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Shark Tale

Movies | Dreamworks' animated film offers a few funny jokes and some impressive computer animation but is steadfastly middle-of-the-road

Issue: "Terrorism: Unmasked men," Oct. 16, 2004

Shark Tale isn't bad, depending on how you look at it. It's near the top of the DreamWorks animated line-up, but it fails to approach the delightfulness of even the weaker entries in the Pixar canon.

The film (rated PG for some mild language and crude humor) follows Finding Nemo to the bottom of the ocean but isn't content with what if finds there. Shark Tale doesn't simply anthropomorphize undersea life but instead imagines a water world complete with city streets, "whale washes," and Italian crime families. The hero is Oscar (voiced by Will Smith), a colorful fish with dreams of the high life but stuck in a dead-end job. He gets his chance at greatness when he's present during the accidental death of a shark (the son and heir of crime boss Don Lino).

Oscar, through some half-truths and evasions, convinces everyone around him that he's a "shark slayer," instantly achieving fame and fortune. With his success, though, comes pressure to live up to his reputation, as well as threats from the vengeful Don Lino (Robert De Niro) and the wiles of the seductress Lola (Angelina Jolie). Oscar is helped by his supportive friend Angie (Renee Zellweger) and Don Lino's other son, a misfit named Lenny (Jack Black).

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This DreamWorks outing is not as crude as the two Shrek films, although Lenny's effeminate nature might be a disguised reference to homosexuality (he's a shark who "likes to dress as a dolphin"). A high percentage of jokes, too, while not straightforwardly offensive, allude to cultural references (Goodfellas, surprise appearances by Missy Elliot and Christina Aguilera) that one would hope aren't too familiar to the intended audience.

Shark Tale offers a few funny jokes and some impressive computer animation but is steadfastly middle-of-the-road throughout. Despite a hugely talented vocal cast, the whole affair is pretty unmemorable.

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