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Shark Tale

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Squeezing in one last session before they left town for (another) extended motor vehicle tour of the Southwest, we dropped the baby off with my parents and took the almost 5 year-old to the Saturday matinee of DreamWorks’ Shark Tale (which broke box office records for an October opening, hooking a cool $49M in North America over hte weekend).

Though the animation is astonishingly clear, sharp, effulgently colorful, with notable characters bearing sly facial resemblance to the voice actors portraying them (Will Smith, Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese as various tropical fish; Jack Black, Robert De Niro, Michael Imperioli as sharks; Ziggy Marley and Doug E. Doug as hilarious rasta jellyfish), the jokes are funny, and the story involving, we all rated the film very good, not great.

In analyzing the non-greatness of the film, I came to few conclusions. First, the nautical parallel-world theme has been played for all its worth now several times — The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Little Mermaid, SpongeBob, Finding Nemo notable among them — and while Shark Tale takes it to a new creative level of specificity and visual development (the car wash-whale wash parallel is particularly effective and clever), it feels more like a variation on a theme than a wonderous new world, like in, for example, Monsters, Inc., Toy Story, or Ice Age: a derivation, no matter how exceptionally iterated, is never as satisfying as sui generis.

Secondly, the story — Will Smith, a lovable, fast-talking whale wash laborer who longs to be a “somebody,” sees smitten fellow-employee Zellweger as his “best friend” (a real slap in the gills), stumbles upon a heated “discussion” between brother sharks Black (a sensitive vegetarian in the Reluctant Dragon mode) and Imperioli, “normal” bro ends up accidentally dead, Smith takes credit and becomes renowed “Shark Slayer,” goes Hollywood, alienates Zellweger (“don’t know what you’ve got, ’til it’s gone”), faces crisis, saves the day, recants, recalibrates values — is also a variation on innumerable previous similar tales (“there’s no place like home” among them).

So when you’re milieu and storyline aren’t as fresh as they might be, the result tastes a bit like exquisitely prepared leftovers – we all know fresh fish is best.

Recommended, with noted caveats. The spunky urban soundtrack puts some funk in the trunk and should prove popular in its own right, and this flick, my friends should prove a merchandising bonanza.

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About Eric Olsen

  • Albanesse

    I saw this film this weekend with the wife, my 9 and 4 year olds. The 4 year old was bored for the last 30 minutes. and the 9 years old was trying to figure out all the pop references when the adults laughed at something he had no idea about. To be honest I am tired of animated films that are so pop heavy that they barely rise up above the water line. And I know animated creatures are not offensive in any form.. but good lord! Seems Sharks “Italians and and old Jew” are really not that bright and very fat and slow. These were sharks right… what happened to a good old feeding frenzy. I think a name change is in order here for Robert “Dinero” cause he can just pull out the dim gangster to pay off this year’s house repairs. And Will Smith looked a lot like Don Knots… freakishly like Mr Knots as a fish. Oh, fish are black and spray grafitti, have a homeless man as the crazy neighborhood nut and stare at Ms Sanchez who should not be wearing anything tight. Me.. I found it not so funny after 20 minutes, but that is me. A forgetable movie that I enjoyed less and less as we got further from the theater. And my kids… well, they can still tell you what happened in Toy Story or Nemo, Shark Tale was forgot before they had a snack at home.

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks Albanesse, a not dissimilar but less amused reaction – good point about the stereotypes

  • albanesse

    No problem. I was hoping someone would post a review up just so I could vent. Damn selFISH of me I guess. I am really tired of all these flicks though and I feel bad takig my kids to see half the time. They ask to go, but never leave that impressed. Pretty colors can only entertain so much. Did, I mention how much Don Knots and Will Smith look alike as fish.. just saying.

  • Eric Olsen

    yes you did, and I mentioned Das Limpet independently as well – perhaps there is only so much you can do anthropomorphizing fish