing as it should be. The
ambition is admirable, some of the characters likable; but
the overall tone of the film lacks accessibility, and much
of the humor is so dry that even those who might get the
jokes are not likely to find them very funny.
the quick-witted and smooth-talking Oscar, is the film's
narrative center, an ambitious little creature who works
days at the local "Whale Wash" (modeled, of course,
after the Car Wash) and then dreams of wealth and power
(and all the perks that come with it, like fancy penthouse
apartments and stuff) by night. Those dreams would no doubt
be a front-burner project, of course, if not for the fact
that he owes hordes of cash to his boss Sykes (Martin Scorsese),
who in turn owns quite a steep payment to Don Lino (Robert
De Niro), the head of a shark mafia who threatens to take
Lino's Whale Wash business and dismantle it if he doesn't
fork over what he owes. Oscar, of course, is also the kind
of fish who thrives at potential get-rich-quick schemes,
but when he blows a major stash over an ill-fated sea-horse
race, it puts him in a very compromising situation.
Enter Lenny (Jack
Black), a Great White who, much to the displeasure of his
father Don Lino, is a vegetarian. Oscar's latest moment
of chaos comes when Lenny's brother is accidentally killed
by an anchor, and the fish unwittingly takes credit for
it. Though the lie lifts his popularity in the reef and
allows him to be the kind of wealthy and power individual
he has always dreamed about, it does nothing to change the
fact that he has a family of angry Great Whites looking
for him to exact their revenge. Lenny, who himself feels
a twinge of guilt regarding his brother's demise, decides
to team up with Oscar so the both of them can solve all
of their problems in one fell swoop. Their secretive partnership
works in their favor for a time, but how long could it possibly
go on, especially when Oscar's closest friend Angie (Renee
Zellweger) discovers their secrets? And furthermore, will
Oscar catch onto the fact that his best friend actually
wants more than a friendship from him before it's too late?
The plot, a seemingly
convoluted series of misunderstandings and unlikely partnerships,
is fueled much in the same way that the "Shrek"
films were - that is, to spoof elements of pop culture over
telling a story that may or may not be driven by itself
otherwise. The difference, naturally, is that the fairy
tales at the center of "Shrek" were styled in
a manner that depended on the satire; in "Shark Tale,"
what you actually get is storytelling in which all the in-jokes
seem tacked on just for the sake of saying something witty.
That, at least, means the movie has a broader audience appeal
than the general animated film (and a lot of the references
to films like "The Godfather" certainly back up
that notion). Unfortunately, any kind of movie who needs
to reach so far back in time to spoof something so common
is obviously not thinking with the times.
expected, will be dazzled by the colorful characters and
all the neat little visual gimmicks that the film sets out
to provide (even I can admit that a sequence involving a
reef that resembles Times Square is spectacular in both
scope and sight). But who is this movie for? Them? Us? Everyone?
No one? Good question. The brains at Dreamworks have a solid
foundation here that could have taken five or six different
directions than what it currently does. Few will find it
very amusing. Most will feel obliged to laugh just because
it's a cartoon with cute round faces and a bunch of flamboyant
characterizations. But this is in no way a match to any
of the recent efforts to emerge from the Pixar hard drives.
If "Finding Nemo" was a Utopia of deep-sea cartoon
adventures, than "Shark Tale" plays as an inferior
in need of some serious renovation.
© 2004, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.