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SHARK TALE (PG) (2004)

DreamWorks Animation SKG

Official Site

Directors: Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson, Rob Letterman

Producers: Bill Damaschke, Janet Healy, Allison Lyon Segan

Written by: Rob Letterman, Damian Shannon, Mark Swift, Michael J. Wilson

Cast: Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renée Zellweger, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese, Michael Imperioli, Peter Falk, Doug E. Doug, Ziggy Marley, Vincent Pastore, Katie Couric, Christina Aguilera, Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott


In the new computer-generated, animated feature, Shark Tale, Dreamworks again uses the tried strategy of casting Hollywood’s top talent and celebrities as the main characters, even though that did not attract audiences for the previous animated Dreamworks movie, Sinbad: Legend Of The Seven Seas. Shark Tale’s biggest problem is that there are essentially no characters—just movie stars playing to type (though stereotype is a more appropriate word here). And that’s the problem with animated movies like this. They are incredibly dumb and lame with the focus on pretty—or ugly in this movie’s case—visuals, cookie-cutter plots and characters, dumb pop culture references, and cheesy references to more classic movies to appease the parents whom kids drag to the movie. Pixar’s movies will always be better, since they model their stories in the vein of Hayao Miyazaki and focus on strongly written, fleshed-out characters and compelling narratives. Even though the so-called characters in this film may have been drawn in 3-D, they are anything but.

Shark Tale’s story has been told a thousand times before and a thousand times better. Oscar (Smith) is an ambitious fish who lives in the Southside Reef (which looks a lot like Times Square) and works at the local whale-wash. He’s got dreams of getting out of his job and moving up in life, being a “somebody” and living in the penthouses. The problem is he’s in debt to his blowfish boss, Sykes (Scorsese), who’s ready to have his Rastafarian jellyfish thugs, Bernie (Doug) and Ernie (Marley) take him out if he doesn’t deliver. His “Hot for Oscar” and best friend, Angie (Zellweger) is madly in love with him and gives up a precious, family heirloom in order to save his life. This illustrates just how poor this movie is since there is no explanation of why a “sweet fish” like Angie loves a schmuck like Oscar, who gambles away the money he received for Angie’s jewel and is an uncaring jerk.

There’s also the Great White Godfather shark mobster, Don Lino (De Niro), who’s growing increasingly impatient with his pro-life, vegetarian son Lenny (Black). After a mishap and freak accident, Oscar inevitably takes credit for the death of Lenny’s brother Frankie (Imperioli). Since the reef lives in constant fear of sharks, Oscar is crowned the hero and suddenly living the life he has always wanted. Matters are complicated when Oscar meets and befriends Lenny and Don Lino wants revenge on the “Shark Slayer.” But first Oscar has to learn there is more to life than being rich, famous, and dating Lola (Jolie, playing—what else—a seductive, slutty, “gold-digging” fish).

Will kids enjoy this movie? Yes they will. Will adults or parents? Well, I’m not sure. Some adults may be tickled by the absolute absurdity of Marty Scorsese speaking in ebonics and dressing like a pimp or the riffing of The Godfather and the Mafia, but it might be easier to take for some audiences than others. The movie’s general messages of “lying is bad and only makes things worse” and being who you are provide good advice, and are things kids (and adults) should learn, yet the film is just really lame and sells its themes poorly.

The movie is loaded with pop culture references and dated jokes (I think I even heard “Wazzzzzuuuup” and “Da bomb!” at one point) which probably wouldn’t be funny even when everyone was saying them. The pop culture jokes are nothing more than modified product placements of brand-names, altered to be more undersea friendly. I seriously wanted to apply a Sharpshooter to whoever came up with crap like “Kelpy Kreme,” “Fish King,” “The Gup,” and “Coral-Cola.” The other characters are voiced by familiar personalities like Katie Current (Couric), Luca The Octopus (Pastore), and Don Brizzi (Columbo himself, Falk). There’s also a cameo by singers Missy Elliott and Christina Aguilera, doing their cover of the song “Car Wash” in the movie’s worst, most derivative, and superfluous sequence. It’s yet another impeccable casting and appearance with Aguilera, who shows up as an ugly jellyfish. And really, what’s more appropriate than Aguilera being a harmful, deadly creature that will sting you if you touch it?

Shark Tale delivers another totally commercial, disposable piece of Hollywood garbage that will probably make some good money, and with Dreamworks’ stroke, perhaps get an Academy Award nomination for best animated feature. However, the Academy would be better served in pushing Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, thus far the best-animated film of the year.

—Jeffrey “The Vile One” Harris

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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