It is rare to consider nostalgia as a tool to deploy on films that may have fallen out of favour with generations older than ours. Rarer still it may be to actively fight against it, hence why there is currently a cult of Robots fans defending that Ewan McGregor masterclass to their dying breath. With that, though, the Blue Sky Studios feature is deserving of its acclaim. Sharp writing, an ensemble like no other and sleek animation, it is everything Dreamworks could not provide with Shark Tale, a feature that relies on the popstar variety that plagued early-2000s comedies. From David Bowie appearing in Zoolander to Britney Spears in Austin Powers: Goldmember, the cameo construct was inescapable. To place rap artist and actor Will Smith at the heart of this made sense, but there are hopes buried deep that it did not.
With Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese in tow, Shark Tale tends to relay the friendly fish and villainous sharks angle propagated first by Jaws and then solidified by Finding Nemo. Where Shark Tale does not intentionally peddle anti-shark propaganda, it is a natural element of aquatic-based products. A shill for a regime of those that believe Jack Black could convincingly voice an animal of friendly intent. Look no further than the bloodlust of Po in Kung Fu Panda for clarification on the dastardly, dumb supporting player he voices here in Shark Tale. A vegetarian shark who just can’t bring himself to eat anything that isn’t kale, seaweed or whatever else environmentally conscious sharks eat. Good on him, it is a shame that the audience must be conscious when watching Shark Tale.
Watching this feature through the twinkly delights of an alcohol blurred mind is preferable but not a necessity. It is enough to consider the post-meme craze of Scorsese’s pufferfish car wash manager, Sykes, and the horrendous song that infects his place of business. Ebbing away brain cells and dedicating them to lyrics inspiringly detailing where characters are, “at the car wash / ooooh yeah yeah” and so on. None of it really makes much difference to the story, about Oscar the fish (Smith) dreaming big of a rap career. It’s just an aquatic, less-heartening version of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, without the theories of the main character being dead or a good supporting cast to surround them.
Two’s company, three’s a crowd. Three in the directing chair, Vicky Jenson, Bibo Bergeron and Rob Letterman are the crowd cramped behind the camera, trying to figure out where to take this fish-oriented disaster. A real fry up of poor ideas and big names. Smart branding is the salvation Shark Tale finds, with a decent quip about “great white lies” plastered onto the poster. It is a shame that the best joke to come out of this merchandise machine is an ill-forgotten tagline. There is nothing of real quality in the film itself. No desire to push the margins of what animators thought possible at the time. No engagement with the strong cast, which for some reason includes both Peter Falk in his final high-profile feature and Renée Zellweger hot off winning an Academy Award. Stranger things have happened, but little worse has happened than Shark Tale.