VERIFICATION: Shark Tale (2004)
Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?! Are you crazy?! Do you have any idea what this looks like? !
DreamWorks Animation released two films in 2004 that couldn’t be more different from each other. Shrek 2 and Shark Tale are star-studded comedies, full of pop culture references and adult humor. But that’s where the similarities end. The characters in the films and the execution of their concepts make you wonder if they were made by the same studio. When I was a kid, we had VHS copies of Shrek 2 and Shark Tale and other movies, so I saw them around the same time. Shrek 2 has become one of the most beloved movies in our family collection, but we saw Shark Tale once and we all agreed it wasn’t very good. I hadn’t seen Shark Tale in 15 years, so I wondered if I would feel differently now. When I was young, I hated DreamWorks because they tried to derail other cartoons. With few exceptions, I was convinced it was a heartless studio, devoid of creativity and passion. Of course, it all seems a bit silly now. I also don’t think Pixar is the infallible and most perfect studio in the world. Let’s think back to one of DreamWorks’ most denounced animated films.
The shark story follows a fish named Oscar (Will Smith) who works in the whaling industry. He thinks he’s a loser because he doesn’t live on the reef with all those rich celebrities. His colleague and best friend Angie (Renee Zellweger) is in love with Oscar, but he’s too full of himself and too worried about fame and fortune to notice. Oscar owes his boss,Sykes,$5,000. Sykes decides to call him when Don Lino (Robert DeNiro), the leader of the Sharks, starts asking for money for his protection. Angie offers Oscar a precious pink pearl from his grandmother so he can repay Sykes, but he foolishly bets on a racehorse that ends up losing. Sykes’ men tie Oscar up, torture him and leave him for dead. There Oscar meets Lenny (Jack Black), a vegetarian shark and son of Don Lino. Don sends his other son, Frankie, to teach Lenny how to be a real shark, but things don’t go as planned: Lenny refuses to eat Oscar, and Frankie kills the anchor. When Sykes’ henchmen return, they see Oscar alone next to a dead shark, earning him the title Oscar the Shark Killer. Money and fame attract Lola (Angelina Jolie), who had previously rejected Oscar when she realized he was betting other people’s money. Conflicts soon arise as Angie is jealous and feels unappreciated and the Sharks believe Oscar killed Don Lino’s two sons. Oscar must be wondering what’s really important.
This movie is terrible. And I don’t mean disappoint or not disappoint for me; I mean spectacularly, offensively bad. People probably see Shark Tale ironically as space or Plan 9 of space. Still, I would prefer them all to Shark Tale, because they are made with love and seem to come from a sense of naivety. The shark story is extremely cynical, and everything from the characters to the use of music seems disingenuous. It’s hard to know where to start with such a complete, innocent, petty and poorly made film. I congratulate the actors because they all seem to be trying very hard. And some of the sentences are quite funny, even if unintentional. Scenes that should be taken seriously, such as the one in which Don Lino discovers that his son Lenny is still alive, are ultimately hilarious because of the lead line and timing. Meanwhile, the real jokes, like those about celebrity names, fall flat and the jokes about characters are insufferable. I love Jack Black, and he would have had a lot more potential in the DreamWorks Kung Fu Panda series, but Lenny is a bad character. The parallel that people are trying to draw between vegetarianism and homosexuality is dubious, to say the least. And his loud, shrill voice is offensive and irritating. But Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro are ironically very good. The last two provide much of the unintentional laughter I mentioned earlier. Their characters are despicable and unreliable. However, the actor’s direction reads in a way that makes it difficult to appreciate The Shark Tale. I also think it’s a good concept for a movie. A group of sharks literally sinking into chaos and fear when a fish kills one of them seems exciting and potentially amusing. The arc of Oscar-winning characters, as obvious and banal as it is, could have worked in a better movie.
However, Oscar and his friends (and enemies) are too unreliable for a shark story. Oscar is selfish, which isn’t bad for the beginning of his journey, but he doesn’t really learn anything until the end. There’s no direction or progressive change, it’s too late in the film, and that seems disingenuous, both on his part and from the point of view of the film. His obsession with wealth and fame is too exaggerated to be believed, and he completely ignores Angie’s feelings throughout much of the film. It’s just unbelievable how stupid this guy is. After everything Angie does for him, he doesn’t understand until she literally tells him she loves him. And Angie, on the other hand, never communicates honestly until Oscar meets Lola. I don’t even know why Angie is interested in Oscar; he’s selfish, greedy, and never cares about his well-being. They are equally stupid and unreliable. It’s also hard to accept that Lino, Sykes and Oscar can forgive each other so quickly, when they’ve done and said so many bad things over the course of the film. Of course Oscar didn’t actually kill Frankie or Lenny, but he terrorized the shark community and lied for quite some time. And how can Sykes and Oscar be nice to someone who wants to literally eat them and everyone they love? Sykes, on the other hand, threatened Lino and tried to kill Oscar. None of this seems to be gained by the end, and the film has the audacity to end the dance party. The early 2000s were marked by strip dancing, and the trend returned briefly in the 2010s. It’s the laziest and least satisfying way to give a movie a happy ending. They don’t need to address the underlying conflict that caused the problems in the film, and these despicable people don’t really need to make up for it either.
It’s also a film that seems extraordinarily dated. And I’m not talking about the animation, which is scary and frightening, but that’s by design, not by the quality of the CGI. Shrek 2, The Incredibles and Howl’s Moving Castle all came out in 2004, and none of them seem as old as Shark Tale. Personally, I think it’s easy to ignore or even accept dated visuals as long as the story is good. But the whole film feeds on pop culture references. Shrek 2 was made because it had a story and strong characters, and you know what? The jokes were good, and many of them are still relevant. And listing celebrities to replace their names with shadowy puns is not funny or witty; it hardly counts as a joke. In the meantime, the soundtrack is pretty bad too. The original music by Hans Zimmer and Jared Lee Gosselin is correct, but frankly it is rather bland and unremarkable. But pop songs don’t belong here. They always pick the obvious ones, like Gold Digger for Lola and Car Wash because Oscar works at Whale Wash. In fact, it reminds me of Suicide Squad, where every character and set needs its own song, and none of them are even a creative use of music.
Overall, Shark Tale is as good as it looks. I consider it one of DreamWorks’ weakest animated films, if not the worst overall. I’m really curious if the underhanded tone, hateful characters and throwaway techniques can be topped.