`Shark Tale' is no `Nemo'


October 01, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Shark Tale is Finding Nemo with bigger-name stars, far less heart and, the guess here is, about one-third the staying power.

The movie starts off with the alternating tales of Oscar (voice of Will Smith), a cleaner wrasse (a small fish that keeps coral reefs tidy by eating leftover food off bigger fish) who desperately wants to live the high life, and Lenny (Jack Black), a vegetarian shark who has the misfortune of being the son of a shark-Mafia don.

Oscar is one of those fish - you know the kind - always shooting off their big mouths, but never making anything of themselves. Despite the braggadocio, it looks as if he'll be stuck running the whale-cleaning service started by his father. Lenny, meanwhile, is being pressured by his dad (Robert De Niro) also to maintain the family traditions, which in this case means developing a blood thirst and preying on all the little fishes.

Things get interesting when a regular, mean, flesh-eating shark gets whacked by a falling anchor, and Oscar, who happens to be nearby at the time, gladly takes credit for the killing. Thus does he become a hero to his fellow reef dwellers, but also an enemy of the sharks themselves, who don't like a shark killer on the front page.

Lenny, meanwhile, discovers the ruse and establishes an unlikely alliance with Oscar. Lenny helps Oscar perpetuate his reputation, in exchange for Oscar's letting Lenny live on the reef disguised as a porpoise.

Shark Tale also features Renee Zellweger as Oscar's true-hearted love interest, Angelina Jolie as the vixen fish who seduces Oscar, Ziggy Marley and Doug E. Doug as a pair of Rastafarian jellyfish (the film's most memorable creations) and Martin Scorsese as a pufferfish with anxiety problems.

Like Antz, an earlier DreamWorks animated film, Shark Tale depends way too much on getting well-known actors to lend their well-known voices to the characters, which are drawn to resemble the people voicing them. It's a cute idea, but not one that guarantees a classic, no matter how loudly the star roster is trumpeted.

There's a lot of humor in Shark Tale, a steady series of fish-related puns and wordplay (the reef's lady newscaster is named Katie Current, voiced by Katie Couric - that sort of thing) that fly by so fast, it's impossible to appreciate them all. That's not necessarily bad - Shark Tale will certainly benefit from repeated viewings - but it's symptomatic of the movie's manic desperation to succeed.

Yeah, the quips are clever, but enough already. Get down to it, and the story of Shark Tale is basic as can be, about the wisdom of being who you are, not what others want you to be. That's a fine moral, but next to the primal appeal of Finding Nemo, with its emphasis on family bonds and interspecies brotherhood, it seems a mite trite. It's the difference between morality and heart, between sense and emotion.

Besides, as long as Dream- Works' animation arm insists on making films that invite - make that beg - comparison to such masterpieces of the genre as Finding Nemo, it's going to have to live with the inevitably unfavorable juxtaposition.

Shark Tale

Featuring the voices of Will Smith, Jack Black, Robert De Niro, Renee Zellweger

Directed by Vicky Jensen, Bilbo Bergeron, Rob Letterman

Released by DreamWorks

Rated PG (some mild language and crude humor)

Time 94 minutes

Sun Score **1/2

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