I've been a fan of the animated titles that Dreamworks has produced in the past ("Spirit", "Prince of Egypt" and the "Shreks" have been mildly entertaining.) However, I don't think I've ever been more disappointed in an animated feature - Dreamworks or otherwise - than I have with "Shark Tale". The film's cast - Jack Black, Will Smith, Robert Deniro, Renee Zellweger, Angelina Jolie - is a fearsome mixture of talents and styles that, in the right hands, could have been a comedic gold mine. Oddly, the only voice talent that's actually funny in the film is director Martin Scorsese, whose frantic energy often manages to overcome the horrible dialogue.
So, what happened here? Instead of actually coming up with clever lines and well-developed characters (see "Finding Nemo"), "Shark Tale"'s characters are irriating and spout a series of utterly groan-inducing gags and bits (a fish coming up with an idea to bottle water, a blatant Krispy Kreme promo, Jessica Shrimpson, Katie Couric voices a fish reporter named Katie Current...) mith voices a little fish named Oscar, who never stops talking and works as an employee at a Whale Wash. He works with Angie (Renee Zellweger), who secretly is in love with him, despite Oscar's constant "get rich quick" schemes and flaky nature.
When he gets deep in debt to his boss, Sykes (Scorsese), Oscar gets into deep trouble, with two jellyfish waiting to sting him senseless if he's not able to come up with the cash. Of course, even after getting the cash, Oscar screws things up at the track and finds himself facing Shark Godfather Don Lino (Robert De Niro)'s two hungry kids, Frankie (Michael Imperioli) and Lenny (Jack Black, unfortunately doing such a weird nasal voice that some probably wouldn't recognize that it's him.) When an anchor takes out Frankie, a big fish, er shark tale that Oscar tells - he slayed the shark - to the rest of the fish world allows him to become something of a celebrity. Meanwhile, Lenny's ran off and Don Lino searches for the one who took out Frankie.
The film's screenplay isn't funny, and offers toilet humor and a lot of stereotypes. There's as much subtlty in the look of the film, which throws whatever flash (and so-so R & B/funk on the soundtrack) it can at the audience in an attempt to keep their attention. There's also not a real effort here to position the camera in the best way to capitalize on the jokes, and camera movement isn't nearly as strong or sweeping as other animated fare. "Shark Tale" may take place in the ocean, but the picture feels much more isolated than "Nemo".
The fact that the voice talent doesn't exactly give it much of an effort also doesn't help. Will Smith's over-the-top performance seems desperate, and the delivery seems so forced that the material just seems worse. I've enjoyed Smith in other movies, but this is easily his worst performance. Zellweger seems wasted, while Black's weirdly nasal vocal work ruins the character. Again, the only one that's funny is Scorsese, as his frantic personality and delivery actually shows the director has impressive comedic timing.
Overall, "Shark Tale" certainly had the elements for success, but the screenplay is a predictable mess of cliches and stale humor.
VIDEO: "Shark Tale" is presented by Dreamworks in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Although I'm not a fan of the film's not-too-subtle visual style, the transfer is technically stunning. In fact, the colors on DVD edition looked more vivid than they did when I saw the film theatrically. Sharpness and detail are exceptional, as the picture appeared razor sharp, with impressive detail and depth to the image. A couple of moments looked slightly softer than the rest, but the majority of the film looked very well-defined.
As for flaws, I really didn't notice any. The picture was free of edge enhancement, pixelation and any sort of print flaws (I'm guessing this was a direct-from-digital transfer.) The film's vibrant color palette is almost eye-popping here, with richly saturated tones and no smearing.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's audio is not as impressive as the video. Surrounds kick in occasionally to offer a few mild sound effects, but they otherwise don't have anything too notable to offer into the proceedings. Despite not being much of a fan of the funk/R & B soundtrack, it sounded nicely dynamic and rich coming from the front speakers. Dialogue and effects also seemed well-recorded and clear.
EXTRAS: "Rough Waters" is a series of technical goofs. "Star Fish" is a promotional piece that offers a look at the cast. "A Fishified World" takes a look at the creation of the "Shark Tale" universe. "Music of Shark Tale" looks at the soundtrack, while "A Tour You Can't Reef-Use!" (Yikes.) is a series of galleries showing concept art. There's also previews for other Dreamworks titles, bios, interactive games and DVD-ROM features. Finally, there's a commentary from Directors Bilbo Bergeron, Vicky Jenson and Rob Letterman. The directors offer a decent track, chatting about the development of the film and details behind the production (working with the voice talent, the roles of certain animators and staff, changed lines and details, etc.)
Final Thoughts: Not only is "Shark Tale" not funny, the film's gags occasionally made me cringe they were so bad. What little plot there is isn't of much interest, either. The only thing I liked about the movie was Scorsese's performance, as the director's delivery was perfect. Despite disliking the movie, Dreamworks has produced a fine DVD, with fantastic video quality, fine audio quality and a decent amount of supplements. Fans may want to take a look, but I don't recommend the DVD.