A Shark Tale
It’s bad enough when celebrities scramble onto unfortunate film projects made in traditional Hollywood style – bad scripts, concepts and execution abounds in an industry as over-evolved as its technological prowess. But when it takes animators years to carefully sculpt and painstakingly render each frame of an animated feature that sports the same shortcomings… well, it’s a tragedy of a larger order. And that’s what Dreamworks has on its hands with “Shark Tale,” the erstwhile story of a little fish with big dreams. Submerged beneath trite dialogue, limp humor and second-rate animation, the film fails to surfaces with even a single innovative merit – and even manages to propagate aged stereotypes, including those of the gay and lesbian community.
Witness this lineup: Will Smith voices Oscar, the little fish that could; Robert DeNiro as Don Lino, a great white shark who is inadvertently angered by little Oscar’s attempts to make it big; Renée Zellweger as Angie, an angel fish with a secret crush on Oscar; Angelina Jolie as Lola, the sultry dragon fish looking out for herself; Jack Black as Don Lino’s son Lenny, a closet (and closeted?) vegetarian who just doesn’t fit in; and director Martin Scorsese as Sykes, a money-grubbing puffer fish. In smaller roles: Peter Falk, Michael Imperioli and Vincent Pastore from “The Sopranos”, and Doug E. Doug and Ziggy Marley as Bernie and Ernie, two Rastafarian jelly fish.
With that pedigree, “Shark Tale” ought to have had some bite. Instead, it plays like a “Sopranos” episode under water. Even the sight gags, so humorous in “Shrek 2,” lack imagination in this world; the enterprise has a day-old-fish smell about it, inventing an underwater city, denizens and cultural identity based exclusively on human parallels. Perhaps two years ago, before “Finding Nemo” hit the big screen, this type of rehash might have seemed interesting, at least in its animation. And because that former film has been through the Cineplex and penetrated the home market with such success, comparisons between the two are inevitable – and subjectively this film will suffer from them.
What might be most unfortunate about “Shark Tale,” however, is the depiction of Lenny. Ostensibly, the shark is a vegetarian, uncomfortable with the thought of killing other sea-life to fill his stomach. This predilection embarrasses his father and ostracizes Lenny to the degree where he first hides his eating habits, and then his entire identity, from his brethren. At the core of this character is a traditional motif: the outsider attempting to fit in. But the vocal performance from Jack Black as well as the animated presentation of Lenny’s mannerisms aren’t vegetarian; they’re downright effeminate, bordering on lisping; if the shark could buckle on a Prada purse, cross his tail and snap his fins agitatedly without looking ridiculous, I think the animators might have tried it. This type of gay/lesbian ritualistic metaphor we decidedly do NOT need. It propagates stereotypes, undermines the gravity of the rights movement by casting gays and lesbians back into comedic side-kick roles, and develops new, even more offensive syllogistic leaps: not only are we unable to be “real men” as characterized here through intimidation and violence… we really suck at eating meat, too.
In light of these shortcomings, what probably seemed to Will Smith to be an energetic, humorous performance comes off merely as grating, and the admirable vocal talents of Zellweger and Jolie are largely wasted on characters barely fit to fricassee. The kids will likely enjoy the colorful world of “Shark Tale” for a moment or two… but if they already found Nemo, these shallow waters hold little of real interest.