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.

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

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?