Shark Tale

One of the debates in animation is wheather to use a lot of topical refernces and satire. This conflict straddles the Disney/Warner Brothers divide almost perfectly, with Disney trying for timelessness and the Warners going for the cheap laugh. Of course, either approach can work; it depends on the execution. Sometimes the parody outlives it’s subject. Does anybody remember the character actor that Foghorn Leghorn was based on?

Shark Tale is from Dreamworks, the shop that makes the Shrek movies, so there’s little doubt about where they fall in the debate. This is a frenetic film with several gags per minute and a simple plot that stays out of the way of the fun.

Will Smith voices Oscar, a small fish with big dreams to move to the top of the reef. He works at a whale wash as a tounge scrubber just as his father did. His dream appears to come true when a shark is killed while chasing him. (An anchor falls on it) Everyone assumes that Oscar killed the shark and he parlays that assumption into fame and fortune. Of course, he discovers that it isn’t all he though it would be.

This isn’t a bad film. It’s just sort of uninspired. The plot, as mentioned before, is basic and the voice characterizations are unchallanging. Will Smith plays Will Smith. Jack Black stretches a little by playing gentle hearted shark, Lenny with a nasal whine. I suspect they could have spliced together Robert Deniro’s part as the head of the shark family from his other roles. Martin Scorcese shows some real performance talent as the blowfish that runs the whale wash and dabbles in shark business.

The animation is up to this year’s standard, although it doesn’t really push any boundaries. As for the jokes-they are more hit than miss, but the targets are puzzling. The movie Car Wash must have been more of a cultural landmark than I realized. And isn’t taking shots at M.C. Hammer at this point, just a little too easy?  Especially when they come from fellow novelty rapper Will Smith.

Shark Tale is entertaining but I doubt that anyone will get it in twenty years.


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February 2005
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