As Dreamworks’ Antz was to Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, so is their Shark Tale to Finding Nemo. In the Pixar movies, the characters and stories are drawn from the animal kingdom. In Finding Nemo, for example, the plot revolves around Nemo being taken from his home on the coral reef and plopped into a dentist’s aquarium. By contrast, the Dreamworks characters are more anthropomorphic in terms of their behaviour and outlook on life. The stories and the humour flow from the incongruity of human traits mapped onto other creatures. This is emphasized even more by the use of recognizable big name actors in the lead roles, which forces the animators to act more like costume designers than graphic artists.
Shark Tale takes this approach to extremes. Oscar, played by Will Smith, is the streetwise a small fish with big dreams. He’s in hock to blowfish Sykes (Martin Scorcese), who in turn is beholden to the shark mafia (with Robert De Niro as the capo). By accident, Oscar gets a reputation as a sharkslayer, and he plays this up for all it’s worth so he can live out his bling-bling dream. But how long will it be before the lies catch up with him?
The plot is weak, the mafia sterotypes are tired (even in a fishy guise), and the animation doesn’t elevate it in any way. The visuals are lovely, but no-one goes to the movies any more just to admire the pretty computer graphics. In 1995 when Toy Story came out, yes; in 2004, no. Pixar hasn’t so much raised the bar as removed it. Beautiful CGI is now a given, and in order to distinguish themselves, animated features now have to fall back on the time-honoured technique of being good films. Unfortunately, Shark Tale isn’t.