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Movie Review: "Shark Tale"

[sigh]

I should be in St. Louis tonight, seeing the Cubs playing the Cardinals in game 1 of the NLCS. Heck, I even had tickets to the game, bought off the Cardinals website for face value.

[sigh]

I would have posted this review earlier, having actually seen this film on Sunday, but with the problems I've been having with Blogger (it took me a full day to post the "update" to the Wendell Kim post that I actually wrote on Tuesday morning), here it is now.

Sunday, with most of the Division Series decided (I wound up missing the end of a pretty good Houston/Atlanta game), and the Bears not playing on TV (or anywhere else, for that matter), I hied the kids on over to see "Shark Tale", at the Davis Theater on N. Lincoln, and I mention this because it's cheaper to see first-run movies there than at the megaplexes, and the kids, who had never been to a neighborhood theater before, kept asking, as we were walking toward it, "Where's the theater?"

So, this was a new experience, and so was the movie.

This film is the brainchild of the same crew that was responsible for the "Shrek" films, though the animation in "Shark Tale" is much more conventional than the 3-D style used in "Shrek".

And the animation isn't the key here -- this is a star vehicle, which is really a first among the animated feature films of the last few years. It's not just the voices of Will Smith, Robert DeNiro, Renee Zellweger, etc., but positions it as "starring" these people -- in fact, the Smith fish is drawn to look like him, the ridiculous-looking puffer fish (voiced by Martin Scorsese) has goofy-looking eyebrows like Scorsese's... well, you get the idea. Not all the fish are drawn this way -- the shark mob boss voiced by DeNiro doesn't look much like DeNiro -- but this is clearly a way of getting fans of these big stars (and these days, you don't get much bigger than Smith, Zellweger, and Angelina Jolie) to see this film.

The story's a bit darker than happy tales like "Finding Nemo" or "Shrek", and as such I wouldn't recommend it for small children. The "sharks" are based on mob characters such as you might find in the "Godfather" series of films, and Oscar, Smith's character, is a ... well, he really IS a small fish in a big pond, winds up in debt to the sharks, and in a series of goofy coincidences, finds himself dubbed "Shark Slayer".

There are funny moments, and double entendres -- in fact, Rachel kept pointing out that there was a line "for the halibut", intended to, of course, replace "for the hell of it", and my kids are keenly aware of what "bad words" are, but it's not easy to explain wordplay to kids, and as I said, some of this film is a little bit above what you'd want children who might like "Nemo" or "Shrek" or even something like "Antz".

This isn't a great film, but had its moments, and one of the funniest characters is Lenny, son of DeNiro's boss shark, who doesn't want to follow in the family business and has become a vegetarian, and is voiced exceptionally well by Jack Black, who has shown tremendous versatility and talent in the roles he's taken, from "High Fidelity" to "School of Rock" to this one.

I wouldn't rush to the theaters to see this one, but it's worth a rental.

AYRating: ** 1/2