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Fillet of soul

DAN THOMAS

While it’s smooth and seamless on the surface, the fishy little heart of “Shark Tale” is just a little too cold-blooded. I’m not even talking about stereotyping Italians or product placement superseding the story. I’m not even making the inevitable great white shark joke (OK, maybe a little).While “Shark Tale” makes the likes of “The Little Mermaid” look absolutely primitive, it represents a great leap backward as a story for kids – or adults. Beneath the elaborate array of pixels in “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.” there beat old-fashioned hearts of gold. Even the first “Shrek,” with its sometimes surprisingly nasty digs at Disney, offered more than the forced coolness of “Shark Tale.”

“Shark Tale” is neither fish nor fresh, neither Hans Christian Andersen nor Peter Benchley. Rather, the nominal plot behind the marketing powerhouse is an uneven bouillabaisse of “Goodfellas,” “The Godfather” and “Car Wash” (both of which deserve, and have received better send-ups) with “West Side Story” for the finale. I suppose “Shark Tale” teaches an important lesson in family values, provided that you need help in explaining to your gentle, vegetarian son why you’re in the Mafia. Or not in the Mafia. I forget which.

And it’s a shame that the story is so forgettable because the movie is a visually breathtaking vehicle for it. The animators capture the scars in the sharks’ rough skin, make whales look like city buses and even – somehow – flawlessly translate Smith’s and Renee Zellweger’s distinct mannerisms onto the faces of fish that dance on their tails.And really, that might ultimately be the point of “Shark Tale” – that Will Smith is funny and cool, and the Mafia is a popular subject these days, so we might as well introduce our children to it through the conduit of talking fish before they move on to “The Sopranos.”

Good animated movies always seem to offer a little more under the surface than “Shark Tale” delivers. I wasn’t hooked.The fish in the vase next to the Glenwood Post Independent copy desk was not harmed during the production of this movie review. But Dan Thomas eats a lot more tuna than he did when he was the Summit Daily News’ arts and entertainment editor.


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