SHARK TALE (Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson, and Rob Letterman, 2004)
A vegetarian shark and a materialistic fish join forces in the computer-animated film SHARK TALE. Oscar the fish, voiced by Will Smith, dreams of the penthouse but is stuck at the whale wash. Through a misunderstanding that Oscar perpetuates, everyone believes that he has slain a shark. Jack Black voices Lenny, a shark who knows the truth. Rather than reveal Oscar’s lie, Lenny utilizes it in his favor. He comes from a carnivorous family of mobsters and wants to break from them. Together Oscar and Lenny plan to stage Lenny’s death, giving the shark a way out and the fish a boost to his fame and wealth.
SHARK TALE is loaded with pop culture references, frequently riffing on gangster movies and the 1970s. This desperate attempt at hipness reeks of stale jokes. The craven product placement stinks even more. You’d think that an animated film set underwater would be ad-free, but the filmmakers liberally insert billboards and products with names given an oceanic twist. Nine years after TOY STORY, the novelty of computer animation has worn off. Story and character need to capture our imagination. SHARK TALE fails because it has nothing to tell us except for some endlessly recycled jokes from other movies. In one of the film’s few nice touches, the characters resemble their voiceover actors. Robert DeNiro’s godfather shark sports the actor’s mole. The blowfish voiced by Martin Scorsese has his bushy eyebrows. Scorsese’s a real surprise. His manic line readings are funnier than anything Black or Smith says.
(Review first aired on the October 12, 2004 NOW PLAYING)