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
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Go figure: Matt Parker, wearing the binary code scarf knitted by his mother
comedy Mathematician is using comedy nights to teach and preach sums
Arts and Entertainment
Ryan Gosling in 'Drive'
filmReview: Ryan Gosling is still there, but it's a very different film
Arts and Entertainment
Urban explorer: Rose Rouse has documented her walks around Harlesden, and the people that she’s encountered along the way
books Rouse's new book discusses her four-year tour of Harlesden
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Franco Zeffirelli's production of 'Aida' at Milan's famed La Scala opera house
operaLegendary opera director in battle with theatre over sale of one of his 'greatest' productions
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
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.

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes