Despite its lively, colorful look and the star-laden voice cast, DreamWorks’ latest underwater feature “Shark Tale” does not float too well.
“Shark Tale” is the studio’s fourth digitally animated feature (following “Antz” “Shrek” and “Shrek 2”) and its recipe is simple: take an undemanding, story, add some color to it and weave in two cups of adult flavor. Then use half a gallon of romance and stir it with some action; finally throw in some ambiguous jokes, fuel the plot with a groovy soundtrack and salt it with a talented voice cast.
“Shark Tale” is the story of a little working-class fish, Oscar (Will Smith), who scrubs whales’ tongues at the local Whale Wash, run by blowfish, Mr. Sykes (Martin Scorsese). Though still an underdog in the reef-city, Oscar is too busy trying to become a somebody to realize that a cute angelfish named Angie (RenÇe Zellweger) is in love with him.
As the story moves on, Oscar gets snarled by his own lies and stumbles into conflict with a shark Mafia headed by Don Limo (Robert De Niro) and his two sons: cold blooded Frankie (Michael Imperioli), and peaceful Lenny (Jack Black).
Through a murderous coincidence Lenny and Oscar meet and Oscar evolves into the famous and rich “Shark Slayer”. Finally, after a scene of inner conflict, underlined by the beautiful soundtrack song of India Arie, Oscar re-discovers the true meaning of contentment, friendship, love and life.
In short, “Shark Tale’s” thesis is that a “nobody” should not try to be a “somebody” through unethical ways but instead discover the love he already has. That moral of the tale is at least a moral that, in contrast to fish, always stays fresh.
As colorful setting for the 90-minute animated film, Shark Tale’s co-producer Vicky Jenson (“Shrek”) chose an underwater reef, with the sharks’ headquarters on the hulk of the Titanic and an aquatic Times Square with flashing lights, and seahorse races.
Another strong asset of “Shark Tale”, which was produced in Glendale, is its cast with Will Smith voicing the central role of Oscar whose ears are drawn in a way that resemble Smith’s.
Nevertheless it is undeniable that the PG-rated film overdraws characters by using stereotypical personalities, in fish disguise, such as the Jamaican jellyfish, or the Italian shark Mafiosi and three aquatic ghetto kids swimming around with spray paint cans. Some Italian-American organizations have publicly censured DreamWorks for stereotyping as “The Godfather” obviously inspired “Shark Tale.”
Also, on-second-thought rather manipulative is that “Shark Tale” uses cartoon brand names that have obvious equivalents in real retail companies such as “Coral Cola” billboards or signs of the Gup or Old Wavy stores.
“Shark Tale,” also suffers comparison to rival studio’s Award Winning “Finding Nemo” because it lacks emotional depths and a continuing stream of funny humor.
For all its many sparkling rainbow color virtues and famous cast, however, “Shark Tale” remains a 3-D animation that could as well be rented and watched with the family over homemade popcorn in the living room.
Rating: * * (out of 4)