Gangster meets gangsta hip-hop in a (mostly) family-friendly but ultimately forgettable fish story.
Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) is the low fish on the food chain with big dreams of living at the top of the reef; his life is dominated by get-rich-quick schemes worthy of Fred Flintstone. Lenny (voiced by Jack Black but sounding more like Woody Allen) is a vegetarian shark that doesn’t want to terrorize the reef like the other sharks do. The two meet when an accident ends up proclaiming Oscar “the sharkslayer,” but that little white lie draws the unwanted attention of the great white shark (voiced by Robert DeNiro) that runs the reef.
Visually, the computer animation is top-notch, stealing all the best tricks from Finding Nemo and perhaps adding few. The problem is depth; Shark Tale has none. Where Nemo spent time building characters and letting the audience get drawn in to the eerily-familiar undersea society, Shark Tale jumps in with both fins featuring a not-so subtle urban landscape that moves so quickly there?s no time to take in the fact that the plot would fit on a Post-It note. What?s left of the movie is flooded with any gag the creators could think of, not dissimilar from what DreamWorks Animation did with their sequel to Shrek by plussing it into oblivion.
The film looks colorful and vivid, but the overall effect is flat; there’s just nothing memorable about the movie itself. Every vocal actor is really just spoofing previous roles they’ve done for live acting (for example, Will Smith’s fish acts like every other Will Smith character) with the exception of Jack Black, whose Lenny could have been more but never grows past the Will Smith show. The barrage of racial jabs passed off as jokes doesn’t help these two-dimensional characters look any more credible in their three-dimensional animated medium, either.
The target audience of this movie seems to be the inner city ‘tweens too cool for Spongebob and too young for Eminem (they’re the cute little fish that keep vandalizing walls and billboards with spray paint cans throughout the movie). The soundtrack helps lend a little credibility to an unapologetic commercial feature, coupling remakes of a few classic 1970s tunes with some newer blood, but many of the inspirations both onscreen and in the soundtrack will be lost on all but the parents in the audience. Think of Shark Tale as a ninety-minute animated music video that wants to be a Pixar production when it grows up.
(a two skull recommendation out of four)