Directed by Vicky Jenson, Bibo Bergeron, Rob Letterman. Voices by Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renée Zellweger, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese, Ziggy Marley, Doug E. Doug, Michael Imperioli, Vincent Pastore, Peter Falk, Katie Couric. (2004, PG, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 8, 2004
There’s a surprising lack of surprises in DreamWorks’ answer to Disney/Pixar’s runaway smash Finding Nemo. Considering the stakes – who gets to rule the CGI animation kingdom, yet again – and the history of DreamWorks’ smart, snappy Shrekfollowed by its somewhat less miraculous sequel, Shark Tale’s blandness bodes more than a little ill for the Spielberg/Katzenberg/Geffen-founded behemoth, which is banking on this generally inoffensive animated chowder to gussy up both their box office take and in-house animation department. It’s not that Shark Tale is a bad film – kids will bask in the underwater eye-candy colors, and it’s certain to turn up in plenty of Christmas stockings if the studio chooses to rush it out that quickly – it’s just that there’s so little that feels fresh to adult eyes that it may as well have come out back in the ancient days of Toy Story. The dual storylines of a tiny fish (Smith), who is accidentally credited with the slaying of a huge shark (The Sopranos’ Imperioli), and his best friend, the reluctant great white vegetarian Lenny (Black), feel as formulaic as they are, but these days what animated-film storyline isn’t? (The Iron Giant and, um, Cat Soup notwithstanding.) Shark Tale’s problems stem from a dearth of fresh jokes and a corresponding surfeit of obvious ones. A perfect example of this is the film’s bedrock Italian mafioso angle, with De Niro as Lenny’s godfather pop – replete with blowfish pal Sykes (Scorsese) – and the sharks making "hits" on their smaller seafaring denizens. That sort of cliché-ridden gag, apart from the obvious annoyance it’s likely to engender in the Italian-American community, was already old when De Niro was talking to himself in the mirror, and even when transposed to this underwater ichthyoid community it fairly reeks of a hackneyed, This Roe’s Life attempt at ease-of-use yuks. Much of the film’s genuine humor, what there is of it, comes from the secondary characters, including Ziggy Marley and Doug E. Doug as Rastafarian fish Ernie and Bernie, a running gag on Michael Schultz’s bicentennial classic Car Wash (now a whale wash), and some of the most bizarre product placement ever to (dis-)grace the screen, à la Kelpy Kreme and, yeesh, Old Navy. There's little doubt that the under-10 set will have a ball – Shark Tale is awash in a near-psychedelic palette that’s invigorating to behold, and its core premise of "Be who you are" is unassailable. But those in the audience with more refined tastes may find themselves looking at their watches and wondering when Brad Bird’s The Incredibles is due in theatres.