Unlike Pixar’s sweet, humanistic Finding Nemo, Shark Tale—DreamWorks’s CGI-animated under-the-sea fiasco about a little fish who, along with his aquatic friends, learns a thing or two about tolerance and honesty—made me want to immediately start polluting the ocean. Gaudy, hyperactive, and intent on bludgeoning one’s senses and offending one’s sensibilities, the star-studded film functions like a tidal wave of pop-culture homages and toilet humor (look out for that oil-squirting octopus!) that mistakenly confuses shallow of-the-moment jokes and insincere emotion as clever and touching. Just as the timid great white shark Lenny (voiced by Jack Black) can’t stomach eating a living creature, attempts to consume this snarky, pedantic comedy may result in a serious bout of indigestion.
Oscar (Will Smith) is “a little fish in a big pond…the ocean” who desperately wants to live the bling-bling MTV Cribs lifestyle in a penthouse at the top of the reef. Working as a lowly scrubber at the local Whale Wash, the penniless (or clam-less, per the local currency) Oscar stumbles upon a get-famous-quick scheme when, moments before he’s about to be murdered for not settling outstanding debts to a mob underling (Martin Scorsese’s manic blowfish), he’s erroneously assumed to have killed a giant shark. Publicizing himself as a sharkslayer, Oscar—working in tandem with Lenny, who wants to run away from home because his Godfather dad Don Lino (Robert De Niro) doesn’t accept his vegetarianism—becomes an instant celebrity. But by achieving fame and his dream girl (Angelina Jolie’s stunning gold-digger) via a lie, he alienates the best friend (Renée Zellweger’s Angie) who secretly loves him. No reason to hold your breath, though; after much ballyhoo, things turn out—wait for it, wait for it!—swimmingly.
Taking a cue from its DreamWorks sibling Shrek, Shark Tale is rife with moronic pop-culture references (at one point, Oscar quotes Gladiator, A Few Good Men, and Jerry Maguire in rapid-fire succession), shameless in-movie advertising camouflaged by puns about corporate brand names (Gup for Gap, Coral-Cola for Coke, etc.), and a distressing desire to promote racial and ethnic stereotypes. This last objective, one can only presume, is to help kids understand at an early age that Italians (the Sharks) are mobsters, African-Americans (Smith’s Oscar) are materialistic hip-hoppers, Jamaicans (two jellyfish henchmen) are Rastafarian space cadets, and gays—what else is Lenny, with his high-pitched voice, unconventional “tastes,” and desire to disguise himself as a dolphin with make-up, a bright necktie, and a tool belt?—are weird and undesirable. Of course, the colorfully animated Shark Tale ends on an upbeat note in which open-mindedness and integrity trumps prejudice and greed, but such climactic cheeriness hardly drowns out the appalling underlying archetypes and pro-consumerism messages being peddled by this rancid computer-generated backwash.