September 30th, 2004
While it doesn’t have the scope or now legendary status of “Finding Nemo,” “Shark Tale” is blessed with great voice talents and the occasional goofball joke. The rest of the film is a little too Shrekified for its own good, but as formulaic CG animated offerings go, “Shark” isn’t a terribly laborious enterprise.
Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) is a big-dreaming fish who wants fame and fortune, but is stuck in a dead-end job washing whales with his best pal, Angie (Renee Zellweger), who secretly loves him. Monetarily overextended to his Pufferfish boss (Martin Scorsese), Oscar is forced out into the dark and scary fringes of his coral hometown, where he meets Lenny (Jack Black), a gentle vegetarian shark who wants to leave his mob-run family (including Robert DeNiro, Peter Falk, and Vincent Pastore), and needs Oscar’s help to do so.
While it isn’t exactly fair to compare the two films (they were in production at the same time), the appearance of “Shark Tale” a little over a year after “Finding Nemo” cleaned house at the box office is a bit suspicious. Dreamworks and Disney have nurtured a bitter rivalry over the years, and here’s the latest chance for the folks at Dreamworks to fire another missile at the Mouse House.
While “Shark” doesn’t dig its fins in as deep with snide Disney satire as the studio’s “Shrek,” this new offering does try to steal some Disney heart into an annoying Shrekified filmmaking aesthetic that has long worn out its welcome. Captured in CG animation, “Shark” is a mostly enjoyable experience due to the cast and their enthusiasm, but the material isn’t up to snuff, relying too heavily on the tried and true, much like Disney has done in recent years. There are the film spoof jokes (Steven Spielberg did direct “Jaws” after all), the fishy puns, the eye-rolling urban gags (hear Martin Scorsese lose all credibility by saying “yo”), the “Godfather” mafia stereotypes, the unfortunate soundtrack plugs, and the general speed of the comedic material, which “Shrek” toyed with to great and mysterious financial success. Most obnoxious in “Shark” are the product placements, which seem funny and harmless at first (Gap becomes “Gup,” Coca-Cola becomes “Coral-Cola”), but soon become a comedy crutch on which film relies heavily, and that sinking feeling of manipulative commercialism comes flooding in soon after.
So what does “Shark Tale” have to offer? Unlike “Nemo,” the eventual and laborious message of the picture isn’t hammered home for a large amount of screen time; the characters do learn life lessons, but they’re handled with efficiency and some class. Also, the cast is up for the animation challenge, including Renee Zellweger and Jack Black who are both hugely creative in their respective roles. Especially Zellweger, who seems born for the medium with her expressive performance. Will Smith has his moments, but it would be better appreciated if he hadn’t already done the exact same performance in “I, Robot” earlier this year, though to a lesser fish degree.
“Shark Tale” does have moments of fun and a couple of the goofier gags work, but it comes off as “Shrek” leftovers and sloppy seconds to “Finding Nemo,” which places a wet blanket on the proceedings that the picture is unable to shake.
My rating: B-