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Review: 'Shark Tale' goes swimmingly

Sharp comedy, good voices make entertaining film

By Paul Clinton
For CNN.com

Shark Tale
Will Smith, Jack Black and Renee Zellweger give voice to the fish in "Shark Tale."
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Renee Zellweger
Will Smith
Jack Black

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- "Shark Tale" is a fine kettle of fish that should be irresistible to anyone who loves movies, while also offering some interesting subtext giving the feature an extra little bite.

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

The film stars -- albeit only vocally -- Will Smith, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Renee Zellweger, Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese (the latter in a rare acting gig), all of whom do a fine job.

For "Shark Tale," De Niro and Scorsese were actually in the recording studio at the same time, allowing them to ad-lib many of their lines. The same was true of Smith and Black. Actors actually meeting each other, let alone performing together, is a rarity during the long process of making an animated film, which makes this project a true piece of animated film history.

The result is a delightful, delicious and fresh pop culture comedy.

"Shark Tale," directed by Vicky Jenson ("Shrek"), Bibo Bergeron ("The Road to El Dorado") and Rob Letterman (in his directing debut), contains two main storylines.

One subplot revolves around Oscar (Smith), a small, fast-talking fish with large dreams of making it to the big time at the top of the reef. In the meantime he must be content being a tongue cleaner at the local Whale Wash. His co-worker, Angel (Zellweger) is secretly in love with him, but can't get him to stop harping on his dreams long enough to see what is right in front of him: an honest job and a girl who loves him.

Fishy doings

One day while swimming through the reef, Oscar is a witness to the accidental death of a shark. He takes credit for the shark's early demise and becomes an instant hero known as Oscar the sharkslayer. He becomes trapped in his own lie and attracts the attentions of an opportunistic puffer fish, Sykes (Scorsese) and of a gold-digging vamp, Lola (Jolie).

The secondary story is about the mob family of sharks who control the reef. De Niro -- who else -- plays Don Lino, the head of the family. He's preparing his two sons, Frankie (who is played by Michael Imperioli, best known as Tony Soprano's nephew, Christopher, in "The Sopranos") and Lenny (Black), to take over the family business.

Shark Tale
Martin Scorsese provides the voice for the slick Sykes.

Frankie is a chip off the ol' fish stick and therefore the perfect heir. However, younger brother Lenny is an extremely sensitive soul who is a closet vegetarian. It's Frankie who is killed accidentally, the act which makes Oscar a hero. Lenny, fearing his father's expectations now that he is the only remaining son, runs off with Oscar and pretends to be a dolphin by painting himself blue and changing the shape of his snout.

The stage is now set for learning all the life lessons found in a film like this. Lenny's being a vegetarian could be a metaphor for any type of outsider. But what is blatantly obvious -- at least to this reviewer -- is that Lenny's "otherness" could also very easily be read as being gay.

When posing as a gentle dolphin, Lenny sports a flamboyant neck scarf , and his overall demeanor is as subtle as a rainbow flag at the Republican convention. This thinly veiled subtext makes Lenny's eventual acceptance all the more poignant.

Filled with charm

As with any film, casting is key, but with an animated film it becomes even more vital since the actors have only their voices to establish their character's personalities. With "Shark Tale," the casting is perfect and the choices are all the more delightful since the main players are all new to the world of animation.

Overall, the animation is not of the same quality as that in "Finding Nemo," and the film may not go down as a classic, but it's a highly entertaining swim among a lot of very endearing characters and provides plenty of laughter.

"Shark Tale" manages to work both as a charming story on its own while also being a great send-up of the classic mob film genre -- making it a great catch for the entire family.

"Shark Tale" opens Friday, October 1, and is rated PG.


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