Shark Tale, the latest 3D animation offering from DreamWorks, is missing a key ingredient to success that other such features of late have had, and that is excitement. A lot happens in Shark Tale, but the story feels so dry, and is most likely over the head of the average seven year old.
Lenny (voiced by Jack Black) the skark just isn’t mean enough. His brother, Frankie (voiced by Michael Imperioli, has no problem hunting and killing prey, but Lenny is not only a pansy, but a vegetarian! His father, Don Lino (voiced by Robert DeNiro) is none too happy about this, and he orders Frankie to teach him the ropes of being an imposing shark.
Enter Oscar (voiced by Will Smith). He has big dreams of being at the top of the food chain. He works at the local whale wash with his girlfriend, Angie (voiced by Renee Zellweger). But, as fate would have it, Oscar finds himself in a peculiar situation when he is captured by Ernie and Bernie (voiced by Ziggy Marley and Doug E. Doug, respectively) because he is indebted to Don Lino through Sykes (voiced by Martin Scorsese), a slimy middleman. Are you following this?
Because Lenny doesn’t have it in him to kill Oscar, he tries faking it, but to no avail. Instead, a freak accident leaves Frankie dead, and Oscar takes the credit for it, making him the talk of the fish land (which is basically an underwater Manhattan, New York). From then on he is known as the “shark slayer.”
The rest of the film deals with the shark community trying to hunt down shark slayer, an unnecessary subplot involving a fish sexpot, Lola (voiced by Angelina Jolie), and references to movies and pop culture made decades before the target audience was even born.
Shark Tale is a letdown, plain and simple. It is the weakest of the new era of 3D animation releases, mainly because it feels rushed and is for the most part uninteresting. The overly complicated plot (I never pictured mafia vengeance playing much of a part in the plot to kids’ films, but I digress) and 70’s and 80’s pop culture references will simply go over the heads of most kids who see it.
The movie was clearly written and produced around the persona of Will Smith, which is either glorious news or cringe-inducing, depending upon who you are. For me, Smith has almost always been an annoying presence, and Shark Tale really gives him nothing else to do. He talks in rhymes as his animated character flops around the screen, but that’s about it. And don’t forget the obligatory references to how white people can’t be cool.
The rest of the cast does a suitable job, with DeNiro effortlessly stealing the show. And he’s just being himself. Jack Black seems the most lost, and his voice is barely even recognizable. Strange.
The animation, as one would expect in this day and age, is excellent. The world the film creates is fun and vibrant, albeit loaded with product placements. It is also easy to tell that the animators had a blast modeling the characters in the film after their real-life counterparts.
But in the end, the film just doesn’t wash. The story is bizarrely complicated for a children’s film, though parents will enjoy some of the references to their youth. After two excellent Shrek films, and of course Disney’s offerings, the bar for 3D animation films is at an all-time high. Shark Tale, unfortunately, doesn’t have much of a bite.
Length: 90 Minutes
Rating: PG for some mild language and crude humor.
Theatrical Release: October 1, 2004
Directed by: Bibo Bergeron & Vicky Jen
Written by: Rob Letterman & Damian Shannon & Mark Swift & Michael J. Wilson.
Cast: Will Smith (voice), Robert DeNiro (voice), Renee Zellweger (voice), Angelina Jolie (voice), Jack Black (voice), Martin Scorsese (voice)