Saturday, January 22, 2005

Shark Tale

Shark Tale
Directed by Bibo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson
2004, rated PG
4 stars

Gone are the days of Cinderella and Snow White, simple, two-dimensional characters drawn completely by hand, and simply aspiring to a wondrously better life. It all began with some toys, when Disney/Pixar created the inspired hit Toy Story in 1995. Then the competition began between Pixar and DreamWorks, with Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, and DreamWorks’ Antz in 1998. These toys and little insects started a landslide of computer-generated animation, which hit the mainstream hard in 2001 with DreamWorks’ incredibly humungous sensation, Shrek. Now computer animation is here to stay, moving the children’s feature films industry into the new age of digitalization. The newest addition to this collection comes from DreamWorks Studios, and takes off with the underwater theme begun by Pixar last year with Finding Nemo. Directed by Bibo Bergeron and Vicky Jenson, Shark Tale is just as amusing and entertaining as its predecessors in this animated field.

In Shark Tale, DreamWorks continues with its habit of giving the animated characters the faces of their real-life counterparts. DreamWorks first began this technique in Antz, and uses it brilliantly, highlighting and exaggerating the physical features, much like a caricature cartoonist would, that make the famous faces so recognizable. While the youngest in the audience may not associate the large bushy eyebrows of the blowfish Sykes with the voice and face of Martin Scorsese, the older segment of viewers may, and will be able to appreciate the humor in the association. This connection between characters and cast continues throughout the film, from character to character, as the cast is comprised of excellent and well-known actors. Will Smith takes the lead as the fast-talking, street-smart, dirt-scrubbing Oscar, a small fish with high aspirations. His leading lady, or fish rather, Angie, is played by the always superb Renée Zellweger, although Angelina Jolie, as the shimmering, gold digger Lola, does attempt to steal the limelight. The above-mentioned Sykes (Scorsese) is Oscar’s blowfish boss, with two Rastafarian jellyfish cohorts, voiced by Ziggy Marley and Doug E. Doug. Offsetting this school of smaller fish is Robert De Niro, in a fantastic allusion to The Godfather, as the mob boss shark, Don Lino. Finally, the ever-hilarious Jack Black ties it all together as the contentedly different, but slightly insecure, son of the mob boss, Lenny.

The plot is generic and predictable, and presents the same typical morals, but is rescued by endless stream of puns and gag jokes inserted seamlessly into the story line. Practically every sentence uttered is one kind of joke or another. These gags range from the obvious potty-humor kiddy amusement, to the more “sophisticated” humor appreciated by the older audience. This is the trick of an excellent children’s film—namely that it doesn’t just appeal to the kids, but also to the parents who accompany them. Shark Tale leaves no age group unamused, as the constant flow of jokes covers all areas. This busyness in the script is reflected in the animation as well, and the film moves quickly to capture this rushed sense of the underwater city life. Billboards flash, lights flicker, and multicolorful fish dart continually across the screen. Every stereotype is personified, and no identifiable group is left untouched, right down to the frustrated shop keeper in the understandably deserted sushi bar.

Amid the myriad of color in the kaleidoscope of different fish swimming busily to and fro throughout the film, and the rush of the non-stop gags, there are a few quiet moments in the film during which the audience can catch its breath and either reflect, or prepare itself for the next attack. In these pauses the mushy heart of the plot may be glimpsed, but as they are kept short and sparse, they fortunately leave no time for boredom. So, take your kids, take your parents, grab your friends, or go on your own. This is truly a fun family film, Capice?

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