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Toon Talk From the Other Side: Shark Tale
Page 1 of 2

by Kirby Holt (archives)
October 6, 2004
Kirby reviews the Dreamworks animated release Shark Tale

Toon Talk: From the Other Side
Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt


(c) Dreamworks

Shark Tale
DreamWorks Animation

GoodFishes
 
Swimming into theaters in the wake of Disney/Pixar's Finding Nemo is the latest feature from DreamWorks Animation, Shark Tale. But unlike the similar stand-off of six years ago between the studios (with the almost simultaneous release of their two respective insect epics, Antz and A Bug's Life), enough water has passed underneath the bridge between these two films that any comparisons between them would be shallow ... aside from their being set under the sea, they couldn't be more different in tone and style.

Whereas Nemo presented an aquatic world just this side of reality, this Tale is set in an anthropomorphized undersea civilization complete with ghettos, graffiti and gangsters, a sunken Big Apple. It is here that we meet Oscar (voiced by Will Smith, in his liveliest performance in some time), a fast-talking bottom feeder who yearns to move it on up to a better life at the top of the reef, yet is stuck in a dead end job as a ‘tongue scraper' in the local Whale Wash. Oblivious to the love struck attentions of his ‘best friend' Angie (Renee Zellweger, as spunky as ever), Oscar has borrowed himself into debt with his boss, a puffer fish named Sykes with the voice of Martin Scorsese and the eyebrows to match.

Sykes is tied to the local Mob, which down in the deep means (none to subtlety) sharks; the local gang is headed by the man-eating (literally) Don Lino (Robert De Niro, naturally), who has problems of his own: he wants to retire and pass the family business on to his sons, Frankie (The Sopranos' recent Emmy-winner Michael Imperioli) and Lenny (professional lunatic Jack Black). And while the fierce Frankie is perfect for the job, Lenny isn't so much. As it turns out, Lenny is not like other sharks; he is not only kind hearted and peaceful, he's a (gasp!) vegetarian ... not that there's anything wrong with that ...

These two storylines converge when Oscar and Lenny meet, resulting in the accidental death of Frankie. Oscar impetuously takes the credit for the murder, and is soon the hero of the reef, hailed as their savior, the Shark Slayer (which was the film's original title). He is soon livin' large as a media celebrity, which draws the attention of the gold-digging lady fish Lola (as in "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets?), sultry-voiced by Angelina Jolie (again, naturally), and the Don himself, who wants to avenge his son's murder. Oscar hatches a plan with Lenny that will get them both what they want: the sharks off their tails.

Unlike most of DreamWorks' previous animated efforts, Shark Tale succeeds in developing its characters beyond the celebrities supplying the voices, even though, here more then ever, the characters' designs are so closely matched to their famous vocalists, you could shut off the sound and still know who the actors are. (Its worth noting, too, the strong resemblance between Oscar and an earlier toon fish, The Incredible Mr. Limpet.) And while it is neither as breath-takingly beautiful as Finding Nemo was (it is set mostly in a slum after all), nor as transporting, the character animation is top-notch, the most traditionally ‘cartoony' computer animated film to date.

As for the comedy, it ranges from the punny (a newscaster named Katie Current, voiced by Katie Couric, naturally) to the inspired (Lenny disguises himself by painting himself blue and calling himself Sebastian the Dolphin), with a fare share of gags that float to the top of the tank like a dead guppy. Even so, the moral (to accept others as they are) is easy to swallow. Overall, the film is surprisingly enjoyable, even with its modern urban sensibility that will sail over most kid's heads and may eventually date the film in the future.

Toon Talk Rating: B

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