While Disney ruled the roost when it came to 2-D animation, it
has faced some stiff competition in depicting three dimensions. The
Mouse House’s most notable competitor has been Dreamworks
Animation, headed up by former Disney animation honcho Jeffrey
Katzenberg. Hot off the heels of summer’s smash sequel
“Shrek 2,” Dreamworks hopes to continue its current
dominance with another computer-animated comedy, this time set
under the sea.

Film Reviews
Do I look fat in this? (Courtesy of Dreamworks)

“Shark Tale” tells the story of Oscar (Will Smith),
a small fish trying to stand out in a very big pond. Working his
days down at the Whale Wash, the hyperactive dreamer fantasizes
about becoming rich and famous. Unfortunately for Oscar, his
get-rich-quick schemes have put him in debt to his boss Sykes
(Martin Scorsese). In turn, Sykes needs to make good with mob boss
Don Lino (Robert De Niro). After Oscar foolishly doesn’t make
good on a payment, Sykes has his henchmen — a pair of
Rastafarian jellyfish (Doug E. Doug and Ziggy Marley) — take
care of the slacker fish once and for all.

In a happenstance, Oscar and the jellyfish are spotted by
Frankie and Lenny (Jack Black). But things go awry when Frankie is
hit by an anchor and is killed while chasing Oscar. Seeing
Frankie’s death as an opportunity to receive the notoriety
he’s always wanted, Oscar takes credit for the shark’s
demise and is given the label “Sharkslayer.” Lenny is
too ashamed to go back to his father, who considers his vegetarian
son a disappointment. The kind-hearted shark ends up striking a
deal with Oscar: As long as the now-famous fish helps Lenny avoid
the life and family he disapproves of, Lenny will help Oscar
continue his charade. But Don Lino is out to avenge Frankie, and
Oscar soon has to realize the consequences of his actions —
and that perhaps it’s sometimes better to be a beloved nobody
to a disillusioned somebody.

Like the best animated films, the beauty of “Shark
Tale” is that it works on two different levels. Younger
viewers will probably love the characters and enjoy the more broad
strokes, but older viewers will certainly pick up on a lot more.
Dreamworks’ hook in its computer-generated features seems to
be the lampooning and constant referencing of popular culture, and
their latest entry is no exception. While the underwater world is
plastered in modified product placement (Kelpie Kreme and
Coral-Cola, anyone?), film buffs will probably have the best time
as there are some clever, if not always subtle, references to other
movies. “Jaws” and “Titanic” are the most
obvious, but popular gangster classics such as “The Godfather
“ and “Scarface” get their dues here as well. The
film is genuinely funny, but not to the point of laugh-out-loud
hilarity.

Yet for all its references and slyness, the main problem with
“Shark Tale” is that it lacks freshness and
originality. Even though some of its concepts are interesting, the
film’s plotting is strictly by the numbers – the story arc
and how the characters change are completely predictable. While
there is nothing terrible about this, it feels like the filmmakers
didn’t attempt to push the boundaries or take any chances. In
comparison to other computer-animated movies, particularly the ones
by Pixar, “Shark Tale” could have been a lot more
creative and could have used some more development to really stand
out.

Other than the stupendous computer animation, one of the
film’s best assets is the talented voice cast, which adds a
lot to the movie. Will Smith is engaging as the high-energy Oscar
while Renee Zellwegger brings the right kind of expressive voice as
Oscar’s love interest and voice of reason. The standout here
is Jack Black, who plays against type as the innocent and even
cutesy Lenny. It’s a strark contrast to Black’s usual
manic screen personas, but Black shows range by doing a more calm
character in a much different voice.

Even though “Shark Tale” is stuck in basic
storytelling conventions and doesn’t truly evolve the genre
of computer-animated films, it has plenty of enjoyable moments and
great characters making it worth seeing. But in such an overcrowded
genre that will only continue to grow more, “Shark
Tale” will swim feverishly in the minds of moviegoers for now
but over time it’ll probably start to sink.

 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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