Shark Tale (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The first salvo in the battle of the would-be autumn family blockbusters has been fired by Dreamworks. Beating The Incredibles to the screen by more than a month, Shark Tale represents the fourth digitally animated feature to come from the studio (following Antz, Shrek, and Shrek 2). Over the past few years, animation companies (Dreamworks and Pixar, in particular) have worked to refine a formula for digital animation. It's a lot like Disney's defunct conventional one: make the story simple but add some adult shadings; use a talented voice cast; incorporate comedy, romance, and action; throw in a few songs and pop references; and make the protagonist an underdog. By following this formula, and doing so in an energetic and infectious manner, Shark Tale has virtually assured itself a successful box office run.

Now's the time for me to make the obligatory comment about how this movie will appeal equally to viewers of all ages. Adults will see Shark Tale on a different level than their offspring (and will get a lot more of the throw-away gags and visual jokes), but both will enjoy it. The quality of the animation is something everyone will agree is top-notch, which is unsurprising considering the other animated projects Dreamworks has been associated with. The undersea world is rendered differently here than in Finding Nemo, but is no less impressive. Shark Tale views Neptune's Kingdom as an aquatic New York City, and this leads to a lot of fun references - you can pass a "Prawn Shop" on your way to watching news reports by "Katie Current" on the equivalent of the Times Square giant video screen. (The voice of Katie Current, by the way, is provided by Katie Couric, unless you're in Australia. Then it's that of local celeb Tracey Grimshaw.)

The mafia shark family consists of Don Lino (voice of Robert De Niro) and his sons, Frankie (Michael Imperioli) and Lenny (Jack Black). Frankie has inherited his father's love of violence, but Lenny is a sweetheart - and a vegetarian to boot. Enter Oscar the wrasse (Will Smith), a worker at the Whale Wash, which is owned by the puffer fish Sykes (Martin Scorsese). After wandering into shark territory, Oscar has to flee from an enraged Frankie. An accident results in Frankie's death, but Oscar takes the credit, and is re-dubbed by the fish community as the "Shark Slayer." As Oscar's popularity skyrockets, two female fish vie for his affections: the sexy Lola (Angelina Jolie) and the steady Angie (Renee Zellweger), who has swum by his side for years.

The best material in Shark Tale involves Don Lino and Sykes. The De Niro/Scorsese dialogue will be most amusing to adults, since they'll get the sly references. They will also recognize the significance of the mole on Don Lino's face and Sykes' bushy eyebrows. Will Smith is perhaps a little too high energy as Oscar. Listening to him do his shtick is a little exhausting. I kept reflecting about how much better Eddie Murphy was in Shrek precisely because he was in a secondary part. Had Lenny been elevated to the main character with Oscar playing the wise-cracking sidekick, things might have been more relaxed. (Even though Jack Black is known for being manic, Lenny is surprisingly mellow, despite his neuroses.)

When it comes to the new genre of digitally animated films, Shark Tale falls around the middle (still an enviable place to be, considering the high quality of most of the entrees). It's not as good as Shrek, the Toy Story movies, or Finding Nemo, but it's better than Ice Age and Shrek 2. I would place it on about the same level as Monsters Inc.. The key thing to note is that Shark Tale represents solid family entertainment, and will find a special place in the hearts of those who adore the Godfather movies and the TV series "The Sopranos."

Shark Tale (United States, 2004)

Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2004-10-01
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1