out of Five
Enjoyable enough, but
Shark Tale is no
, despite several good gags and the best efforts of an impressive vocal cast.
Back in 1998, animation studios Pixar (Toy Story,
Monsters Inc) and Dreamworks (
Shrek) went head to head with rival insect pics Antz and A Bug's Life, with Pixar eventually declared the winner in terms of critical acclaim and box office (although, to all right thinking people, Antz was a lot funnier). Now, hot on the fins of Pixar's smash hit fish flick
Finding Nemo, it feels like Dreamworks are at it again, with their own piscine pic, Shark Tale. (You almost want to step in and separate them, shouting, "Leave it, Dreamworks - they're not worth it!") Unfortunately for Dreamworks, Pixar are the clear winners this time round, as Shark Tale lacks both the emotional depth and the sophisticated animation of
Finding Nemo, despite some nice ideas and a strong cast.
Will Smith voices an ambitious, fast-talking fish named Oscar, who works as a whale washer (introduced to the tune of Car Wash) but dreams of...er...living in a penthouse apartment with surround sound TV and a DVD player. Whatever.
Meanwhile, Lenny (Jack Black) is a sensitive, vegetarian shark who doesn't want to follow in the footsteps of his Mafioso dad, Don Lino (Robert DeNiro). When Oscar and Lenny meet, a tragic accident results in Oscar being labelled a "shark-slayer", which brings him fame and fortune with one slight
drawback: Don Lino wants him dead...
The central conceit of Shark Tale (sharks as underwater mafiosi) is inspired and the film milks the idea for maximum laughs, although, as with
Shrek, this means that most of the jokes will be over the heads of its younger audience members. Similarly, there's far too much product placement and the resulting puns (Coral-Cola, The Gup) aren't good enough to justify their inclusion. (There is, however, a superb gag involving an understandably deserted sushi restaurant).
The main problem with the film is that, as good as Will Smith is, his character is never less than annoying and you quickly lose patience with him. That said, DeNiro's as good as you'd expect and there's great support from Martin Scorsese (as excitable blowfish Sykes), Renee Zellweger (as Good Girl Fish Angie) and Angelina Jolie, who's disturbingly sexy as Bad Girl Fish Lola.
Two other smaller comic roles also stand out: Michael "Christopher Soprano" Imperioli as Frankie The Octopus ("If you don't watch out, you'll be sleeping with the fishes...the dead ones") and David Soren as "Crazy Joe" the Shellfish, who steals every scene he's in.
In Finding Nemo, the animation created a believable underwater world, whereas in Shark Tale, it is cruder and more concerned with caricature - hence Oscar looks like Will Smith, Don Lino sports DeNiro's familiar mole and Sykes has Scorsese's eye-brows. As a result, the overall effect is less impressive.
In short, although there are some brilliant jokes (particularly the dolphin disguise = gay metaphor) and countless movie references to keep film-buffs happy, Shark Tale suffers from a disappointing, slightly rushed climax and lacks the emotional depth that made
Finding Nemo, so special. Worth seeing, but it could have been better.