Everyone has a bad film, or films, that they are ashamed to admit they though was good once upon a time. I can think of lots just off the top of my head, but for now, I’m going to focus on the one that I was reminded of only a few days ago existed, although I have no idea how I could forget a film like this.
Shark Tale directed by Vicky Jenson, Bibo Bergeron and Rob Letterman (geez), stars Will Smith as Oscar, a streetwise fish who works at a Whale Wash as a tongue scrubber who dreams of being rich and famous. When the son of the head of a shark crime family is accidently killed by an anchor, Oscar makes up the story that he killed the shark and quickly rises to the “top of the reef”. Meanwhile the shark boss Don Lino (Robert De Niro) is having issues with his other son Lenny (Jack Black) who is a vegetarian. Lenny, who saw his brother’s death and was devastated, soon sees this as an opportunity to get away from his family.
This film came out in 2004 and for some reason was nominated for an academy award for best animation feature ahead of the likes of Howl’s Moving Castle, Shrek 2, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie and The Polar Express. Question, what the hell were AMPAS smoking? Because when you look at how well Shark Tale’s animation has held up, it has gone from acceptable in 2004, to painful nightmare in 2021. And what’s Dreamwork’s excuse? Howl’s Moving Castle still holds up, Shrek 2 and Spongebob as well (Polar Express may need time to think about it) so is there something everyone missed that the Academy picked up on?
It could be they were obligated to because of this film’s frankly incredible cast. However, some of these actors do bring up question marks. The biggest of course being Martin Scorsese as Sykes. Yes, that Martin Scorsese. The nine-time Academy Award nominated, filmmaking pioneer Martin Scorsese. Now it’s not to say he didn’t do a good job, he did, but I imagine during recording sessions, he had to fend off eager filmmakers wanting to work with him on a daily basis. I also imagine cinema phenetics threw up in their mouths a bit when they saw his name in the credits. What I’m trying to say is, it’s one of the strangest casting choices I’ve seen. Also, the two jellyfish working for Sykes Ernie and Bernie (Ziggy Marley & Doug E. Doug) who I’m certain were brought in just so the film could make Rasta jokes.
Now let’s turn our attention to the big man himself Will Smith who is in a role that absolutely wastes his charisma. The prime suspect in all this is the character he plays, which has got to be one of the worst excuse for a film protagonist. Oscar, while he goes through some sort of transformation, is a really unlikeable character. The general idea around him is that everyone likes him, but nobody respects him, and it’s not difficult to see why. He has this uncaring attitude that if anyone had in real life, you would not associate with. He doesn’t value the friends he has and any sort of character transformation he goes through feels unearned because his choices are so selfish (wink, wink). For instance, there’s one scene when he’s talking to arguably his best friend and love interest Angie (Renèe Zellweger) about how he owes Sykes 5000 clams, she gives Oscar a pearl left to her by her grandmother to help pay off his debts. Oscar brings the money to a racetrack where he’s supposed to hand it to Sykes, but instead of handing it over, he overhears a race is rigged and bets the money away. Of course, the race doesn’t end how he was hoping. I don’t normally swear in my posts, but using profanity is the only way I can clearly express the feelings that manifested in me during this scene. Sooo…What a dick!
I don’t expect you to forgive me for that terrible fish pun earlier, but I do expect you to show that same unforgiving nature to the comedy in Shark Tale, because it’s a treasure trove of bad fish puns. There are also references to well known films which begs the question “what exactly is this world”. I mean you already have the Dreamworks boy in the logo directly affecting the story when he casts an animated worm from his fishing rod, but you also have the Jaws theme thrown in, as well as gag with a fish selling sushi with no customers. I mean I get the gag on the surface level, but isn’t that technically not cannibalism?
On the whole, I probably wasn’t trying to dig too deep into this film as a 10 year old, but now I’m older I now see this film for what it really is, a big, giant question mark? I have no idea why 10 year old me enjoyed this but I’m determined to go back in time and stamp on my own DVD copy. It’s no surprise that Shark Tale has been recently unraveled as a bad film because there is so much material to tear apart. The casting is grand but awkward, the animation has aged so badly, and it has a protagonist that is the absolute worst qualities in someone who is overly charismatic. The only place for this film now, is for usage in torture.