Friday, May 31, 2013
Will Smith Wags "Shark Tale" to Success
Shark Tale (2004)
Running time: 90 minutes (1 hour, 30 minutes)
MPAA – PG for some mild language and crude humor
DIRECTORS: Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson, and Rob Letterman
WRITERS: Damian Shannon, Mark Swift, Michael J. Wilson, and Rob Letterman
PRODUCERS: Bill Damaschke, Janet Healy, and Allison Lyon Segan
EDITORS: Nick Fletcher with Peter Lonsdale and John Venzon
COMPOSER: Hans Zimmer
Academy Award nominee
Starring: (voices) Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renée Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Jack Black, Martin Scorsese, Ziggy Marley, Doug E. Doug, Michael Imperioli, Vincent Pastore, Peter Falk, Katie Couric, and Phil LaMarr
The subject of this movie review is Shark Tale, a 2004 computer-animated comedy film from DreamWorks Animation. Shark Tale stars Will Smith as a worker fish and Jack Black as a vegetarian shark who take advantage of a gangster shark’s death.
Oscar (voice of Will Smith) the fish lives in the low end of the reef. He works at a whale (think car) wash, but he’d like to be a rich, famous somebody. Lenny (Jack Black) is a vegetarian shark, but his father, Don Lino (Robert De Niro), a shark mob boss, wants him to be tough so that he can run the family business with his brother, Frankie (Michael Imperioli). Oscar and Lenny & Frankie have an accidental encounter that leaves Frankie dead. Through a series of unfortunate misunderstandings, Oscar gets credit for killing Frankie and becomes known as “the shark slayer.” Oscar befriends Lenny and the two help each other; Oscar gives Lenny a place to hide, and the shark helps the fish perpetuate the myth of Oscar being a shark slayer. However, all that wealth and fame make Oscar forget his roots, and he fails to see that his friend Angie (Renée Zellweger), has been there for him all along. And his troubles only get worse when Don Lino comes looking for the shark slayer, and Don Lino isn’t awed like everyone else at the reputation of the shark slayer.
I could never imagine Disney using African-American or Black subcultures as a stylistic basis for one of their animated films, but DreamWorks does just that with Shark Tale. The computer-animated tale uses lots of hip hop attitude and music and a little of its slang, mostly through the performance of actor Will Smith. The film isn’t hip hop heavy, but Shark Tale has enough hip hop-ness to be noticeable.
Hip hop aside, Shark Tale is a very entertaining film, mostly on the strength of Will Smith’s performance, and Smith seems to chose material that he has to save on the strength of his personality. Is that some kind of martyr complex? Shark Tale isn’t all that well directed or written. The film is well cast; even famed movie director Martin Scorsese surprises with a small but wiry voice over performance. However, Scorsese, like everyone except Will Smith, has little with which to work. The film, especially on the writing end, treats the cast like window dressing, but still, the supporting cast gives inspired performances as window dressing.
Shark Tale’s premise, both Oscar’s plot and Lenny’s subplot, are actually effective and intriguing; both however are glossed over. Oscar has some serious self-confidence issues, and Lenny is certainly…a fish out of water with his family. The script focuses on jokes over the substance of overcoming obstacles. Still, Shark Tale is very entertaining, and visually, it’s a vast improvement in the quality of the computer animation over other DreamWorks computer animated films.
So how does Shark Tale compare to the Oscar®-winning, Finding Nemo, which is also an undersea tale? Finding Nemo has more heart, and the screenwriters took time to delve into the character issues and the humanity of the players. Shark Tale creates obstacles for the characters and then sweeps everything under the rug, whereas Nemo saw the characters through heartaches all the way to victory. While it may come up short on that end, Shark Tale still deserves credit for what it does right. It lets a charming film personality and movie star do his thing, and boy, does Will Smith do his thang.
7 of 10
2005 Academy Awards, USA: 1 nomination: “Best Animated Feature Film of the Year” (Bill Damaschke)
2005 BAFTA Awards: 1 nomination: “BAFTA Children's Award-Best Feature Film” (production team)