Shark Tale is just one of those big budget computer animated feature films that seems to have all the right moves on paper; especially when considering the success Pixar was able to generate with Finding Nemo a year prior.
And there is no denying the fact that DreamWorks often creates pictures easily on par with the biggest and best (and usually on a tighter budget), Shark Tale simply doesn’t dazzle like their Shrek series or Kung-Fu Panda for example.
With a 90-minute runtime, Shark Tale is actually one of the lengthier animated features available and paces a fairly decent plot quite successfully:
Oscar (Will Smith) is a fish working at a whale-wash as a tongue washer (low man on the proverbial ladder) with dreams of fame, riches, and adoration, the likes of which are only possible at the top of the Reef.
Working for the lovable puffer fish Sykes (Martin Scorsese), Oscar finds himself in some steadily accumulated debt thanks to gambling and irresponsible living.
In the mean time Don Lino (Robert DeNiro), a Great White shark with gang affiliations is in the process of handing his crime empire over to his two sons, Lenny (Jack Black) and Frankie (Michael Imperioli). Trouble is, when tragedy strikes Frankie, only Lenny is left to inherit it all and Lenny is anything but typical for the top of the food chain. With a soft-side, big heart, and a refusal to eat meat, Don Lino has his fins full.
When Don Lino orders Sykes to make good on the money he’s been borrowing to keep the wale-wash afloat, Sykes has no choice to make Oscar cough up the 5,000-clams he is behind. Oscar hence turns to his friend and coworker, Angie (Renee Zellweger) for help coming up with the funds. Typical of Oscar, rather than pay up with his boss to keep the whole ocean in balance, he decides to hit the horseracing track with a can’t-fail bet. And so the cycle continues until Oscar ends up crossing path with Don Lino’s sons.
Even after multiple viewings, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where Shark Tale fails and Finding Nemo succeeds. The visuals are grade-a throughout, the cast downright amazing, the studio quite in tune with what it takes to make a winner (yes these are the same folks who brought us the Shreks) and yet in the end, Shark Tale leaves its viewer feeling somehow empty.
Perhaps years of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air have most of us acutely aware of the comedy potential lurking within Will Smith that never comes to fruition with his character Oscar here. Or perhaps because the ocean, in its mind-boggling vastness, is essentially reduced to a reef designed to mimic a single city block throughout the whole movie. Perhaps it’s the racial stereotypes gimmick just a bit overused or maybe it’s a combination of all the above.
What isn’t so elusive to observe is the very simple fact that Shark Tale is but another animated feature film that appears to have all of the proper pieces required to create a masterpiece but ends up coming up short in nearly all regards. The humor is inconsistent at best, with some gags working pretty well for the kiddies but many of them falling victim to the void that exists between them (probably the intended audience) and the adults accompanying them to the theater.
The lead character’s motivations, failings and triumphs are simply a bit too unrewarding throughout, perhaps the biggest crime committed in fact, as relate-ability was clearly put on the backburner while cheap laughs and impressive visuals were given the lion’s share of the attention.
I can state that I was very eager to delve into what I suspected was Dreamworks’ honest-to-goodness competitive threat to Pixar’s immensely popular Finding Nemo and came away wishing that my original concern (that Dreamworks copied Pixar too closely) was in fact the issue! Rather, I found Shark Tale to be pleasant enough to consider adding to the collection of most computer animated feature film buffs but at the same time a bit of a let down considering the enormous potential hinted toward but never delivered throughout.
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