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Wed September 29, 2004
By John DeSando, WCBE "It's Movie Time"
DreamWorks Animation wasn't satisfied with the blindingly successful "Shrek"; now it has created the almost as entertaining but thematically inferior "Shark Tale." It's another anthropomorphic adventure, this time under water with fish voices and faces of movie stars such as Will Smith, Robert De Niro, and Angelina Jolie. While it doesn't have the universal appeal of Pixar's "Finding Nemo," it will do swimmingly well. While it doesn't do anything new to the standard animal kingdom metaphors in the way "Shrek" revised the fairy tale, it is superficially enjoyable.
It's a real underworld with De Niro as Don Lino, the Vito Corleone of the sharks, a mafia godfather with a fey son, who, as a "coming out" vegan, doesn't look like a good candidate to take over from dad. Oscar (Will Smith) is a little fish caught up in his own lies and the machinations of the gangsters. His resolve to do the right thing is frequently neutralized by the sea siren Lola (Who else but Angelina Jolie?) but aided for good by the virtuous Angie (Renee Zellweger). The female fish all resemble Jolie with her bee-stung lips, not necessarily a bad thing; the male fish are spot on caricatures of the actors (See Martin Scorsese's eyebrows).
However, what's important here are the ingenious adaptations of fish life from human and the didacticism that usually accompanies these colorful animations. If you want someone to learn an au curant lesson about diversity or honesty, this film will get the point across with humor and grace.
As with the "animals-are-humans" motif, much of the film may seem like an homage to old animation days or tired allusions-- Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" has been used too many times before, for example. Although I question whether kids will fully appreciate the parallels to the gangster world or the gay sub-theme, there is enough for the whole family to enjoy. And with a PG-13 rating there is a little sex and violence to keep adults interested.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com.