December 23, 2004 -- The fact that “Shark Tale” made a lot of money at the box office, while “Brother Bear” did not, is just another example of the public's wholehearted embrace of digital animation films and its rejection of traditional animation. “Shark Tale” is an inferior film in every way except for the animation style. Audiences clearly like the look of it. This is one of the reasons why Disney shut down its traditional animation studio to concentrate on the new digital animation medium. This is also why Pixar is such a hot studio, with huge hits in “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles.” Pixar specializes in digital animation features. “Shark Tale” was made by a competing studio, Dreamworks, which made the Shrek films.
“Shark Tale” is a story about a fast-talking fish named Oscar (voice by Will Smith) who dreams of moving up to a coral reef penthouse from his humble job at a whale wash. His blowfish boss, Sykes (voice by famed director Martin Scorsese of the “Godfather” films), is a low-level henchman for the godfather of the reef, Don Lino the shark (voice by Robert De Niro, another “Godfather” alumnus). Oscar owes Sykes a lot of money and Sykes turns over the debt to Don Lino. This gets Oscar into trouble with the sharks, leading to a mad chase in which a shark, Don Lino's son, is accidentally killed. Oscar takes advantage of the death, claiming he killed the shark in a fair fight. He becomes rich and famous as the shark slayer of the reef, but Don Lino wants revenge. At the same time, Oscar befriends another of Don Lino's sons, a pacifist named Lenny (voice by Jack Black of “School of Rock”).
The story is O.K., but most of the jokes fall flat. There are a lot of cute in-jokes about the Godfather movies, “Jaws,” and a lot of other cultural references, but it isn't enough to sustain the story. The film drags in many places and the humor is forced and awkward. The characters are weak and inconsistent. There is an attempt at a romance between Oscar and Angie (voice by Renée Zellweger), but it never gets any traction. Probably the best character in the film is Lenny, the vegetarian shark, but Lenny, like all the other characters, isn't consistent. Even the ending of the film doesn't ring true because the characters once again change their basic natures purely for the convenience of the plot. As far as fishy stories go, this one makes a pretty weak movie chowder.
This film falls far short of the Shrek films, the Toy Story films, “Ice Age” or “The Incredibles.” The main thing it has going for it is the animation, which is beautiful in places, especially Oscar and femme-fatale Lola (voice by Angelina Jolie), a beautiful angel fish. It also has a good soundtrack, featuring the title song from the movie “Car Wash” and some Motown classics. This film rates a C.
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