This here is one of those movies I usually point to when I’m talking about the difference between DreamWorks and Pixar. In 2003, Pixar brought us the magnificent and emotional Finding Nemo, which probably made many a father want to hug their children tight, whilst DreamWorks gave us Shark Tale in 2004, another stupid and obnoxious film ridden with animals who reference miscellaneous things from pop culture and dance to whatever was hot on the radio at the time of the film’s release. Oh woe.
The two movies have one thing in common – they’re both fish movies. None is really stealing from the other. One is just a little more irritating than the other in how it panders towards a younger and more immature crowd, whilst also attempting to please the adults in the audience by clumsily spoofing films like The Godfather and Jaws with jokes that would never be understood by anyone young enough to find the other jokes in Shark Tale funny. Someone at Dreamworks, I speculate, must’ve heard that Pixar’s secret to making great films is making a film both kids and adults can adore equally. He missed the point and thought it meant simply switching between poop jokes and “obscure” Marlon Brando references.
Thus was born Shark Tale, at least according to my theory. Its plot revolves around the fascinatingly unlikeable Oscar (Will Smith), an unsuccessful fish who aspires to do something greater than remaining at the whale wash where he works. I will admit that the whale wash gag made me chuckle. One of the few people who love and believe in Oscar is Angie (Renée Zellweger), who has a secret crush on him as well. His life seems to take a turn for the greater, though, when a white shark (voiced by Michael Imperioli) is crushed by an anchor and he can fabricate a story about how he smote the monster.
He gains massive fame, gets more respect from his boss Sykes (Martin Scorsese), whom he owes a large amount of clams, gets together with the sexiest fish in town Lola (Angelina Jolie), much to Angie’s jealousy, and dons the mantle of the Sharkslayer. Someone he doesn’t want to encounter, though, is Lenny (Jack Black), a vegetarian white shark (yes, really) who just so happens to be the brother of the shark Oscar killed. The two of them meet and complications ensue.
On top of being the brother of the shark Oscar has now gained fame for “killing”, Lenny is also the son of local mob boss Don Lino (Robert De Niro), whose attention is drawn towards Oscar’s innocent town when the news of the Sharkslayer reaches him. What ensues is some goofy action for the kids and seemingly misplaced inside jokes for the adults. We also encounter more colorful characters, such as Ernie and Bernie (Doug E. Doug and Ziggy Marley), two jellyfish who are one joint each away from making the film non-family friendly, en elderly leopard shark (Peter Falk) who farts a lot and can’t see well (har-har!), a dim-witted octopus (Vincent Pastore) and Katie Couric as a parody of herself.
By colorful I mean that I noticed both Jamaican and African-American stereotypes amongst the fishies. I’m not gonna preach about it being offensive or racist or anything like that, but I am going to question what’s the point in making two jellyfish Jamaican aside from the facts that their tendrils almost resemble dreadlocks. Maybe jellyfish are just more common in Jamaica? The fish in Finding Nemo didn’t speak with Australian dialects as they probably should’ve, but at least the nationalities of the fish in those waters weren’t all over the place.
Maybe the reason for these particular stereotypes is to give the film more “swag”, something that was considered quite cool and popular amongst children when this film was released, at least if I remember my friends and their saggy clothing and backwards caps correctly. The Swedish dub makes it worse by refraining from translating certain words, because they believed the characters would sound much more cool and “gangsta” when randomly saying a few words in English. Don’t ask. We’re all a bit mad over here.
Shark Tale is generally an annoying and badly put together movie, although it does have a few likable things in it, to be kindly honest. The scene where Lenny lets out a scream of despair over his dead brother will inspire at least a few wet eyes, Robert De Niro makes for an entertaining villain, there is some pretty animation and the soundtrack contains some good old Bob Marley, which is refreshing as DremWorks tend to just play whatever’s new and fresh. Respect the classics; that’s what I say. Or you can respect both the old and the new if you wish, but don’t try to put the two together as shoddily as in Shark Tale.