I actually watched this movie three days before I started writing this blog post. Why didn’t I start writing this post earlier? Mostly because I was busy, but even if I wasn’t, I wasn’t entirely sure where to start. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about this movie.
Released a mere 4 months after Shrek 2 (2004), Shark Tale stars Will Smith as Oscar, an underachieving worker at the Whale Wash of Reef City. He wants to be rich, but he keeps failing and ends up owing a lot of money to his boss, who himself owes money to Shark gangsters. Robert De Niro voices Don, the leader of the Great White Shark gang. Jack Black portrays Lenny, Don’s youngest son, and a vegetarian (unlike the rest of his family, he refuses to eat fish). Those are just some of the big names in the cast, which also includes Martin Scorsese, Angelina Jolie, Renee Zelweger, and Jamaican musician/son of Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley.
I’ve criticized DreamWorks’ tendency to rely on celebrity talent a bit too much and not hiring more experienced voice actors, but in this movie it works fairly well. Will Smith perfectly captures Oscar as a down on his luck fish who wants to be rich, famous and cool. De Niro is very convincing as an Italian style mob boss, and Black gives Lenny the perfect balance between likeable and a bit of a wimp. In fact, I don’t have any real complaints about the voice cast whatsoever.
I barely found any information on this movie’s production, other than how it was originally developed under the title, Sharkslayer. They retitled it to Shark Tale to make it sound less violent and more family friendly. Producer Bill Damaschkle commented that they originally aimed for a more “noir” film, with a darker story. The only other note is that, unlike the feud between Pixar and DreamWorks over Antz, the two studios kept in touch while developing Shark Tale and Finding Nemo (which released the year before). DreamWorks CEO, Jeffery Katzenberg, commented that “any similarities are mere coincidence. We’ve been open with the Pixar people so we don’t step on each other’s toes.”
And it shows. You could note a lot of similarities between A Bug’s Life and Antz, right down to the neurotic main characters who eventually fall in love with their colony’s princess. Shark Tale on the other hand couldn’t be much more different from Finding Nemo. While Finding Nemo is a very dramatic film, Shark Tale is best described as pure entertainment. It was also moved forward from its original release date in November to avoid competition with Pixar’s The Incredibles.
Anyway, the basic story of Shark Tale is that Oscar ends up blowing all the money he owed his boss on a bet, after his longtime friend (Zelweger) sold a very valuable jewel to get him that money. He’s basically tossed out of the reef city in hopes that the sharks will eat him. Meanwhile, Lenny’s family is trying to get Lenny to eat a fish. Lenny’s brother is killed by an anchor near Oscar’s presence, and the reef city now believes that Oscar’s a shark slayer. Instead of telling the truth, he decides to live off the fame.
And that’s where the movie lies for most of its runtime. Oscar takes too long to learn from his mistakes, and there aren’t any major consequences for his actions. Society still likes him, even if he’s not a shark killer. He’s just not as rich and famous. Despite kind of betraying his longtime friend, they do get together in the end. In fact the conclusion as a whole feels way too convenient. The movie also contains a lot of party scenes and pop/rap style music beats. It gives the movie an overall hip aesthetic that I’m sure will appeal to some. For me, it just got a bit tiresome after a while. It feels like it frequently interferes with the storytelling.
In case you want to see the movie, I won’t spoil anything else about the plot. There are a couple twists, but none of them are all that surprising. Instead, I’ll just talk about the movie’s rather unique premier. The movie premiered in Piazza San Marco in Venice. It marked the first time in history the famous square was ever closed for a feature film premier. They projected the film onto the largest inflatable screen in the world, measuring more than 6 stories in height, with a screen of over 3,900 square feet. It needed 20,000 cubic feet of air to inflate and more than 50 tons of water to stabilize itself. Say what you will about the movie itself, but that sounds like it would have been a sight to see.
Shark Tale ended up earning a 35% on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics generally saying it felt derivative and full of pop culture in-jokes. Roger Ebert gave it 2 out of 4 stars, saying “Since the target audience for Shark Tale is presumably kids and younger teenagers, how many of them have seen the R-rated Godfather and will get all the inside jokes? Not a few, I suppose, and some of its characters and dialogue have passed into common knowledge. But it’s strange that a kid-oriented film would be based on parody of a 1972 gangster movie for adults.” He also commented that part of the reason Finding Nemo worked so well is its simpler plot, so that it could focus more on its characters and drama.
The movie earned an overall $367 million worldwide. With a $75 million budget, it made the movie decently profitable, but not quite what you would call a blowout success like Shrek 2.
Would I recommend this movie? Not really, but I won’t call it bad either. It felt kind of shallow, as if it focused more on being hip than actually telling a story. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, and the animation does look good, but there’s nothing special either. The movie never really makes you care about its characters, even with the good performances behind them. If you want good animated fish movies, watch Finding Nemo and Finding Dory.
Next up is Madagascar, followed by Wallace & Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit and Over the Hedge. I’ve actually seen all three of those movies before, and I believe it’s the only case where I’ve previously seen three DreamWorks animated movies in a row. Although the way this month is going, the most I’ll be able to do is Madagascar. It’s been the busiest month of 2018 for me, by far. Next month should calm down a bit, and I aim to go through all of the Roger Moore Bond movies. Once I’ve finished them, I would have seen every single official Bond movie ever released. Then we’ll get back to wherever we leave off with DreamWorks.