Shark Tale Review
Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) is an ambitious little fish at the bottom of the undersea food chain. He has big plans for his life but he's still working at the whale wash, scrubbing the gunk of the leviathans' tongues. As his boss, a grumpy, mob-connected puffer fish named Sykes (Martin Scorsese), likes to tell him, "There's plankton, then there's whale poo, then there's you". The only fish who believes in him is Angie (Renée Zellweger), a fellow employee with a huge crush on him that he's too self-absorbed to notice. If Oscar thinks his life couldn't get any worse however, he's in for a shock when he loses a big pile of money he owes to Sykes. The furious puffer fish tells his jellyfish henchmen to turn Oscar into sharkbait - literally.
If things are tough at the bottom of the food chain, they're not so much fun at the top either. Lenny (Jack Black) is a shark with a conscience. He can't bring himself to devour his fellow fish and he's becoming an acute embarassment to his father, Don Lino (Robert De Niro), the head of the shark mafia. Don Lino wants to retire and leave the family business to his two sons so he orders Lenny's big brother Frankie (The Sopranos' Michael Imperioli) to take him under his wing. It just so happens that Frankie's first demonstration of proper sharklike behaviour is to involve eating Oscar but, through an accident of fate, it's Frankie who ends up dead with Oscar floating over the corpse. Of course, everyone thinks Oscar killed the shark, an assumption he eagerly encourages. So Oscar the Shark Slayer becomes a huge celebrity and gets all the wealth he ever dreamed of but he hasn't counted on Lenny knowing what really happened, Angie losing all respect for him or Don Lino wanting revenge for his son.
Shark Tale is the latest computer-animated film from DreamWorks, who, thanks mainly to their hugely popular Shrek series, are Pixar's only rivals for the title of Hollywood's most successful animators. Shark Tale isn't as funny as Shrek and it's certainly no classic like Pixar's Finding Nemo but it's still a pleasant diversion. Much of its appeal comes from the starry cast which also includes Angelina Jolie as a vampish dragon fish and Peter Falk as one of Don Lino's shady associates. Taking a cue from Dreamworks' earlier film Antz, the animators have designed the characters to look like the actors. In fishy form, Will Smith is more likeable than he's been for a while - he's not going through the motions like he was in I, Robot and Men In Black II - and longtime friends Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese make a funny double act in their scenes together.
If no one really shines like Antonio Banderas did in Shrek 2 and Ellen Degeneres in Finding Nemo, it's because the material just isn't on the same level. The plot is perfunctory, based as it is around an obvious moral lesson and the humour relies too heavily on movie-related in-jokes. Practically every mafia flick since The Godfather gets quoted, along with the castmembers' more famous films and a lot more besides. Movie references are fun when used sparingly but sprinkling them on this thick is just lazy, as are all the tiresome fishy puns ("Coral Cola", "Krispy Kelp", "the Gup"), which are lifted from The Flintstones.
The look of Shark Tale is spectacular, no doubt about it, but even visually the "good but not great" label applies. We've had our socks knocked off by so many computer-animated films since the ground-breaking Toy Story that spectacular is now standard. It takes visionary direction to make our jaded eyes pop out, as Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich did with the stunning seagull chase in Finding Nemo. Shark Tale's three directors - Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson and Rob Letterman - aren't in the same league. Nothing about the film stays with you when you leave the cinema: not the visuals, not the characters, not the jokes. This is in no way a bad film, it's a solid piece of family entertainment for half term, but it's playing in a league where the standards are high - computer animated films are the only balls Hollywood regularly hits out of the park - and "good but not great" is still a disappointment.