Shark Tale (U)

2.00

Floundering in the wake of bigger fish

In keeping with a modern trend, the new DreamWorks movie,
Shark Tale, makes free with nods and winks to other movies: you won't have any problem spotting references to
Jaws,
Goodfellas,
The Godfather,
Jerry Maguire,
Titanic,
Car Wash,
Seabiscuit and sundry others. But the one movie it won't, can't, daren't make any mention of is it's rival studio Pixar's animated underwater epic
Finding Nemo, which came out this time last year. The fact of this film's later arrival shouldn't be an issue - after all, it's not about who does it first but who does it best - yet comparison of the two leaves
Shark Tale looking very much the inferior.

In keeping with a modern trend, the new DreamWorks movie, Shark Tale, makes free with nods and winks to other movies: you won't have any problem spotting references to Jaws, Goodfellas, The Godfather, Jerry Maguire, Titanic, Car Wash, Seabiscuit and sundry others. But the one movie it won't, can't, daren't make any mention of is it's rival studio Pixar's animated underwater epic Finding Nemo, which came out this time last year. The fact of this film's later arrival shouldn't be an issue - after all, it's not about who does it first but who does it best - yet comparison of the two leaves Shark Tale looking very much the inferior.

It's not that it lacks wit, exactly, nor that it suffers from a shortage of celebrity voices to carry that extra frisson of knowingness. Any film that brings together Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, and slyly manages to caricature both of them as a beetle-browed blowfish and a great white shark respectively, can't be absolutely dead in the water. And transplanting a story of mobsters and mafia lore to the ocean deep also gives rise to some chuckle-worthy sight-gags and morsels of invention, even if the aquatic setting makes it tricky to apply the line about "sleeping with the fishes".

The plot turns on the ambition of Oscar, a small-fry hustler who works at the local "whale-wash" and longs to live in a penthouse at the top of the reef. (It is, as you can probably infer, the most anthropomorphic of animated films yet). Being voiced by Will Smith, Oscar does a lot of "comin'-at-ya" street-jive and indulges a self-regard that's not far short of bumptious, a failing overlooked by a kind-hearted angelfish (and secret admirer) Angie (Renée Zellweger). Meanwhile, further up the food chain, Lenny (Jack Black) is a great white shark with a problem: not only is he peaceable and sensitive, he's a committed vegetarian, a lifestyle choice that infuriates his mafioso dad Don Lino (Robert De Niro) who's trying to groom him as a future godfather.

Fate entwines Oscar and Lenny when the latter's brother Frankie (Michael Imperioli, from The Sopranos) is accidentally killed in a collision with a ship's anchor. By a stroke of luck, Oscar is discovered next to the dead beast and is instantly hailed as "the shark slayer", a fiction he readily endorses when fame and fortune come calling. That isn't all: once he becomes intoxicated by his own legend he drops the faithful Angie to hook up with a beautiful fish-fatale named Lola (voiced, with languorous insinuation, by Angelina Jolie). Naturally, Oscar's bogus bravery soon rebounds on him, since the denizens of the reef now expect round-the-clock protection from hungry sharks, a quandary further complicated when Lenny shows up, on the run from "the family".

The first half-hour of Shark Tale has a nice comic snap to it, and certain visual flourishes bear a lunatic inspiration: when Oscar needs to make a score, he goes off to the track where he blows 5,000 clams - on a seahorse. I loved the shrimp that begs for its life when faced by the lacerating jaws of Don Lino, though I'm not quite sure whether young children will be quite so amused. De Niro and Scorsese work up a neat little double-act as the Don and his bagman, bickering over a single word ("what") in the cherished style of Mean Streets. Best of all are two Rastafarian jellyfish enforcers (voiced by Doug E Doug and Ziggy Marley), whose laid-back demeanour hides a vicious sting.

Set against these felicities, however, is a frenetic and over-elaborate design, the centrepiece of which apes the neon billboards of Times Square, advertising "Coral-Cola" and "Gup". It's the sort of jokey product placement that Shrek 2 wallowed in, and it feels every bit as tiresome. According to the production notes there are black-and-yellow-checked fish shoaling about like New York cabs, but the screen became so frenzied that I failed to notice them. Too much of this undersea world has been borrowed from the human - Oscar's penthouse with its hi-fi gadgetry is the most obvious - and some of the comedy falls apart on examination. The fast-food joint "Fish King", for instance, would make sense if it was among the sharks, but within the fish city it suggests cannibalism.

More seriously, the movie has no dramatic bite. Whereas Finding Nemo nimbly switched its focus between Nemo's imprisonment in the fish-tank and the father's odyssey in search of his lost son, Shark Tale never gets beyond feeling pleased with its gangster-shark conceit. De Niro may be doing his wise-guy best in the vocal department, but he misses any quiver of menace: one never really believes that Lenny is in danger. Will Smith also puts effort into his streetwise hero, bubbling over with an exuberance he would like to think is infectious. But he's showing signs of Robin Williams syndrome, where almost every line he speaks carries a note of pure entreaty: "Please love me and my rowdy but endearing boyishness". If he isn't careful it might become a schtick to beat him with. Animation is undergoing such rapid advances at the moment that we may have become slightly spoilt: the level of sophistication is on such a steep upward curve that under-par material is quickly found out. Shark Tale is no disaster, but despite the efforts of three directors, two screenwriters and phalanxes of technicians, it seems to be treading water.

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
    Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

    Greens on the march

    ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

    Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

    Through the stories of his accusers
    Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

    The Meaning of Mongol

    Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible