Though Pixar Animation Studios’ hugely successful animated comedy Finding Nemo is full of heart, DreamWorks’ similarly themed Shark Tale is in a whole other ocean.
Will Smith stars as the voice of Oscar, a tongue scrubber at the local “whale wash” who dreams of escaping his low status and making it to the “top of the reef.” Elsewhere, Lenny (Jack Black), a sensitive shark who just so happens to be a vegetarian and the son of crime boss Don Lino (Robert De Niro), runs away from home to escape the family business. When Lenny’s brother Frankie (The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli) is accidentally killed, Oscar takes credit for his death and proclaims himself “Oscar the sharkslayer.” When Don Lino declares war against Oscar for “killing” his son, Lenny and Oscar devise a scheme to solve both of their problems.
The cast in Shark Tale is perhaps one of the most star-studded in recent memory. Besides Smith, Black, De Niro, and Imperioli, Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, and a hilarious Martin Scorsese round off the lead cast. Scorsese especially stands out here as Oscar’s greedy boss Sykes. His character is so silly and over-the-top that it is hard to believe it is the voice of the director of such serious fare as GoodFellas, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull. Also worth noting are the Jamaican jellyfish Ernie (Ziggy Marley) and Bernie (Doug E. Doug) who steal every scene they’re in.
The film was created by computer animation studio PDI (Pacific Data Images), who also created other hit DreamWorks features such as Antz, Shrek (and its sequel), and next summer’s Madagascar. Like these other films, much of the humor in Shark Tale is derived from pop culture references. The comedic pace is overwhelming, and the cast is certainly up to the challenge. Clever spins on real life are present here, such as the existence of Kelpy Kreme Donuts and a reporter named Katie Current (actually voiced by Katie Couric).
Fitting with this rapid firing of jokes, the images in Shark Tale are always in motion. Though other animated films have impressive visuals as well, Shark Tale takes great advantage of animation technology. The underwater setting is distinctly divided visually into the hip-hop style neighborhood of Oscar and his friends and the mafia district of Don Lino and his goons. This contrast is neatly illustrated by the palette of colors and the music chosen to for each region of the ocean.
Though comparisons are already being made between this film and its archnemesis, Pixar’s Finding Nemo, the two films are very different. In fact, the visual and comedic style of this film qualify it as belonging more with PDI’s other films than with any of Pixar’s. DreamWorks Animation has indeed created its own identity. DreamWorks’ animated films have an edgier, more sophisticated sensibility than Pixar’s, though both studios instill faith that quality family films still exist.
Though DreamWorks’ Shrek 2 recently defeated Finding Nemo as the all-time animation champ, it should be interesting to see which film wins Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards in February. Though Shark Tale faces such stiff competition as Shrek 2, the upcoming The Spongebob Squarepants Movie and Pixar’s The Incredibles, look for Oscar at the Oscars next February.