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The Stale Princefish of Bel-Airfish stars in DreamWorks' animated 'Shark Tale'

By Richard von Busack

OSCAR THE FISH (voiced by Will Smith) talks big, but his dreams of penthouse living in the coral reef are doomed to failure. Then one day, he encounters a pathetic pacifist vegetarian shark (Jack Black) who just happens to be the son of the shark-mafia's don (Robert De Niro). Oscar is on the scene when the don's eldest shark son meets with an accident. The ambitious Oscar develops a citywide reputation as a killer of sharks. This makes him famous and draws the attention of a bad girl fish named Lola (Angelina Jolie). Oscar should have stuck with the good girl fish Angie (Renee Zellweger) he used to work with at the whalewash (i.e., like a automated carwash, only with whales). The don finally gets his revenge, kidnapping Angie and luring Oscar into a standoff.

All animated films need memorable villains, but the fish mafia isn't it. This film guarantees that you will never want to hear the phrase "fugittaboutit" again. The only standout is Peter Falk doing the voice of "Don Fineberg"—you just have time to register that distinctive raspy voice when the fart joke comes in.

All told, this is an effective film with which to punish the kids. Shark Tale does the Flintstones thing of just using fish as a suffixfish. It chooses sight gags over the humor that builds—yellow schools of taxi fishes, the characters making calls on "shell phones." Raunchier adult stuff like a hemorrhoid joke makes Shark Tale a little dubious for the urchins. Since the action is set in an undersea New York, the film lines the ocean floor with tweaked brand names ("Gup"—as in guppy—for Gap). Because of its inner-city motif, with grime and graffiti, the color palette is more balanced than in Finding Nemo. By far, though, the physical look of the fishes isn't half as delicate as Pixar's; the creatures—particularly the female leads—often look carved out of sponges.

Shark Tale courts the elder kids with a strategy of rigorously outdated ghetto fabulousness, with the sure-fire street-cred of Katie Couric. (She plays a newscaster fish called "Katie Current." Because fish swim in a current. Unless they're dead.) Score the hugfest finale to a second-rate cover of Rose Royce's "Car Wash" by Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliott. Ultimately, Shark Tale is a cartoon that re-creates a world of would-be underground entertainment most would be trying to escape at a cartoon. On the bright side, Shark Tale has to be one more nail in the coffin of corporate faux-urban style. Smith's chronic lack of interest in his roles is only worsening because of the kind of movies he chooses. He's always a slick bored man who gets physically assaulted. Put fins and a tail on him, and Smith's what he always is, a cold fish.

Shark Tale (PG; 91 min.), an animated film by Vicky Jensen, Eric Bergeron and Rob Letterman, with the voices of Will Smith, Robert De Niro and Renee Zellweger, plays at theaters valleywide.

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From the October 6-12, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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