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How's about a quick smooch before we
set out to find Nemo ... er ... uh, scratch
that!

Shark Tale
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Shark Tale opens surrounded with the most controversy any animated film has had to endure since "family" groups started seeing penises on the covers of their The Little Mermaid videocassettes (leading Disney to issue a massive recall of the tapes).  White men that can jump are accusing the film of slamming whitey's natural rhythm and ability to shake hands in a funky way, due to a harmless joke shown in the trailers. Italian groups are accusing the film of depicting Italians in an unfavorable light.  And Finding Nemo fans, the world over, are screaming "rip-off" before giving the movie a chance.

The PC groups are wrong to cry "racism."  Shark Tale has a solid, slightly worn, moral message about learning to love each other, despite our quirks and differences.  The Finding Nemo fans have marginally better grounds for complaint -- but isn't this ocean big enough for two animated films featuring fish? 

Shark Tale is as much a "rip-off" of Finding Nemo as Goodfellas was of The Godfather.  The movie's CG.  There are sharks.  There are fish scared of the sharks.  One shark doesn't want to eat the scared fish.  The comparisons end there.  Getting upset over the limited amount of similarities is akin to freaking out about cola stealing beer's idea, because they both have bubbles.

Shark Tale is the story of Oscar (Will Smith), a starry eyed fish who has never been able to live down the ridicule he suffered in school, when he proudly told his classmates that his dad scrubbed whale's mouths for a living, only to find that the rest of his class didn't think whale washing was quite as heroic a career as Oscar had previously thought.  A grown Oscar happens upon a vegetarian shark named Lenny (Jack Black).  Lenny's out lurking the waters with his brother Frankie (Michael Imperioli), in a last-ditch attempt to learn how to be a carnivore. 

Through a well-constructed chain of events, Oscar gets the reputation of being a "sharkslayer."  Sykes (Marten Scorsese), owner of the whale wash, ends up as the fish's manager.  Oscar gets rich selling his likeness to numerous underwater corporate entities -- all eerily similar to the above water type. 

Money in hand, Oscar leaves life at the bottom of the ocean behind, and moves into the penthouse of his dreams.  With new "friends" and interest from a Jessica Rabbit-ish looking fish named Lola (Angelina Jolie), Oscar begins paying less attention to the people and things that made him happy a few leagues below.  One of those people happens to be Angie (Renée Zellweger), a friend and secret admirer of Oscar, who's hurt over his not noticing that he was just as special to her before his fame and fortune, as he is now.

Oscar finds living a lie increasingly tough when he discovers that the shark he "killed" was the son of prominent mob boss, Don Lino (Robert De Niro).  The Don is eager to challenge Oscar's title of "sharkslayer."  Oscar the Sharkslayer needs to prove himself, fast, and Lino's surviving son, Lenny, is more than happy to play Oscar's next victim.  After his apparent triumph over another great white, Oscar goes on piling lies on top of lies, rather than coming clean with his public.  When Oscar floats by a billboard ad showing the fish schilling for "Coral-Cola" with the slogan, "Get Real," he begins to wonder if he should keep up the charade.  Yes, Oscar's turning point is a product placement. 

With commercials for "The Gup," "Fish King" and the fishy variation of Coca-Cola mentioned above, being written into the script, the product placements in this film would have the creators of the commercialized Shrek 2 blushing.  Animated films were the last safe-haven for children to go and have a fun time at the movie theater, without having crap pushed on them (once they got away from the snack bar).  If we're going to sell cola and fast-food to this easily influenced group, why not also peddle off the equally harmful whiskey and cigarettes?  At least hospitals will continue doing steady business, when today's kids come in with tomorrow's coronaries.

Despite the grotesque invasion of the product placements, it's hard to watch this movie and stay cynical.  Shark Tale is that rare film that keeps you laughing.  Its story isn't as deep and its animation isn't as detailed as Finding Nemo's.  But what Shark Tale has that no animated film has had since Aladdin blew people's tops off way back in 1992, is a nonstop manic ability to keep the audience in stitches.  It's faster-paced and packed with more jokes than both Shrek films combined!

This movie demands that you have fun.  Sore gut and pain in your cheeks fun.  It's packed to the gills (sorry, couldn't resist) with sight gags and coke-out-the-nose one-liners delivered by the most hilarious ensemble cast ever assembled for an animated film.  A young girl in the audience summed the flick up with an ecstatic giggle and 5 heartfelt words: "That was a good one!" she said, pointing enthusiastically at the screen.  It was a good one indeed. 

Agree? Disagree? Have questions?  Comments?  Email this critic at alex@juicycerebellum.com

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On a scale of 1-10?

8

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