Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
There's no finding Nemo in this Shark Tale
(Author’s Note: The following is an exhaustive and overly thought out review of A Shark Tale. For those of you who wish to cut right to the chase, a synopsized version can be found at the very bottom.)
Recently, I ended my reign as one of the last people on earth who had not yet seen Dreamworks’ A Shark Tale. The movie I least. I mean, I had seen the lunchboxes, commercials, Halloween costumes, party favors, fast food prizes, watches, video games, and Nascar decorations, but I naturally assumed that these were all the extras, and that the real treat was in watching the film itself.
As it turns out, I had it backward.
At this point, I could easily turn this review into the 3,000th essay out there decrying the fact that movies seem to be nothing more than feature length marketing campaigns for the ancillary products and services that will bear its name. So, since we’ve all read that article before, and almost certainly agree with it, let’s just consider that point made, and I will therefore ask you to take the above statement simply literally. That is: the toys and images of A Shark Tale are clearly the good part, because the movie itself is one of the worst I’ve ever seen.
Awww YEAH! Check my movie OUT! It’s like Finding Nemo…just without the story, character development, imagination, heart, humor, or good taste.
The fact is that we live in something of a second (or third) golden age of animated movies. The first one died when the classic old Disney cartoons started to get boring and derivative (which, for the sake of argument, we’ll say is…oh…Sleeping Beauty). The second one started with The Little Mermaid, soared to its greatest heights with Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, and died (if you agree that it died) with the Hunchback of Notre Dame and all the dreadful schlock that followed. (Sorry to all you Lilo and Stitch fans out there.)
Then came Toy Story, thereby ushering the latest (and still ongoing) age of great animation.
Toy Story is damn near perfect. It is a funny and touching movie, made for kids, and yet accessible to adults in a way that does not alienate or pander. And having said all this, the first time through it, most people were too caught up in how visually crisp and stunning everything was. Imagine that: Pixar Studios created a technique that was so cutting edge that everyone would pay to see what it looked like, and yet still invested time, care, and passion into telling a good and compelling story. Remember this for later.
Toy Story was followed by A Bug’s Life (Pixar’s weakest movie, though still pretty great), Toy Story 2 (a movie that was unanimously raved about; I have yet to see a single negative review), Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and most recently, a certain movie about superheroes that still ranks as one of the most poignant and satisfying moviegoing experiences I have ever had. In every case, the movie was unquestioningly made for children, and yet funny and enjoyable for everyone.
Soon enough, other movie studios realized that computer animation was far out-reaching traditional hand-drawn stuff, and they all scrambled to narrow the huge gap that Pixar created for them.
It was Dreamworks SKG that has stepped up to the digitally animated plate the most notably and often. Over the years that they have competed with Pixar (and, by extension, Disney) they were able to create one “monster” hit and a successful sequel. However, it should be noted that a great deal of humor was derived out of both of these movies by making fun of…Disney! (Sour grapes anyone?) All of the other Dreamworks animated features, instead of mocking their competitor, instead did everything they could to steal from them. There was Antz in 1998, which came out just a few months before A Bug’s Life, and (oh yeah!) A Shark Tale, which was the second computer-animated movie about fish to come out in the 21st century. Yet in this case especially, this is where the comparisons between those two movies end.
Finding Nemo was a sweet, stunning movie that had as much heart as it did substance. The characters were well-conceived and fully fleshed out, and their world was wholly believable in real and movie terms. The story remained true to itself even at its most awkward moments, and the lessons learned by all of the main characters were justified by the plot, and rung true well after it ended.
See! It’s like a car wash…but for whales! A Whale Wash! Get it? I don’t either.
By contrast, A Shark Tale is a soulless, heartless, and humorless abortion of a movie. Coming in at a scant 90 minutes (this running time counts both the opening, and the over 6 minutes of closing credits), this movie failed completely in everything it theoretically tried to do, if indeed it ever held any aspirations to be a quality piece of entertainment. In fact, by my calculations, A Shark Tale was a disaster in three completely separate and distinct ways, and I will list them here. It failed:
1. As a movie for kids –Try to imagine yourself a child again. You are standing amongst a sea of adults, all of whom are talking to themselves and largely ignoring you. Every once in a while, one of these people kneels down to your height, and attempts to engage you in conversation, as other adults watch. Here’s the question: as that child, which do you hate worse – when that adult talks to you in a high-pitched “widdle” voice, or when he smirks over your head, and makes jokes for the adults about what you’ve just said that you don’t get? Which of the two is more insulting? This is A Shark Tale in a nutshell. The plot is so utterly flat and stupid that truly any child over the age of six has some idea of how it will end, if not exactly how it will get there. And the adult content is almost exclusively jokes that are meant not to be understood by the kids watching, and “clever” plot points that they have no chance of getting. Pixar understands that you can entertain children without pandering to them, and that adult humor does not have to be accompanied by a wink, a thumb point, and a “stupid kid!” expression. A Shark Tale revels in this, and I am insulted on all levels.
2. As a movie about fish – During my freshman year at college, an MFA directing student put up a production of Twelfth Night. Her vision was to place the events and characters of this great Shakespeare farce in the Golden Age of Hollywood. In this way, Orsino became the director of a movie, in which Olivia was the star. (“If music be the food of love, play on!” was her big diva-esque monologue as she descended a staircase.) Malvolio was her prickly agent, and many of her scenes took place in her dressing room. The things I’ve just mentioned are all good ideas, and were clearly the entire basis for this decision. However, Twelfth Night is much bigger than just these characters, and much of the rest of it does not fit at all into the Hollywood shell. This director plowed right ahead however, and simply pretended that the rest of it all made sense. Thus, onto the set of this movie wandered a woman dressed as a man, who falls for the director while the starlet falls for her (and her twin brother, suffering from amnesia after the shipwreck. Still with me?) When Malvolio gets tied to a chair and tormented by the fools, he just gets wheeled in, is made to scream, and is wheeled out. No need to deal with it further. The reason this idea failed is clear: one clever idea does not a full concept make.
With A Shark Tale, it’s hard to figure out why they decided to do a movie about fish at all (if indeed there IS a reason other than just attempting to blatantly piggyback on the success of Nemo). Sure, making sharks the mob bosses of the sea is relatively clever, and having one of the sharks a vegetarian does set up a moderately effective (dare I say it?) fish out of water scenario. However, nearly every other facet of the story fails to hold up. There are telephones, microphones, storefronts, and restaurants in the world of A Shark Tale, yet not one convincing reason whatsoever that it should be A Shark Tale.
3. As a Movie – Covered above. Self-important, self-satisfied, and self-indulgent.
Typically, this would be the point of my (already overlong) review where I would offer some key points to prove my three theses above. However, since the faults of this movie bleed from one to another so seamlessly, there is no easy way to do this. Therefore, I have included this handy matrix, in which I have chosen a few especially egregious components of A Shark Tale, and broken them down to show in which of the three categories they fail:
With that in hand, I’ll break it down for you:
For Kids – I firmly believe that children’s entertainment should either be easily understood (for younger kids), or as compelling and challenging as any other media, though perhaps on a different scale. A Shark Tale is neither. It manages somehow both to pander insultingly to its child-based audience at times with a story that never transcends predictable mediocrity, and also render itself incomprehensible to that same audience at other times with adult themes and anachronistic pop-culture references. And when the time came for the big “lesson” (Oscar realizes that he has given up everything for a fame he didn’t deserve, and has lost the one woman (fish) he really loves, and must decide between his fame and the life he left behind), I felt as though it were speaking to me in the same tone of voice my grandmother used when I was four, and she needed to show me she was angry without raising her voice. (“Now…do you know why what you did was bad?”) Whatever it was I did wrong, I’m sure it was more nuanced than this movie.
As a Movie – Any story this hackneyed deserves special scorn. A poor coward has a bad job, and a girl who loves him (though he doesn’t know it, naturally). He is in the right place at the right time so it looks as though he has done something brave, and everyone turns him into a hero. He becomes rich and famous, and forgets the people from his old life. At the end, he must decide between his money and fame, or the truth. With a bit of the deus ex machina, he ends up with the girl, AND a better life. It’s a terrible story, and from the very beginning, when Oscar gazes up into the distance and whines “I want to be a SOMEbody.” each and every step is completely predictable.
The Love Triangle
For Kids – So Angie loves Oscar. Oscar considers Angie a good friend, but doesn’t realize the depth of her feelings. Oscar falls for Lola because she’s so hot. Lola loves Oscar’s fame and money, but has no substance. Now this might sound like any college romance (or movie star wedding), but in a movie for kids? Lola is voiced by Angelina Jolie, and drawn so that she could only be described as a hookerfish. This character uses sex, or at least the promise of it, to lure Oscar into spending his money on her. If you’re old enough to understand the ramifications of Oscar’s actions and reactions, then you’re WAY too old to get any enjoyment out of this movie.
About Fish (Partial Credit) – The love triangle only gets half an “X” in this category. As anthropomorphic animals feigning human feelings go, it’s no more or less ridiculous to have fish fighting for each other’s affections as it is for a pig to date a frog. However, just to be a dick, I will take this movie to task for its inconsistencies. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any fish that pick a mate based on the vibrancy of their colors. And, even if they do, I DEFINITELY can’t think of any fish that mate outside of their species. Dogs? Sure. Anyone who has gone to a dog park knows how indiscriminate they are about mating. But not fish. The Lola character looks like no other fish on the reef. She wouldn’t be lusted after; she would be shunned, or eaten. It’s the way of the sea, darling.
As a Movie – You sit down in the theater. The lights darken. You see a female (a very famous actress, known for playing likeable heroines) talking about how much she secretly loves our hero, who thinks they’re just best friends. A few minutes later, the hero sees another female (played by another very famous actress, this one known for playing bombshell sluts), and goes bananas for her. I DARE you to guess what happens, from that point forward, right up until the end. Just because it’s a cartoon, or a movie ostensibly for children, is no excuse for lazy writing, and poor plot development.