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Shark Tale (Frank's Take)

02/11/2004. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

Buy Shark Tale in the USA - or Buy Shark Tale in the UK

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DreamWorks tries awkwardly in their blind ambition to continue the delightful digital-animated ditties in the celebrated spirit that has been previously so vastly successful at the box office. As a result, the DreamWorks creative machine conjured up a spry but uneven underwater adventure in the derivatively upbeat animated feature Shark Tale.

Moviegoers have been very spoiled as of late in reference to being treated to hearty entertaining feature animated fare that had fruitfully captured the giddy imagination. Zesty offerings such as the spunky Shrek movie series and the enjoyably involving Finding Nemo have already gracefully settled in the merry mindsets of appreciative movie audiences.

However, DreamWorks tries awkwardly in their blind ambition to continue the delightful digital-animated ditties in the celebrated spirit that has been previously so vastly successful at the box office. As a result, the DreamWorks creative machine conjured up a spry but uneven underwater adventure in the derivatively upbeat animated feature Shark Tale.



To say that something smells mighty fishy about the lackluster Shark Tale is indeed an understatement to say the least. Sure, there’s some notable appeal to this jittery deep-sea display that is playful and pliable. For starters, Shark Tale wants to be regarded in the cheerful tradition of its highly regarded Pixar prototype competitors which is definitely admirable.

Secondly, the overall production is immediately infectious with the polished and imaginative graphics that are convincingly eye-popping in nature. Plus, the reliance on DreamWorks sprinkling its touted animation with top-notch talents contributing their celebrity voices is always an incentive to entice film fans to their colorful projects. These promising tidbits are fine up to a certain point. But the question remains: is that enough to propel this formulaic fish fable beyond its meager existence?

Sadly, Shark Tale doesn’t take the bait as a viable vehicle that can stand on its own melodious merit. There are several reasons for why this latest children’s undersea exposition doesn’t measure up in the expectation department. Never mind the realistic fact that DreamWorks has a tough act to follow in the showy shoes of the Pixar people who have routinely delivered the animated goods in characteristic fashion. Or, how about the revelation that Shark Tale may be an inferior backseat reminder to another sea-based story that was thoroughly stimulating in the aforementioned smash hit Finding Nemo? What was just identified as a couple of slight marks against the effectiveness of Shark Tale do not even begin to describe this movie’s probing problems.

For whatever less-than-stellar consideration that one can pinpoint, Shark Tale certainly is an energetic weak-kneed spectacle that boasts its glaring misguided moments. Some may refer to the relentlessly recycled stale gags/jokes that were hastily borrowed from other flicks—most notably Antz and Finding Nemo. The writing feels hopelessly labored and uninspired and doesn’t match the peppy rhythm of the transparent storyline. In addition, the uneasy report concerning Shark Tale’s ill-advised promotion of ethnic stereotypes as a pervasive punchline raises some considerable eyebrows.

The film comes off as a reductive cop-out because its insistence on mining insensitive laughs at the expense of the lowbrow humor that spotlights unflattering racial traits (a malingering jive-talking fish [read: African-Americans], criminally exaggerated wise-guy sharks [read: Italian-Americans], etc.). For the most part, Shark Tale has its rambunctious vibes but too bad they’re misplaced and mishandled in what was supposed to be an innocuously side-splitting water-world kiddie caper.

At the center of this so-so 3-D cartoon showcase is Oscar (voiced by Will Smith), a blue-collar fish that works at the Whale Wash. Oscar is a fast-talking and shifty-eyed opportunist with the penchant for foolishly gambling. Oscar’s indiscretions will eventually lead to his ultimate decision to be on the run from a great white shark looking to swallow his sorry hide. Thanks to the unsuspecting presence of an anchor, the fortunate Oscar escapes the clutches of his perished pursuer.

Erroneously, the false consensus is that Oscar dutifully disposed of his tormentor thus giving him the respectable title of Sharkslayer (and making him the unlikely hero of the Southside Reef). Thus, the deceitful Oscar goes with the flow and decides to play up his anointed cherished role as the Sharkslayer without acknowledging the dire consequences that may develop down the road.

The harried Oscar is not only living a lie but playing with fire as he decides to befriend a non-violent veggie-loving shark named Lenny (Jack Black). It’s not really the pacifist Lenny that’s the short-term problem-maker for Oscar—it’s his harmless buddy’s father Don Lino (Robert De Niro) that provides the major conflict. The no nonsense Don Lino is the leading mafia figurehead that oversees the undesirable underwater operations in his watery kingdom. When capo Don Lino’s son Lenny decides to split the scene and leaves his furious father to his sordid affairs, the ruler is instantly miffed and blames wayward Oscar for his offspring’s defiance.

Oscar has more on his mind than babysitting the sensitive “dolphin wannabe” Lenny while staying two steps ahead of the dubious Don and his trusty consiglieres in octopus Luca and his pufferfish pal (courtesy of famed director Martin Scorsese). There’s his best friend Angie (Renee Zellweger) that isn’t too thrilled with Oscar’s dalliances with the avenging mobsters. More importantly, Angie harbors intimate feelings for the hapless Oscar even though he gets on her last nerve.

The handlers behind Shark Tale seem to keep the nonsensical pace flying with various errant doses of peril and pranks to fill the air. The key to the screenwriters’ lazy anecdotal approach is to concoct a frenzied product that stocks up on nostalgic and contemporary pop cultural references in a desperate plea to serve up an irreverent gem that suggests its overzealous frivolity.

But the zippy pacing coupled with outdated catch phrases and the shameless over-indulgent usage of signature pop tunes deems this whole bit as an overwrought gesture. Shark Tale doesn’t distinguish itself from all the other engaging entities it freely steals from without once adding an ounce of its own distinctive spin.

The predictability of Shark Tale is very telling and tiresome, particularly when the kooky caricatures try to forcefully spoof the same old conventional targets that range from Smith’s slapstick sassiness to De Niro’s repetitive glib gangster persona.

Somehow the self-deprecating humor falls flat in its pumped-up presentation. There are occasional laughs to be had here and there but the fundamental proof is in the pudding—this ruse floats aimlessly before deciding to sink in the dullness of its wavy undercurrent.

Knock yourself out in finding Nemo once again but don’t hesitate to lose Oscar and his coral reef cohorts in the process.

Frank Ochiang

(c) Frank Ochieng 2004

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