"Shark Tale" is pure goofy entertainment. Accept that and you'll have a whale of a time at the movies (sorry, in the spirit of silliness, I just couldn't help myself). Hot on the heels of Pixar's "Finding Nemo" this is a full-length animated feature which is, in comparison, less interested in making a point or telling a story. Very much like Dreamwork's unjustifiably revered "Shrek" series it functions primarily from its pop culture roots and draws laughs through its self-referential, post-modern parodies. Although many of the orchestrated gags miss the mark, the blatant improvisation by the stunning voice-cast saves the day.
Oscar (Will Smith) is a little fish with big dreams (and a bigger mouth). His lies eventually get him into trouble with Sykes, a puffer fish and local gang lord (in a stroke of casting brilliance voiced by genius director Martin Scorsese) whom Oscar owes some serious cash. But that's only part of the problem – Oscar quickly becomes Shark Public Enemy #1 after he takes credit for killing a shark who happens to be mafia boss Don Lino's (Robert De Niro pulling a Marlon Brando) son. But with dangers also comes fame and success as Oscar rises in the social ranks for being the Reef's fearless sharkslayer, the protector of general sea-life. The only hitch is Oscar's courage weighs less than his fin! So in comes Lenny, a vegetarian shark (Jack Black) who helps Oscar keep his manufactured image by doing what Draco the dragon did for Bowen the dragonslayer in "Dragonheart." But I'll stop right here. I do this only because the plot is of no consequence to the makers of "Shark Tale." Their focus is getting laughs via the actors; as many as possible and in the shortest attention span. Such is the faith in the voice talent that the animators actually made it a priority to ensure that the characters resemble their real-life counterparts. Take for example Renée Zellweger's lip-chewing Angie as the beautiful angel fish; or Martin Scorcese's Sykes with his bushy eyebrows; or perhaps the luscious, bee-stung lips on Angelina Jolie's character, Lola, our film's customary femme fatale. Yep, good call.
There are critics who have taken offence with the film's use of racial references ("Shark Tale" is very clearly a by-product of the Italian/African American stereotypes). But I did not perceive the results as derogatory; I do, however, would take to task the screenwriters for their ham-handed portrayal of death, an important topic, illustrated in the sequence when Lenny's brother is accidentally killed by an anchor. We witness his fatal accident and before the emotions sink in more wisecracks are egged on. Now considering that the picture has been made for children (let's face it, adults come second) how would this be responsible behaviour? Also, on the subject of the tiny tots, I doubt if they will appreciate much of wit in "Shark Tale." Let's see how we feel about this; here's a scene from the film: [Oscar has just prised his way out of Lenny's mouth in front of an awestruck crowd] He exclaims: "Are you not entertained?" Then he grunts in full Jack Nicholson mode: "You can't handle the truth" and finally concludes by mouthing another famous movie-line to the cheering crowds: "You had me at hello!" Yes, yes, it's very funny especially when it's Will Smith doing it in that irresistible Will Smith style. But you kinda wonder who else got the joke. - Adnan Khan