Shark Tale (2004)
“The story of what happens when one little fish tells a great white lie…”
Shark Tale (2004)
Director: Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jensen, Rob Letterman
Cast: Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renée Zellweger
Synopsis: When a son of a gangster shark boss is accidently killed while on the hunt, his would-be prey and his vegetarian brother both decide to use the incident to their own advantage.
It’s common practice for characters in animated movies to resemble the humans lending them their voice, but few of them align their lead character so closely to their human counterpart as Shark Tale does. With his fast and easy jive talk, the film’s hero, Oscar, is not so much the animated counterpart of Will Smith (I, Robot, Hitch) as of the Fresh Prince TV character the actor had forsaken eight years before Shark Tale was released. And the film relies heavily on the strength of his hip personality to add flavour to a pleasant but ordinary tale which draws most of its inspiration not from shark tales like Jaws, but gangster classics like The Godfather. Naturally, therefore, it’s only a matter of time before someone mentions sleeping with the fishes…
Oscar is a lowly worker at a Whale Wash whose ambitious ideas have put him deep into debt with his bushy-browed puffer fish boss, Sykes (Martin Scorsese – Gangs of New York). Sykes has links to the mob, which is ruled by the fearsome killer shark, Don Lino (Robert De Niro – Analyze This, The Family), and its from them that he borrowed the money to lend to Oscar. So when Don Lino insists on repayment, Sykes gives Oscar just 24 hours to come up with the cash. However, their troubles appear to be over when Frankie (Michael Imperioli – The Call, Oldboy), one of Don Lino’s sons, is crushed by an anchor while chasing Oscar, who promptly claims responsibility for the shark’s slaughter, thereby earning himself instant fame and money, and the amorous attentions of femme fatale, Lola (Angelina Jolie – Girl, Interrupted, Alexander), much to the dismay of co-worker Angie (Rene Zellweger – Nurse Betty), who has long carried a (presumably waterproof) torch for Oscar.
The only witness to Frankie’s death is his brother Lenny (Jack Black – Enemy of the State, King Kong), whose commitment to vegetarianism has caused him to be a major disappointment to his father. Unwilling to return home, Lenny persuades/blackmails Oscar into spiriting him into his home town, where, disguised as a dolphin, he finds work at the Whale Wash. But when Don Lino hears about the bottom feeder that whacked his son he determines to get revenge…
Doesn’t exactly sound like the plot to a kids’ movie, does it? But, of course, it is aimed at kids and their parents, so this tale of loan-sharks and their business practices is strictly family-friendly. Even so, it’s kind of refreshing to find a movie which realises kids can cope with situations usually reserved for adult movies, and doesn’t treat them like precious dolls to be wrapped in cotton wool. While the kids might be amused by the comical antics of Oscar and his friends, grown-ups could find it tougher to draw the same level of enjoyment from Shark Tale’s more adult themes and, in particular, the jokes, many of which are disappointingly predictable.
The casting of Scorsese and De Niro – with the former playing a small fry in tremulous awe of De Niro’s big shot – is a cute piece of work that pays dividends thanks to De Niro’s trademark wise-guy act and Scorsese’s rat-a-tat delivery. Smith, too, is good value for money, while Angelina Jolie makes an impression as a fishy femme-fatale, but, as commendable as they are, their combined efforts never quite manage to overcome the uninspired dialogue and plot. That doesn’t mean Shark Tale isn’t enjoyable – it’s just that the correlation between quality and budget (an estimated $75 million) is horribly askew. The animation is flawless, as is to be expected, but because the relentless pleasantness is only sporadically interrupted by genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, the chances are it won’t be long before you – ahem – forgeddaboudit.
(Reviewed 14th March 2016)
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