Oscar, a small fish in a big pond, is convinced that without fame and wealth he's a nobody. When he's taken to be rubbed out for not making good on his debts, he's discovered by Lenny the vegetarian shark and his brother Frankie, who has been given the mission of teaching his brother how to be a real meat-eating shark. When a miracle occurs and Frankie is killed, Oscar finds himself promoted as the Shark Slayer by the media. As the only witness to the accident, Lenny agrees to back up Oscar's story in return for the fish's help in vanishing from the radar of his mafioso father. The local shark mafia move in to take Oscar down for the murder of the mafioso's eldest son, but all ends happily ever after when Oscar confesses to the lie and facilitates a reunion between Lenny and his dad. Oscar even gets the wholesome girl next door after nearly falling into the clutches of a shallow gold-digging female.
In general, Shark Tale is pretty to look at. The undersea New York city is cleverly interpreted. The colours are bright, rich, and clear without being too sharp. The backgrounds are beautiful and feature lush detail that blends in without popping. The textures and lighting are a treat. These visuals are hollow, however, without a solid script and story to accompany them. Shark Tale limps along on a mediocre script that tries to be witty but fails miserably, demonstrating a surprising lack of the originality that made Shrek such a success for DreamWorks in 2001.
The film never really seems to get above barely interesting. There are plenty of lame visual pop culture references (such as Kelpy Creme doughnuts, Coral Cola, and Gup clothing) and spoken pop culture references (as in lines from songs, skits, and other movies) which do nothing to enhance the story or atmosphere and which begin to distract as the movie progresses, further underlining the lack of originality. The irritating end credits fall flat. The use of ethnic stereotypes to create context for the story will also likely rub most viewers the wrong way. Overall, there's not much to recommend this film once the opening sequences are over and the viewer has ooohed and aaaahed over the clever designs.
Taken as a whole, I didn't care enough about the plot or the characters to become involved in the story. The most moving point for me came when Oscar forces open Lenny's mouth during the smash-'em-up staged battle, poses for the crowd and the cameras, and bellows, "Are you not entertained?" It's another in-joke, of course; a pop culture reference for those adults in the audience who have seen Gladiator. The line, however, sums it all up: in Shark Tale, DreamWorks flashes, flexes, shows off, and in the end, there is little of substance. Are we entertained? Not for long.