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Shark Tale (2004)
Directors: Vicky Jenson, Bibo Bergeron, and Rob Letterman

review by Amy Harlib

The folks at DreamWorks Animation Studios who brought us the successful features Shrek and its sequel have recently made a splash with their most recent CGI picture Shark Tale - an undersea comedy populated by anthropomorphic creatures that immediately invites comparisons to the one-year earlier oceanic offering from the rivals at Pixar. Two fishy films, one so soon following another and competing seems to be pure coincidence, since the lengthy planning and pre-production periods needed to make these digitised movies means that one studio would not know what the other was doing until very close to release date - too late to do anything about it. Shark Tale in essence can be summarised by the phrase 'Finding Nemo meets The Sopranos' an obvious description surprisingly not used by any other reviewer I know of but that sprang instantly to my mind.

Shark Tale, co-directed by Vicky Jenson (who also co-directed Shrek) and Bibo Bergeron (co-director of the traditionally animated The Road To El Dorado), signals its satirising contemporary North American urban life by making its Shark Side Reef setting a sub-aqueous lampoon of New York City complete with familiar architecture and mock product placements and ads. The characters also parody the big-name stars providing the vocal talent by having their corresponding animated counterparts rendered with clever, oddly piscine likenesses while the plot also makes fun of romantic clichés and underdog success narratives.

The story concerns youthful Oscar (Will Smith) an insignificant wrasse-fish working in a dead-end job in a Whale Wash and scheming of ways to be a big-shot success in his community that lives in constant fear of sharks. Functioning exactly like the terrestrial mafia, the sharks have a boss, Don Lino (Robert De Niro) who has two sons - the older, Frankie (Michael Imperioli) who takes after his father and Lenny (Jack Black), a gentle soul with no appetite for the family trade or for eating other fish and who practices vegetarianism much to his parent's chagrin and frustration. Don Lino demands protection money from Oscar's boss, puffer-fish Sykes (Martin Scorsese) and he in turn insists that Oscar make good on the considerable loans owed to him.

Secretly smitten with Oscar, co-worker Angie (Renee Zellweger) gives him an heirloom pearl to pay Sykes but Oscar succumbs to temptation and uses the gift, after hearing a tip, to bet on a seahorse race. When the about-to-win horse collapses just before the finish line, Sykes orders his tough-guy assistants - Rastafarian jellyfish twins Bernie (Doug E. Doug) and Ernie (Ziggy Marley) to teach Oscar a lesson he'll never forget. Frankie, who's teaching Lenny to be a real predator, targets them at the lonely roughing-up spot and the shark's presence scares off the jellyfish and leaves the bound-up Oscar as helpless prey. When, in a sudden accident, an anchor falls and kills Frankie, the grieving Lenny frees Oscar who decides to take credit for the shark's death and to use this incident to generate his own career opportunities. This works spectacularly for a while, as Oscar gets proclaimed a hero, feted, showered with rewards, wooed by seductive, gold digging fish fatale Lola (Angelina Jolie) and enjoys media exposure by famous personality Katie Current (Katie Couric).

Soon, fame and fortune gets complicated for Oscar when his reputation requires him to stand up to further shark attacks and when Angie gets upset and alienated over Lola's advances on her beloved ex-colleague. Fortunately, Oscar discovers Lenny hiding near his old work place; shelters him and conceals his newfound friend's nature with a clever dolphin disguise. The two of them must then deal with Don Lino and his hench-sharks - all on their way to The Reef - bent on revenge. The resolution, while ultimately predictable, comes about with enough wit, thrills and real poignancy to offer surprises too.

Shark Tale's story, while it plays out, dazzles with its vibrant, glowing, colourful and detailed settings, backdrops and character designs caricaturing the stellar voice talent. Adding to the fun, the production gets crammed with puns and sight gags, references to other films (The Godfather trilogy most obviously, and Titanic too, among many others), and a plethora of pop tunes punctuating the pleasing score by Hans Zimmer. Although the characterisations could have been developed more, and the plot could have been more inventive - Shark Tale gets told with plenty of zest, swift pacing and enough humour to charm. Although it treads shallower water than the truly deep and masterful Finding Nemo, to which it will ever be compared, Shark Tale contains enough superficial, albeit meticulously crafted gloss to offer a satisfactory, entertaining CGI animation experience.
Shark Tale

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