It is rare to find a movie with the cuteness to attract and entertain children and enough pop culture references to keep teenagers and adults laughing through its entire 90 minutes. But DreamWorks has done it with “Shark Tale,” a movie about a fish aptly called the Shark Slayer.
“Shark Tale” tells its story much like the highly successful “Shrek,” also created by DreamWorks. Both animated films use cultural humor and big-name stars’ voices to follow the adventures of talking animals as they get into and out of trouble while discovering something about life.
And while it may be considered simply a knockoff of “Shrek” and Disney’s highly popular “Finding Nemo,” “Shark Tale” succeeds in capturing and keeping its audience.
The animated film centers on Oscar, voiced by Will Smith, who is a fish who cannot seem to keep himself out of trouble. He owes his boss Sykes, played by Martin Scorsese, a lot of money but loses it in a bet.
Oscar is then taken away from his home, humorously portrayed as an undersea Times Square, and brought to a remote spot in the ocean where he will be left to die.
In another part of the ocean, the shark Lino, voiced by Robert DeNiro and basically the mafia-esque boss of the sharks, is struggling to come to terms with the fact that his son Lenny (Jack Black) does not want to kill fish. Lenny’s brother Frankie (Michael Imperioli) takes him out to show him how to kill fish, but, when they meet up with Oscar, Lenny refuses to eat him.
To make a long story short, Frankie is killed by a falling anchor and Oscar takes credit for it, leading to his new title as the Shark Slayer. He makes a deal with Lenny to pretend to kill him, thus cementing his reputation as fearless against the sharks and allowing Lenny to disappear without bringing any more shame to the shark family.
With his new title, Oscar begins to live the life he has always dreamed of – with popularity and power – while Lenny can be who he wants to be without anyone judging him.
Smith is the voice of smart-aleck Oscar, who can charm his way out of anything. This role takes him back to his days as “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” living as the guy from the hood in the affluent neighborhood of former presidents and stars when he moves in with his rich uncle. Smith reverts to being the womanizer and funny man, or fish in this case, who uses jokes to gain the affections of others.
Angelina Jolie stars as Lola, the seductive fish who only goes after Oscar after she finds out about his status as the Shark Slayer. Jolie seems to take well to empowered and provocative female roles, judging by her other parts in such movies as “Tomb Raider” and “Gone in 60 Seconds.” She has the attitude required to make her character come alive as the woman fish only interested in what will benefit her.
Robert DeNiro takes on the role he has played in movies like “Analyze This” and “Analyze That” as the mafia tough guy. DeNiro plays the character with the trademark voice and all the jokes and commanding attitudes for which the mafia is famously stereotyped.
Finally, Renee Zellwegger fits as Oscar’s best friend, Angie. Her sweet, high-pitched voice gives the fish the innocent appeal that is needed to portray the character with her unrequited love for Oscar.
In the vein of “Shrek,” “Shark Tale” possesses its own collection of pop culture references that add to the humor of the movie. From the seemingly minor details of a reporter named Katie Current to the bigger idea of Oscar being called the Shark Slayer, a name which can be attributed to the popular T.V. show, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the movie keeps its audience guessing and laughing the entire time.
Probably the most obvious pop culture reference comes from Lenny’s family, the powerful sharks that resemble the mafia. Lino, or Don Lino as he is often called, is the “mob” boss and commands the sharks, deciding who is on their side and who must be “whacked,” something he decides must happen to Oscar, the Shark Slayer who kills his son Frankie.
This smart and playful comedy is definitely worth the time and money – if not for the story, then just for the humor.