Shark Tale Review

A Loathsome Look At An Undeserved Cinematic Success


A promotional poster depicting the main characters, Oscar and Lennie

The movie Shark Tale has ethnic and social stereotypes, dated pop culture references, animation that makes viewers skin crawl, and a main character that many just want to punch. What more could you ask for in a movie that’s geared towards kids?

In 2004, DreamWorks decided to push out a Dumpster fire titled Shark Tale. The plot surrounds an uncharismatic and unlikable bluestreak cleaner wrasse fish named Oscar, played by Will Smith, (of Men In Black), that’s relegated to a lower-class position in the food chain of the ocean. One of his defining characteristics is his crippling insecurity at the fact that he is, according to himself, a nobody.  His occupation is to scrub the dirty tongues of whales at a business that’s the equivalent to a car wash in the ocean.  At this job he works with his best friend, an angelfish named Angie, voiced by Renée Zellweger, (of Cinderella Man), who harbors a massive crush on him. Oscar is totally oblivious to Angie’s feelings and takes her very much for granted for the good things she does for him. His boss is a pufferfish named Sykes, played by Martin Scorsese (director of Goodfellas), who has mafia connections and is really one of the only likable characters in the movie. Ocean ecosystems have to have sharks and in this movie, the sharks are an allegory for the Italian Mafia. Don Lino of the sharks is voiced by young Vito Corleone himself, Robert De Niro. He has two sons named Lenny and Frankie. Lenny, portrayed by Jack Black (of Kung Fu Panda), is a vegetarian shark while Frankie, played by Michael Imperioli (of The Sopranos), is a ravenous killer just like his father. 

Something that I will never understand is that Oscar won an Oscar in 2004, the same year Shrek 2, The Incredibles, and The Polar Express came out. My personal opinion is that the movie only won an Oscar due to the fact that it had the iconic movie duo of Scorsese and De Niro and those names could carry with their reputations but that’s just a theory. The Polar Express has beautiful animation, especially for its time, that makes this movie’s animation pale in comparison to. Shrek 2 is a movie that came from the same studio and is leagues above Shark Tale with its better message of liking someone for who they are and not basing affection off of surface level things about a person. The Incredibles is a movie with close to zero unlikable characters and the protagonists are honorable superheroes, people that children can look up to while Shark Tale has greedy egotists, gold diggers, and actual murderers.

A defining characteristic of Oscar, other than his inferiority complex, is that he’s really a superficial, lying snake of a fish. He is literally driven by the seven deadly sins. Oscar pawns his best friend’s family heirloom and bets it on a horse race out of greed. He envies other sea creatures and is ungrateful towards his lot in life despite having plenty to be happy with. He pridefully wallows in the fake glory he receives from supposedly being a shark killer. He cowardly feigns wrath after Frankie accidentally dies right in front of him by doing pathetic karate moves to himself. He disregards the money he owes to his boss out of apathy and sloth. And for lust, he is mesmerized by a seductive lionfish named Lola, portrayed by Angelina Jolie (of Maleficent), who’s theme is literally “Gold Digger” by Ludacris. The movie really likes to tell rather than show.

Although I’ve already hinted at it, one of my absolute biggest gripes I have with Shark Tale is Oscar. I have never wanted to throw hands (or fins) with a fish so badly in my life. He’s not funny, he’s not likable, and he’s a horrible person to everybody around him. A direct quote from the guy when he’s confronted by Angie is “Don’t take it personal, come on, I lie to everybody.” He takes advantage of everyone including his boss who he owes a ton of money to and then totally disregards that fact by betting on the horse race. When the consequences of his actions start to crash down on him, he finally confesses the truth in the last ten minutes of the movie.  I just can’t sympathize with this character. They try to make you feel for him by explaining he feels like a nobody but he has people around him that love him for him and he shows little gratitude towards it. 

Mentioned before briefly, this movie has its fair share of stereotypes. For starters, Oscar is evidenced to be stereotypically black. This is hinted in the line “Don’t sweat it, a lot of white fish can’t do it” after he tries to teach his boss a complicated handshake. It doesn’t make any sense for a movie with fish to involve such concepts. Other than race, the movie presents ethnic and social stereotypes. The criminal organization of sharks is based on the Italian Mafia and everyone except for the shark Lenny talks in a run-of-the-mill mafioso tone. There was a lot of criticism at the portrayal of Italian-Americans but what I find to be more stereotypical is how they portray Lenny. He’s a shark who doesn’t eat meat and is labeled inadequate due to this by his mafia brethren. He talks in a flamboyant manner and is labeled “different”. This is clearly an allegory for homosexuality. In the Mafia, homosexuality is highly frowned upon and is seen by them as a threat to manhood. The movie treats his conflict like a joke throughout it and so if they were attempting to make the audience sympathize with Lenny, they do a horrible job.

I’ve spent this review totally ripping on this movie but I will say there are some things that I enjoyed in this movie. I thought the dynamic between Oscar and Lenny was honestly charming even though I want to flush Oscar down the toilet. Some characters I found to be pretty entertaining were Sykes, Don Lino, the jellyfish, and an eccentric hermit crab that lived in the dumpster. I felt the interactions between the sharks were hilarious because the voice actors delivered their lines extremely seriously. One quote that stood out from a hammerhead shark was when he was angrily voicing his grief towards Don Lino about Frankie’s death. He states about whoever killed Frankie, “May his stinking, maggot covered corpse rot in the fiery depths of hell!” THIS IS A KIDS FILM!!! It’s shocking but I can’t say that line didn’t make me crack up.

To wrap up everything I said, I find Shark Tale to be a movie that’s entertaining but also stupid and not the best movie for children. I’m not one to say kids should be totally sheltered from real-life or mature concepts but to have stereotypes, bad role models, and a faulty message, it’s just not appropriate. The Oscars that year were rigged (and every year). I will die on that hill!