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   Movie Reviews: Shark Tale
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by
Briana McNeil

Studio:
     Dreamworks
Plot:
     Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Renée Zellweger
Cast:
     A white lie turns a very small fish into an unlikely hero.
Rating:
     PG
Bottom Line:
     **

Coverage:

Big names in an animated film are nothing new. Hundreds of well known actors and actresses have lent their voices to creatures and critters. Of course, why can’t the parents of wiggling little rugrats that cheerfully attend a show be just as entertained as their smaller versions? Yet there is something suspicious when so many high profile actors agree to be immortalized as swimming animated sea creatures. It is certainly not for the entertainment of that 3 foot popcorn tosser sitting behind me. This is purely for the egotistical benefit of the actors or perhaps DreamWorks, the name dropper and product endorsers who satirize irreverently that lovely genre of animation that we grew up with. Gone are the wholesome and endearing stories of orphaned deer or lions meant to be kings. Instead enter big kid films, rated pg with enough language and pop culture references to make the viewer think they are watching some sitcom reunion show. This practice verges on pretentiousness and in my opinion has little to do with entertaining those small folks the movie will of course be marketed to. Shark Tale follows suit.

Shark Tale is a story of a hip and slender inner-reef guppy’s aspiration to make it to the top. Will Smith is the voice of Oscar, a tongue washer at Sykes Whale Wash. This sprightly fish with a confident swagger, and a vibrant personality dreams big, and has had a string of get rich schemes that have not only failed but left Oscar in debt to his boss, Sykes, a blow fish with an ever furrowed brow played by Martin Scorsese. When Sykes demands the $5,000 that he has lent to Oscar to take care of his own debt to Shark mob boss, Don Lino, played by Robert De Niro, Oscar must think quickly. Angie, played by Renee Zellweger, the secretary at Sykes Whale Wash, and Oscar’s secret crush, lends Oscar a precious pearl to repay his debt. When Oscar can’t help but bet the money away at the seahorse tracks, he is taken by Sykes’ Jamaican Jellyfish henchmen, played by Doug. E. Doug, and Ziggy Marley, to an underground hole never to be seen again. Tied up in seaweed with impending death facing him, Oscar is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don Lino’s son, Frankie, played by Michael Imperioli, ends up dead and Oscar is mistakenly believed to have killed him. Suddenly, Oscar becomes the Shark Slayer and is given all the fame and fortune he has dreamed of. The only problem, he must find a way to keep up the charade.

Lenny, played by Jack Black, is the sensitive and thoughtful Shark son to Don Lino. The Black Shark of the family Lenny would rather save his prey than kill it and hides out when his brother, the favored in the family ends up dead. Lenny and Oscar form an alliance to keep up Oscar’s charade as shark killer and so ensues the antics of animation and simple storytelling. In the end Oscar learns that its better to be who you are and appreciate what you have.

Shark Tale takes place in an underground version of New York City complete with a bubbly Times Square. Instead of advertisements for the Gap, the Gup and Old Wavy are the popular providers of urban fish couture. The cultural references do not stop there, the inner reef fish shop at Whale mart, and eat at Fish King. Even Katie Couric, chipper today show anchor makes an appearance as Katie Current, a news fish that swishes to every breaking story, and has just the right amount of highlighted fins.

Clever underwater counterparts to industry aside, the animation in the film is fantastic. State of the art technology was used to produce this colorful and vibrant inner reef underwater world. Furthermore, the detail and precision of the art is commendable. The character’s features, and characteristics so mimic their voiced actor you are constantly tickled that that slender fish is Will Smith, or that puckered lipped fish is Zellweger. Speaking of Smith, I am never disappointed when Smith revisits comedic roles. His uncanny comedic timing and even physical comedy is all happily encompassed in little Oscar.

While Shark Tales may have some of what it needs to entertain an audience of children, as perhaps its target audience I wasn’t particularly entertained but rather felt marketed to, or prodded. I could revisit pop culture on my own, rent the Godfather, or watch the Sopranos. Does the line, "you had me at hello" ever really need to be said on the screen again? As familiar as these techniques are I kind of miss being wowed and awed by good old fashioned animated story telling.

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