The Italic Institute of America recently issued a statement decrying the perpetration of Italian American stereotypes in Shark Tale, the latest CGI animated movie from Dreamworks (makers of Shrek). Speaking as a one-quarter Italian American, I was not insulted by the portrayal of mobsters as animated sharks, for I have bigger fish to fry in my life. If the movie should hurt the feelings of the occasional Mafioso, so be it.
The film has more to worry about than the alleged racial stereotyping (although it is also rather degrading toward Rastafarian jellyfish and whales in general). As entertainment, it’s about as engaging as an algae-infested 20-gallon aquarium. Clearly trying to differentiate itself in appearance from Finding Nemo, animators have opted for a look that cries Fluorescent Crayola. Overly bright and visually irritating, the movie fails to generate the appeal and wonder of such genre faves as Shrek and Nemo. It’s an eyesore.
As Lenny the vegetarian Great White, Jack Black fails to distinguish himself. Normally, Black’s presence offers the promise of quality unhinged entertainment, but this is neutered Black, and a neutered Black is about as entertaining as a fully engorged Tom Sizemore. As Lenny’s dad Don Lino, Robert De Niro fares a bit better, especially in a humorous exchange with a paranoid Puffer Fish played by Martin Scorsese. Actually, if Dreamworks had focused on the De Niro and Scorsese fishes, they might’ve had something enjoyable and perhaps profanely gory.
Instead, the majority of the time is spent with Lenny and Oscar the Guppy, voiced by an irritating Will Smith who is forced to deliver the umpteenth M.C. Hammer joke, a joke that wasn’t funny in the first place. When Smith’s Oscar is designated for execution by shark, with Lenny and his brother as the executioners, underwater carnage ensues, and Oscar is mistaken for a sharkslayer. The rest is a mistaken identity comedy of little redeeming value.
Renee Zellweger manages some cuteness as Angie the Angel Fish, although she’s no Ellen DeGeneres. She’s harboring a little fish crush on Oscar, who cruelly ignores all the hints and sets his sights on the big-lipped whore fish voiced by Angelina Jolie. Come to think of it, the People Against Insulting Angelina Jolie by Casting Her as a Whore Fish Committee should issue an angry press release on that one.
It’s sort of funny that Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos is on hand as Frankie the shark, but the film never takes advantage of the stunt casting. Also on hand are Peter Falk as an elderly Great White who farts and Vincent Pastore, another Sopranos alum, as a creepy Octopus. Colombo and Big Pussy have both been humiliated in cartoon land.
A sequence where a shrimp being offered up as dinner pleads for his life had me laughing out loud. That was it for big laughs, with the rest of the film’s idea of humor being Smith’s regurgitation of famous movie lines. Yeah, junior will laugh his ass off at that Gladiator reference.
Much of the film’s dated humor will leave the target audience youngsters less than amused and hankering for their Nemo DVD. My friend’s little boy seemed more interested in his booster seat and Sprite than Lenny the Shark. As for me, I prefer Jabberjaw or Misterjaw, the hat-wearing Great White from the Pink Panther cartoons. Frank Welker and Arte Johnson knew how to voice an animated shark. As for Black, he needs to quit screwing around, complete that King Kong remake, and get focused on the Tenacious D film. Enough with the kid movies. (CPL, CR, CS, NM)