Shark Tale (2004)

Starring: Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Jack Black, Renée Zellweger, Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese, Vincent Pastore, Peter Falk

Directed by: Bibo Bergeron

Rating: 1 2 3

Shark Tale

If I hadn't seen and heard it with my own eyes and ears, I probably wouldn't have believed it. Robert De Niro, voicing a comedy cartoon Godfather (or should that be Codfather - surely someone else has made that joke before?) shark. (Incidentally, I still don't believe he was in Rocky and Bullwinkle. It's all part of a vicious smear campaign. Perhaps Al Pacino started it?)

And as if that weren't enough to send this Goodfellas luvin' gal into a tizzy, how about teaming Bob up with one of my favourite directors, the fantastic Martin Scorsese? But not to direct the film, ooooh no, that would be far too dull. no, Scorsese gets to voice a carwash (sorry, whalewash) owning puffa fish called Sykes. How cool is that? Throw in the lovely Jack Black as vegetarian shark and family disappointment Lenny, The Sopranos' Vincent Pastore as an emaciated mob octopus called Luca and the ever-reliable Will Smith esq. as the hero of the piece, a blue and yellow fish called Oscar, and all in all you've a recipe for success. (Deep battered and with chips, naturally.)

Oscar, a small fish in that big pond called sea

The story is fairly obvious and also fairly unimportant. Oscar is a little fish in that big pond called the sea, who dreams of stardom but is only small fry. The sharks are the wiseguys of the underwater underworld, and everyone is scared of them. When big shark boss Don Lino's son is accidentally struck down dead by a falling anchor, cheeky Oscar takes the credit, and becomes an A-list celeb in the process. But as we all know, you don't live happily if you're living a lie: sooner or later, the truth will out.

Made by the team responsible for Shrek, Shark Tale boasts all the in movie jokes and knowing asides we adults expect to find in a kids' film (I particularly love the use of the Jaws theme tune, which is priceless).

The obvious point of reference, of course, is Disney's Finding Nemo, which I loved. Therefore I was happy to find that Dreamworks' take on the movie isn't so much a parody as another side to the story. Whilst the underwater world inhabited by Nemo and co. is brightly coloured, beautiful and cosily bourgeois (albeit fraught with dark dangers lurking at its edges), Shark Tale's South Reef is an urban sea jungle, complete with billboards, skyscrapers and slums; a New York City to Nemo's Home Counties.

Lacking the irresistible charm of Finding Nemo (but not entirely devoid of moralistic, sentimental guff), Shark Tale is edgier, funnier and more adult-oriented than Disney's underwater adventure, but to be honest, it isn't quite as appealing.

Lola, a terrifying Botox fish Sykes, a whalewash owning puffa fish

Such a great effort has been made to make the central fishy characters resemble their human counterparts that they end up looking, well, kind of odd. Particularly disturbing is Angelina Jolie's frankly terrifying Botox fish, Lola, a kind of superannuated Jessica Rabbit with fins and a tail.

The only fish that gets it right is Scorsese's Sykes, who combines the unmistakeably bushy eyebrows and beaky features of the famous director with, er, a puffa fish.

Lenny, the jolly vegetarian shark Don Lino, the underwater underworld mob boss

The sharks, on the other hand are absolutely fabulous. For a start, they actually look like real sharks (I loved Don Lino's skilfully placed RDN mole though - class!) and, just as the devil gets all the best tunes, so they get all the best lines. Jack Black is delightfully endearing as the hapless Lenny, whilst Peter Falk's cameo as a shambling old has been shark singing karaoke is simply inspired!

The film's endless try hard insistence on hip hop bling bling cool does get a teensy bit wearing, but Will Smith is clearly having a ball, and you gotta love the Missy Elliot fish that appears at the end for the finale rendition of 'Carwash'.

Funny, clever, thoroughly entertaining and visually stunning, this is a film that really needs to be seen on the big screen. Not as cute as Finding Nemo nor as gloriously anarchic as Spongebob Squarepants, it's nevertheless a triumphant piece of animation that appeals to the kid in all of us. Go see it, I guarantee you'll be hooked.

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