I think it can go without saying that DreamWorks is one of the best animation studios that has ever existed. Ever since they were formed in 1994, they've put out top-notch quality animation ranging from fantastic films to equally impressive TV shows and they've always stood tall amongst the competition. Though like every studio, they don't have a flawless track record with some of their works not meeting their high expectations and you don't need to look further than their 2004 animated film "Shark Tale". Even though I remember seeing the trailers and commercials for this film as a kid as well as the main menu of the DVD at a dentist's office at one point, I've never seen this film until now. Having seen it, the film really left me exceptionally baffled and perplexed. Lots of questions floated through my head about how a talented cast, talented crew, and most importantly a talented studio could make a film as bad as this. It's easily the worst animated film DreamWorks has ever made in their catalog of excellent films. This film really is baffling on so many levels.
In an underwater fish city called the Southside Reef, a bluestreak cleaner wrasse named Oscar (Will Smith) works at a Whale Wash scrubbing crud off of whales though dreams of moving out of his low life and becoming a rich and famous fish one day. However, his pufferfish boss Sykes (Martin Scorsese) tells him that he owes him some money and that he needs to be paid or else he'll be killed. While Oscar's angelfish best friend Angie (Rene Zellweger) gives him a pearl to pay off his debts, Oscar instead bets it in a seahorse race and ends up losing the money. Oscar is soon taken by Sykes' two jellyfish henchmen Ernie and Bernie (Ziggy Marley and Doug E. Doug) respectively to be dealt with, but are soon interrupted by two shark brothers named Frankie (Michael Imperioli) and Lenny (Jack Black) which scares off the two jellyfish. When an incident with an anchor ends up killing Frankie, Oscar soon makes up a lie by saying that he killed him calling himself the "Shark Slayer" which impresses the town and a seductive lionfish named Lola (Angelina Jolie). Over time, Oscar rises to the top and bumps into Lenny again who reveals to him that he's a vegetarian that doesn't want to eat fish and doesn't want to let down his father Don Lino (Robert De Niro). The two eventually hatch a plan to fake Lenny's death to scare off the sharks and have Lenny blend in with dolphins and I'm pretty sure you can figure out where this goes from here.
This film honestly left me feeling exceptionally baffled. I have no idea how a studio that could make films like "The Prince of Egypt", "Kung Fu Panda", and "How to Train Your Dragon" could make a film this bad and could rope in such a great cast and a very talented crew as well. It's also even more embarrassing knowing that this came out the same year as "Shrek 2" which is one of DreamWorks' best films to date. I decided to look back on what went wrong with this film and I did find out that the film started off differently. The film was supposed to be a parody of gangster films in the same vein as "The Godfather" and "Goodfellas", but then quickly got retooled once some of the cast was chosen. It honestly explains why this film doesn't work very well as this story is exceptionally predictable and stale. Every twist and turn in this film I could see coming from a mile away and left me unsurprised once the reveal did happen. It also results in a terrible third act and climax which was so hollow and empty that it left me feeling unimpressed and cold. I could at least make up for the film if it was funny, but it's not. Almost every single one of the jokes in this film falls terribly flat and left me rolling my eyes almost every second. There were a few jokes I found clever including a joke where an octopus tried to pour a cup of tea only for the tea to dissolve because they were underwater. There was also a joke about the sharks at Frankie's funeral and one suggests playing "that Titanic song" and all of them quickly say no. That also got a laugh from me. However, there were way too many bad jokes in the film that sunk it including one where Oscar quotes famous film quotes to impress the crowd including the "Jerry Maguire" quote "You had me at hello" which then cuts to Angie awkwardly smiling. Not only does this fail as most kids probably haven't seen "Jerry Maguire", but the adults who have would groan because Rene Zellweger, who said the quote in that film, plays Angie in the film. It's really lame. Then there's the animation which is without a doubt the worst part of the film. This film is exceptionally ugly which is all the more shocking knowing that "Shrek 2" came out just a few months earlier and still looks amazing. The sets look lousy and don't feel real as the world just looks like a really bad screensaver and also has lousy effects animation that doesn't even look like the film is underwater. Though it's the character designs that really stood out the most. The character designs in this film really looked unacceptable and I was shocked at how bad they look. All of these characters look like plastic dolls and they also have weird faces as if someone photoshopped the actor's faces onto the fish. It left me baffled that DreamWorks could approve a film this ugly looking and just made me wish I was watching the lush and timeless animation of "Finding Nemo" instead. Speaking of the characters, I don't really have much to say about them except that they're run of the mill characters you would expect in a story like this. Oscar is the hero who wants it big and lies his way to the top, Angie is the best friend who is secretly in love with him, Sykes is the boss who decides to cash in on Oscar's success, Lenny is the goofy best friend with a secret, Lola is the villainous seductress who steals away Oscar for a bit, Ernie and Bernie are stereotypical henchmen with stereotypical Jamaican characterizations, and Don Lino is the father who is based on characters we've seen from gangster films. That's pretty much all I need to say about them as they're so basic and underwritten that there's not much else to say about them. I guess I did like one thing with Lenny's character which led to a good message being in the film which I think has aged well, but it doesn't make up for the other character problems. All it did was just make me feel sad as all of the actors are exceptionally talented and were completely wasted on a film like this.
Honestly, I don't really have much to say about "Shark Tale". It's bad. The story is predictable and doesn't have a lot of good jokes, the animation is ugly and not fun to look at, and the characters are unimpressive and standard characters we've seen in better films. This is easily one of DreamWorks' worst and I don't recommend it. To put lightly, there's other fish in the sea to watch instead of this.