This weekend my son accompanied me to the video store where I let him choose a DVD from the children’s section. After spending some time pondering the various selections, he finally settled on Shark Tale, the 2004 box office smash from DreamWorks Animation. I originally wasn’t planning on watching Shark Tale with my son because I wasn’t that interested in the plot synopsis I read, but he convinced me to sit through it with him. The film turned out to be decent, but nothing that I’d buy in order to watch over and over again.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): The Shark Tale exists entirely underwater and is populated by various types of sea creatures. One of these is a fish name Oscar (voiced by Will Smith), a slacker who dreams of living large, but lacks the work ethic required to make it to the top. Oscar is constantly late to work, and owes his boss Mr. Sykes (Martin Scorsese) the sum of 5,000 clams — due the next day, or else Sykes’ two henchmen, jellyfish named Ernie (Ziggy Marley) and Bernie (Doug E. Doug), will electrocute him.
Oscar doesn’t have that kind of money, but fortunately for him, his co-worker Angie (Renée Zellweger) overhears Sykes’ threats. Angie is in love with Oscar, so she offers to help bail him out by giving him her grandmother’s pearl necklace to sell. Oscar accepts, oblivious to the fact that Angie’s action is motivated by love.
Oscar’s bad habits get the better of him, however, as instead of going to Mr. Sykes with the money from the necklace, he heads straight to the seahorse track where he puts everything on a longshot. His seahorse loses, which means he has no way of paying back Sykes. Sykes happens to be at the track at the same time, sees what happens, and puts a hit out on Oscar.
We then cut to a different part of the ocean where we see a shark family headed up by Don Lino (Robert De Niro) and his sons Frankie (Michael Imperioli) and Lenny (Jack Black). The sharks are the mafia clan of the underwater world, which fits in very nicely with their killer instinct. Except for the fact that Lenny completely lacks that instinct and has never hurt another ocean creature in his entire life. This is an embarrassment to Don Lino, so he orders Frankie to take Lenny out for a kill.
Frankie and Lenny come upon the site where Bernie and Ernie are about to go to work on Oscar. Frankie figures this would be a great chance for Lenny to get his first kill, so he tells his brother to go for it. The jellyfish see the shark coming and take off, but Oscar has way to escape.
He turns around ready to meet his fate, when suddenly Lenny tells him not to worry. He’s just going to kick up a commotion while Oscar swims off. Oscar doesn’t understand what Lenny wants, so he just stays put. This causes Frankie to charge in and take over, at which point he’s accidentally killed by an anchor. Ernie and Bernie turn back to see Oscar still alive while Frankie is dead on the ocean floor and Lenny is beating a retreat, which makes them think Oscar killed Frankie.
As word of this feat spreads, all the fish in the ocean start calling Oscar the Sharkslayer. He becomes rich and famous, but also becomes a target of Don Lino’s crew. The rest of the film then deals with how Oscar deals with the whole Sharkslayer label and avoids a revenge killing at the hands of Don Lino — all with help from Angie and Lenny, of course.
My Reaction: I thought Shark Tale was a decent movie for adults and older children, but my four-year-old son was pretty bored by it. He didn’t understand the storyline at all and wasn’t that interested in the animation either, so it was hard to get him to sit through the whole thing. It took us three sittings of about 30 minutes each to finish the film, which was a good indication of how little he liked what he was seeing.
Personally, I was surprised by how many big-name actors were in this movie. I don’t remember hearing much about it when it first came out (and checking through old reviews now, I see that it was mostly panned by critics), which is surprising given the amount of talent connected to this project.
I enjoyed Will Smith as Oscar. He’s just one of the most likable actors around — even when it’s just his voice we’re hearing. I thought he was a good choice for the lead, and definitely made the film at least watchable.
I recognized almost every other major voice actor immediately (except for Jack Black), but wasn’t overly impressed by any of the performances. Again, nothing really stood out for me in this film.
Overall, I give Shark Tale 3 stars out of 5 and think it’s worth renting for a family movie night if you have children over the age of 8. Kids younger than that probably won’t get the basic story, so just bear that in mind.