Thank goodness we found Nemo last year.

In response to Finding Nemo's overwhelming popularity, including a worldwide box office gross of over $850 million and an Academy Award for Animated Feature Film, it appears that DreamWorks wants a piece of the underwater action. The company has weighed in with Shark Tale, a 90-minute torture session featuring over a dozen celebrity voices meant to cover up a weak story and lame character development. DreamWorks should really stick to Shrek sequels, and leave the ocean to Pixar.

Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) finds out that crime does not pay

Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) finds out that crime does not pay

Shark Tale, directed and written by Rob Letterman et al, seems promising … for about ten minutes. At the beginning, a couple of sharks, Lenny (voiced by Jack Black) and Frankie (The Sopranos' Michael Imperioli), swim around while Frankie hums the infamous Jaws music. Lenny asks Frankie to stop, to which Frankie replies, "What do you mean? It's our theme song." OK, chalk one up for DreamWorks. And, give the company props for creating Katie Current (voiced by the Katie Couric), about whom a Shark Tale character says, "She seems so nice on TV," when she screams "Move it!" to get to a news scoop.

But, that's it. The rest of the film, about a get-rich-quick schemer fish named Oscar (Will Smith), has zero depth and isn't really all that funny or charming. It's actually quite depressing to see the filmmakers try so hard to be the next Nemo, resulting in an emptiness that pervades the film and a severe lack of connection among the characters—and between the characters and the viewer.

Underwater mob boss Don Lino (voiced by Robert De Niro)

Underwater mob boss Don Lino (voiced by Robert De Niro)

Oscar's from the bottom of the reef, but he's got plans to live at the top of the reef one day. Even as he daydreams about greater things and bountiful wealth, the younger fish on the reef tease him, "You're so broke, your bologna has no first name." Oscar works at the Whale Wash—the same place his father worked for over 20 years—with his friend, Angie (Renée Zellweger), who keeps him out of trouble and truly cares for him, and his boss, Sykes (Martin Scorsese), who has just been booted out of mob boss Don Lino's (Robert De Niro) good graces. Don Lino, a great white shark, "owns" the ocean in a Brando-esque ("Do you know who I am? Do you KNOW who I AM?") fashion.

Turns out, Oscar owes Sykes 5,000 clams (yes, clams) and Sykes needs that money to get back on Don Lino's good side. Of course, things get complicated, and Oscar and accomplice Lenny (Jack Black)—who happens to be Don Lino's son—grow more and more entangled in a lie that they've spun. The result: Fame for Oscar as the Shark Slayer and a disappearing act for Lenny, who believes his father is ashamed of him for being a vegetarian rather than a cold-blooded (ha, get it?) killer.

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Angie's voice is provided by Renee Zellweger

Angie's voice is provided by Renee Zellweger

Oscar and Lenny discover that true friendship and acceptance are more important than their newfound riches and anonymity, but have they made this discovery in time to salvage their various relationships?

More importantly, by this point, do we even care? Despite living in the deeps, Oscar is about the shallowest character to come out of Hollywood in a while; even his last-minute self-revelations can't garner our sympathies. Lenny, on the other hand, does evoke an emotional connection with us—more so than other characters in the film. We've all known what it feels like to be the odd person out, so we can embrace Lenny as a symbol of those horrid grade school years in which we were all a little too fat, too thin, too whatever. Angie, too, offers some wisdom about being happy with who you are, but both Lenny and Angie's caring personalities are overshadowed by other characters, such as Lola (Angelina Jolie), who flaunts her fish sexuality like nobody's business and Sykes, who drives you batty with his wishy-washy nature.

Angelina Jolie provides the voice for Lola

Angelina Jolie provides the voice for Lola

There's a belief that a good director can make bad actors look good. But, good actors can't make a bad director look good. Really, this maxim stems from the idea that the creative powers behind a film have an important obligation to create something special. Shark Tale isn't special. And, no amount of famous people can change that. The fault for this flop of a film lies solely in the hands of DreamWorks—they got a bit too greedy, wanted a bit too much of the market, and now they've got a mess on their hands. This film will probably do fairly well in the theaters as many children's films often do, but it won't take long for audiences to realize that they've been duped.

Want a good fish story? Watch Nemo again instead.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. How would you compare and contrast Finding Nemo and Shark Tale? What do you like about each film? What don't you like? Why?

  2. When Angie tells Oscar, "You don't have to live at the top of the reef to be somebody," what does she mean? How come Oscar didn't believe her at first?

  3. At first, Don Lino can't believe his son could be so different. Then, after Lino realizes that Lenny's gone, he wishes he had been more accepting. Has someone been hurtful to you when you just needed to feel accepted? How did you work through it? How can our faith in Christ help?
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The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Shark Tale feels heavier than other animation fare. There is a death and a funeral, both of which assault your senses and are handled much less tastefully than, say, the mother's death in Bambi. There's a snippet of the song, "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot (you hear the phrase, "I like big butts and I cannot lie"). And, there's an implicit theme of Lenny's homosexuality.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 10/07/04

Robert DeNiro. Martin Scorsese. Peter Falk. Angelina Jolie. Will Smith. Jack Black. Renee Zellweger. It's a list of names like that would make most moviegoer guess we were talking about a film for grownups, most likely one about gangsters.

And it's not a bad guess. Shark Taleis full of references to The Godfather, GoodFellas, The Sopranos, and other mafia-oriented flicks, which has provoked some complaints that the film reinforces unflattering Italian stereotypes for a young audience. DreamWorks has packaged their latest animated feature as a family film, but according to most film critics the movie deals out drama and humor more accessible for adults than children. As to whether or not it's worth the price of a ticket, they're swimming in different directions.

Mary Lasse (Christianity Today Movies) gives the film only one star, saying the movie "seems promising … for about ten minutes. But, that's it. The rest of the film … has zero depth and isn't really all that funny or charming. It's actually quite depressing to see the filmmakers try so hard to be the next Nemo, resulting in an emptiness that pervades the film and a severe lack of connection among the characters—and between the characters and the viewer."

But Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) likes it. "Shark Tale, while it's no Finding Nemo (and isn't trying to be), is the wackiest, most energetic, and possibly most entertaining effort to date from DreamWorks' CGI animators. I enjoyed it more than either of the Shrek flicks. If Pixar's Toy Story movies connect with the child in all of us, DreamWorks' Shrek pictures are aimed squarely at our inner adolescent.'"

He does agree, however, that it "is more absurdist and satirical, as well as cruder and more risqué, than the Pixar films. It's also got less heart."

David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says it "really owes much of its inspiration to mob movies … which it delights in spoofing. Some viewers may feel that by identifying the gangsters with Italians, the film reinforces, however unintentionally, negative ethnic stereotypes. Also fishy are lines like 'May his stinking, maggot-covered corpse rot in the fiery depths of hell,' which, despite the movie's message of tolerance, may send parents scrambling to find Nemo."

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Sherri McMurray (Christian Spotlight) says, "Shark Tale should be evaluated on its own. I don't feel it fair for this film to be lumped in with all of the other computer animated movies. This is not Finding Nemo. All of the major characters are adults with adult problems like debt, romance, and running (or swimming away from) the mob. Audiences may interpret some sequences as promoting tolerance of gay lifestyles."

Still, others are judging it by the Nemo standard. Maurice Broaddus (Hollywood Jesus) says, "The movie pales in comparison to Finding Nemo mostly because it replaces heart, or anything approaching real emotion, with rapid fire jokes. This makes for a fine and entertaining, though ultimately forgettable, movie."

Steven Isaac (Plugged In) deals more harshly with the movie. "Clearly, the discussion surrounding Shark Tale isn't about its originality and sense of story or its kid-friendliness. So what is that loud buzzing sound all about? It's about whether or not Lenny is supposed to symbolize a 'coming-out-of-the-closet' gay. Lenny's need for 'tolerance' is a plot point that stays too long in the center of this movie's current for me to conclude anything different."

Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) writes, "I don't know about you, but I'm getting a little seasick from all the films that claim to be for kids but instead promote adult issues. And can we please have a rest from all the tolerance and diversity preaching? There are no role models whatsoever. Oscar learns a lesson, but he's still a sleaze-ball, and everyone else is an immoral caricature."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) writes, "Although the humor is plentiful, this fish story stays in relatively shallow water, depending upon stereotypes and clichés to move its tale forward. It also boasts enough product placements and cultural references to feed a school of whales. What it lacks is the distinguishing element which has always lifted the Pixar films above any of DreamWorks' animated efforts—a huge and readily identifiable heart which grounds the film and connects the characters to the audience."

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Most mainstream critics exhaust their encyclopedia of fish-related puns in judging the film as sub-standard.

from Film Forum, 10/14/04

"Shark Tale isn't bad, depending on how you look at it," writes Andrew Coffin (World). "It's near the top of the DreamWorks animated line-up, which has offered some duds (The Road to El Dorado) and some clever but disturbingly adult hits (the Shrek films). But despite a genial tone and a few admirable qualities, Shark Tale still fails to approach the delightfulness of even the weaker entries in the Pixar canon."

from Film Forum, 10/21/04

Micah Foster (Relevant) says, "This movie is sure to bring a big smile to your face. It may well be the feel good movie of the year, complete with the classic kiss and make up ending."

Shark Tale
Our Rating
1 Star - Weak
Average Rating
(1 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG (for some mild language and crude humor)
Directed By
Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson, Rob Letterman
Run Time
1 hour 30 minutes
Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renée Zellweger
Theatre Release
October 01, 2004 by DreamWorks SKG
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