Dirs:Vicky Jenson, Bibo Bergeron, Rob Letterman. USA. 2004. 90mins.
Afterbugs and monsters, the DreamWorks versus Disney/Pixar tit-for-tat animationgrudge match has moved on to fish. The latest blow to be struck by theDreamWorks camp, Shark Tale is a colourful, fast-paced, jive-talkingseabed caper that continues the scattershot, kids-and-adults targeting of muchmajor studio animation - though this one will play significantly younger than Shrek.
Comparisonswill immediately be made to Pixar's Finding Nemo, which was thetop-grossing animated film of all time until Shrek 2 comfortablysurpassed its $346.5m take this summer. It's difficult to gauge whether SharkTale will equal its fishy rival's bumper catch, but one suspects that itmight not - as beneath its enjoyable blend of MTV culture (it has rappers,graffiti, even a Christina Aguilera fish) and hilarious Godfather parodylies a fairly flimsy storyline with limited character development (the femalecharacters, in particular, are conventional rom-com stereotypes with fins).
Theone real novelty about Shark Tale is the way it not only advertises itsvoice talents so energetically - a strategy which DreamWorks had already begunto develop in Shrek - but actually integrates them into the very look ofthe characters: fish femme-fatale Lola, for example, has the pouting lips andthe sashaying walk of her voice actress Angelina Jolie
Itwill be interesting to see how much difference this makes at the box office -and how foreign distributors are going to deal with the fact that thecharacter-voice talent link is made, inset-style, in the final credits.Subtitling is not a serious option, as it will limit the film's strong under-16demographic. If anything, the talent tie-in will have more positive effects on DVDsales and rental (you can already see the making-of film, with its celebrityinterviews), which should be buoyant.
Theopening is delightful, seguing from the DreamWorks on-screen ident (the boysitting on the crescent moon casts a fishing line - and on the end of the hookis a worm), through our first view of the sharks who terrorise this underseaworld, (accompanied, of course, by the Jaws theme) to a breakneckscene-setting sequence in which we are introduced to Southside Reef, theNew-York style city where the little fish live.
Theyshop in GUP, drink Coral Cola, eat in Fish King, watch anchorwoman KatieCurrent (Katie Couric from NBC) present the TV news - all neat ways of servingproduct placement with a smile. We are introduced to Oscar - voiced by WillSmith - a likeable, glib, hip-hop brother of a fish, who scrubs whale tonguesat the Whale Wash owned by puffer fish Sykes (voiced by Martin Scorsese - andsporting his bushy eyebrows).
Hard-upOscar is too busy dreaming of gangsta jewellery and penthouse life to see whatis in front of his nose - namely, that his Whale Wash angelfish colleague Angie(Renee Zellweger), who he considers his best friend, is actually deeply in lovewith him.
Oscar'snemesis-turned-associate is Lenny, a sensitive, nature-loving shark who has asecret which he can't reveal to his father, Don Lino (Robert De Niro), theGodfather of the Reef: he's vegetarian. No matter that the trope was alreadyused in Finding Nemo - it's developed entertainingly here, and broadenedinto a coy hint that "vegetarian" might be a eupehmism for "gay".
WhenLenny's tough, thick brother Frankie is killed by a stray anchor whileattempting to illustrate their father's how-be-a-shark gameplan ("You seesomething, you kill it, you eat it"), Lenny teams up with Oscar - who was tohave been Frankie's victim. Oscar gets fame and fortune by pretending to be a"Sharkslayer", and Lenny gets to hide out from his father, and avoid beingforced into the Family.
TheGodfather,and the Mafia genre in general, provides a running parodic bassline, but SharkTale keeps the parents happy with other cinematic references - among themnods at Titanic and Apocalypse Now.
Themost MTV-generation-oriented animated feature to date, it has a strong, blackpop soundtrack that includes a new version of 1970s disco classic Car Wash byChristina Aguilera and Missy Elliott, and other songs by Justin Timberlake,Mary J Blige and Sean Paul with Ziggy Marley (who also voices one of a pair ofrastafarian jellyfish).
Technically,animation buffs will feel that this is not a great step forward for 3D computergraphics: Finding Nemo did more interesting things with underwaterdistortion, and had fishier fish (especially in its rendering of their scales);the impression at this stage is that the Pixar-Apple machine is a good lapahead of the DreamWorks-HP partnership. The colour palette is rather garish,though this is a matter of taste: younger viewers will probably love all theseprimary colours.
Inthe end, Shark Tale is a bit of a sushi dinner: it's fun watching theplates go round, but not exactly filling. Still, the film has an infectioussense of humour, and you'd have to be a real churl not to be swept along withthe current.
Int'l sales: United International Pictures
Exec prod: Jeffrey Katzenberg
Prods: BillDamaschke, Janet Healy, Allison Lyon Segan
Scr: MichaelJ Wilson, Rob Letterman
Eds: NickFletche, Peter Lonsdale, John Venzon
Main voice cast: Will Smith, Robert De Niro, Renee Zellweger, Jack Black,Angelina Jolie, Martin Scorsese