As the saying goes, “Another year, another Shark Week.” Between July 28th and August 4th, we at Full Circle have decided to celebrate by digging our teeth into a variety of shark movies. For this review, we’re discussing Shark Tale.
At the bottom of the ocean, lost to time, there’s a movie I’ve been thinking about for a long time. In 2004, when DreamWorks was unsure of what exactly to do after the mammoth success of Shrek and its sequel, they took to the seas with an all-star voice cast for what was meant to be the next big animated picture. Today, we plunge to hit rock bottom and discuss one of the biggest trainwrecks in animation and shark movies – Shark Tale.
The problems with Shark Tale start with its protagonist. Oscar (Will Smith) is a fish who works at a whale wash who is deeply unsatisfied with his life at the bottom of the reef. Now wanting a better life is a relatable trait, but Oscar is a jackass to everyone he encounters. This includes his best friend Angie (Renee Zellweger), who gives up a family heirloom so he can pay off his debt to the mob, comprised of sharks led by Don Edward Lino (Robert De Niro). So what does Oscar do? Immediately use the money he got from selling the heirloom to bet on a sporting event, losing the money in the process.
Now unlikable protagonists aren’t inherently a bad thing, but in a movie made primarily for children, it’s appalling how selfish screenwriters Michael J. Wilson and Rob Letterman allow Oscar to act. None of Will Smith’s signature charm bleeds through here. Heck, its a relief when Don Lino sends out his son Lenny (Jack Black) to eat Oscar. We should only be so lucky. Instead, Lenny reveals himself to be a vegetarian and through a series of misunderstandings Lenny’s family presumes him dead.
Of course, Oscar claims credit for killing Lenny and decides to exploit this for fame. The rest of the movie essentially follows Oscar living a lavish life, getting with self-described gold digger Lola (Angelina Jolie), and treating everyone around him like trash, including the woman who earlier attempts to get him out of debt. When he gets his comeuppance, it provides some of the only genuine joy in the movie. If there were any justice, a character so clearly abhorrent as Oscar would never had gotten a happy ending.
Why the (three) directors Vicky Jenson, Bilbo Bergeron, and Rob Letterman would choose to center their movie on a character like Oscar, or tell such a cynical story in the first place, is beyond anyone’s guess. At least the sharks themselves are enjoyable. Jack Black lends his signature goofiness to Lenny, making him leagues more likable than Oscar. His conflict with his father, who wants him to be as traditional a shark as possible, makes for an interesting arc that could support its own film. For all the cinephiles out there, it’s also quite fun to see Martin Scorsese voice the shark family lackey Sykes.
The virtues of Shark Tale really end there. As one can see from looking at a screenshot, the animation is an eyesore to look at. Environments are dull, movement lifeless, and the character designs attempt to combine human-like facial expressions and haircuts (!) with its aquatic creatures. Finding Nemo has just released a year earlier, yet looks 20,000 leagues better than this!
Beyond the animation, the jokes leave no impression. It’s all just vapid pop culture references that were dated by the time this film was released. The reporter’s name is Katy Current- get it? Like Katie Couric? There’s also an uncomfortable characterization of two jellyfish as Jamaican stereotypes that feels unnecessary, potentially racist even. The soundtrack overflows with ill-fitting songs from popular artists at the time that fail to distract from the mediocrity onscreen.
Nothing could save Shark Tale. From its awful lead character to its various confused elements, this movie represents the worst of 2000s animation. – James Preston Poole
Rating: 3 Vegetarian Sharks/10 Bad Protagonists
Shark Tale is now available on home video and VOD.