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Shark Tale (2004)

Behind every little fish is a great white lie.

Rating: 4/10

Running Time: 86 minutes

US Certificate: PG UK Certificate: U


See if you can spot the odd one out from the following three scenes: a masked gang rapes a woman and savagely beats her bound husband to the rhythm of their leader crooning ‘Singin’ in the Rain’; an armed robber shuffles along to the tune of ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ before slicing off the ears of a bound policeman; a pair of henchman clown around singing the lyrics “Don’t worry, be happy, ’cos every little thing is gonna be alright” from Bob Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ before administering electric shocks to their bound victim. Well, all three are troublesome, decidedly adult sequences which bring into direct confrontation the connection between popular entertainment and casual violence – but while the first two appear in very adult movies (Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs), the third comes from an animated feature for (very) young children, ‘Shark Tale’ – the hapless victim is a fish named Oscar (Will Smith) who has failed to pay his debts, the singing henchmen are electrified jellyfish (one of whom is played by Bob Marley’s son Ziggy) – and if you are watching it with your own children, you may well find your mouth gaping wider than any shark’s.

This is part of the whole problem with Dreamworks CG animation in general, and ‘Shark Tale’ in particular. In an attempt to keep the parents as amused as the kids they are accompanying, Dreamworks pepper their stories with adult references – but they consistently fail, with the exception of their Disney-baiting fairytale masterpiece Shrek (2001), to get the balance right. ‘Shark Tale’ has an ocean’s worth of homages to adult films like Pulp Fiction, Snatch, Traffic, ‘Day of the Locusts’, as well as just about every gangster flick ever made, and there is certainly a postmodern frisson when the godfather shark Don Lino (voiced by Robert De Niro) tells the puffer fish Sykes (Martin Scorsese): “now you and me, we worked together a long long time”. It is, no doubt, all very clever – but alas that rarely makes it funny, and some of it (like the torture sequence) sits very uncomfortably in what is essentially an escapist fantasy for kids. Younger viewers are better served by the film’s phantasmagorical colours, its vibrant song-and-dance numbers, and its occasional moments of gross-out humour (including a whale of a belch, and an underwater fart) – but no-one over the age of two will fail to observe the unevenness of tone and incoherence of narrative that are the tell-tale signs of a project led by committee.

Poor old Dreamworks. As if it were not enough that their entomological extravaganza ‘Antz’ came out in the same year as Pixar’s similar, but better A Bug’s Life (1988), their ‘Shark Tale’ was also destined to be blown out of the water by Pixar’s sub-aquatic odyssey Finding Nemo (2004). Yet despite their similar oceanic setting and fishy dramatis personae, the two films have little in common. Where the reefy outcrop in Finding Nemo looked just like a reefy outcrop, in ‘Shark Tale’ it is closer to a coral-based New York City or Los Angeles – and while the characters of both films are talking fish, they are much more anthropomorphised in ‘Shark Tale’, and physically modelled on the actors who voice them, so that Oscar does not just sound like Will Smith, but in a fishy kind of way also looks and moves like him (and Ziggy Marley’s jellyfish has discernible dreadlocks and Rasta beanie). This gives ‘Shark Tale’ a striking look – but unfortunately none of the beauty or charm of Pixar’s fish-out-of-water tale.

It's Got: A vegetarian shark named Lenny (Jack Black) who cross-dresses as a dolphin; a shrimp out for revenge; an old fart Tiger Shark (Peter Falk) who farts.

It Needs: More evenness of tone, more coherence of plot, to be funny rather than just clever, and to decide whether it wants to be for children or their parents.

DVD Extras Scene selection; optional English subtitles; Dreamworks trailers (‘Madagascar’, ‘Wallace & Gromit’, ‘Shrek 2’); ‘Rough Waters’ (2min) blooper reel of early technical glitches; ‘Starfish’ (11min) interviews with stars Will Smith, Jack Black, Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Renée Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, writer/director Rob Letterman, directors Bibo Bergeron and Vicky Jenson, executive producer Jeffrey Katzenberger, producer Allison Lyon Segan; ‘The Music of Shark Tale’ (4min) interviews with Missy Elliot, Christina Aguilera, Ziggy Marley, Sean Paul, Justin Timberlake, Mary J. Blige, Ludacris; ‘A Fishified World’ (6min) interviews with Katzenberger, Jenson, producer Janet Healy, CG supervisor Kevin Rafferty, art directors Sam Michlap and Seth Engstrom, production designer Dan St Pierre, visual effects supervisor Doug Cooper, Jolie, Bergeron, Smith, Black, lead character technical director Kevin Ochs, surfacing supervisor Wes Burian, Marley; ‘Gigi the Whale’ (1min) hilarious animated whale in studio telling an anecdote about ‘real person’ Gigi the whale; ‘A Tour You Can’t Refuse’, extensive set of design stills, artwork and visual development blueprints; full audio commentary by the three directors, who explain that whales do not really pooh, and that “the movie was a bit darker in the early days”. Separate children’s sections include ‘Play Club Oscar’ (4min) animated characters dance in a clash of styles + ‘Get Your Groove On!’ (non-animated) instructions in the different dance moves; CD-Rom printable activities; colour script stills; special menus which take the viewer directly to selected scenes + music video for ‘Car Wash’ by Missy Elliot and Christina Aguilera; two interactive ‘Must Sea Games’; DVD-Rom activities. DVD Extras Rating: 9/10


This underwater gangster-meets-gangsta CG animated feature may well have you sleeping with the fishes.