Shark Tale is full of colorful fish folk, hip-hop tunes and enough movie and pop culture references to keep even Quentin Tarantino amused. It's just too bad there just isn't more substance behind all the wacky irreverence.
Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) is a fast-talking little fish whose big dreams usually land him in hot water, especially with his boss, Sykes (voiced by Martin Scorsese), a shady puffer fish who owns the Whale Wash. But the tide turns when the son of shark mob boss Don Lino (voiced by Robert De Niro) is killed and Oscar takes the credit, becoming an instant celebrity known as the ''Shark Slayer'' and getting the fame and fortune he always wanted. But at the same time, it turns him into ''Master of the Reef'' Lino's public enemy No. 1. Meanwhile, Lino's other son Lenny (voiced by Jack Black), a man-eating shark who actually has no interest in eating man--or any other meat, for that reason--would rather go into hiding as a dolphin than live up to his father's wrongheaded expectations. Forced into an unlikely friendship, these two crazy fish band together to become the real heroes they are inside.
Shark Tale's got big celeb names in spades, with Smith and Black laying it on thick as Oscar and Lenny, the ocean's most improbable dynamic duo; Renee Zellweger as pretty angel fish Angie, who harbors a serious crush on Oscar; Angelina Jolie as femme fatale dragon fish Lola, (what'd you expect with the appropriately lipped Jolie, plus a name like Lola?) who sets her sights on Oscar; Peter Falk as an old, wise guy shark; Ziggy Marley and Doug E. Doug as Sykes' henchmen, two hilarious Rastafarian jellyfish; and The Sopranos Michael Imperioli as Lino's other son Frankie, a don in the making. But the guys who seem to have the most fun are De Niro, with his tough talk, and Scorsese, with his lightning-speed delivery. The two old friends have an obvious comfort level, clearly evident in Lino and Sykes' hilarious, rapid-fire, ''who's on first?'' banter (''What?'' ''What do you mean 'what?''' ''You said 'what' first?'' ''I didn't say 'what' first, you did''). Funny stuff.
No question DreamWorks' Shark Tale is marvelous eye candy--there's almost too much to gawk at. The vibrant reef is a thriving cityscape, complete with fish that look like taxis and speak with Indian accents; an empty sushi restaurant with a frustrated Japanese fish chef; and even a Times Square-like billboard which broadcasts the news reports from local reporter ''Katie Current'' (voiced by Katie Couric, of course). Maybe this all smacks as blatantly stereotypical--a queeny dolphin, hippity-hoppy thugs, Indian taxi fish and flaky rasta dudes--and you'd be right. But do you still laugh? Yeah, a little--I mean, it is fish we're talking about here. The film is also chock-full of movie references (Lenny tells Frankie the Jaws theme gives him the creeps)--a particular attribute DreamWorks Animation takes pride in ever since successfully lampooning other films in their smash hits Shrek and Shrek 2. But in obvious comparison, Shark Tale is no Finding Nemo. While certainly much more of a laugh-inducing spoof-fest than the poignant, heartfelt Nemo, Shark Tale also tells the story of a little fish who makes it big, only to discover what he left behind and a son wanting his father to accept who he is. Yet, somehow, those sincere messages are lost among the hustle and bustle of the frantic animation, the hip-hop soundtrack--and the unending need to be fun, cool and irreverent.
The uproarious Shark Tale is sure to please fish-lovin' masses, but it might have benefited from a little Pixar fairy dust to make it more complete.