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SYFY WIRE DreamWorks Animation

'Shark Tale' is a masterpiece and we don’t talk about it enough

The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Irishman, and Shark Tale all have two things in common: Robert De Niro and the mafia. But only one of these movies also features animated sharks.

By Syfy Staff
Shark Tale (2004)

By Julie Montana

The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Irishman, and Shark Tale all have two things in common: Robert De Niro and the mafia. But only one of these movies also features animated sharks, so we ask you, which film is the real cinema classic?

DreamWorks Animation’s Oscar-nominated 2004 feature Shark Tale is an absolute masterpiece, despite what any haters say. It's got everything you could ever ask for: humor, a strong moral center, sexy fish, and even the mob. No matter how old you are, there is something to grab your attention in this movie. Each time you watch it, a new joke pops up or a quote sticks in your head. It's a top tier cinematic experience and it's available for streaming on Peacock now.

Shark Tale’s star-studded voice roster is quite the catch, too. The actors have perfect comedic chemistry and they bring their real-life personas to their animated aquatic counterparts. Will Smith’s confident, sly, and sometimes self-destructive fish, Oscar, plays perfectly against Jack Black’s goofy vegetarian shark, Lenny. After Lenny’s brother (Michael Imperioli) dies in a freak anchor accident, the unlikely pair team up to stage a public murder. Oscar’s social status climbs to the top of the reef and Lenny’s Italian mobster-esque family is set on edge after this apparent second family slaying.

With the “Shark Slayer” on the loose, the crime family pulled straight out of the best mobster movies (Robert De Niro, Vincent Pastore, and Lenny Venito) searches for a way to regain power. Meanwhile, Renee Zellweger and Angelina Jolie compete for Oscar’s love while Martin Scorsese’s (yes, we’re serious) temperamental puffer fish, Sykes, vies for his ever-growing wallet. To call this a dream cast is an understatement!

The summary might be high stakes, but the execution has that signature tongue-in-cheek humor early DreamWorks films are famous for. With Smith and Black at the center, there’s no question this film is a goldmine of quotable moments and hilarious outbursts (“Sebaaaastian! The whale washing dolphin!”).  Not to mention, Scorsese really flexes his comedic muscles here! There are tons of moments where he steals the show and you can feel him having a lot of fun in the sound booth. 

At every turn, there are fish puns that you can’t help but smile and roll your eyes at like the seahorse race track, Coral-Cola billboards, and the ever-informative news reporter, Katie Current, voiced by Katie Couric herself.  The soundtrack, which keeps the momentum going through the whole film, is a perfect early 2000s smorgasbord of tracks like Timbaland and Justin Timberlake’s “Good Foot,” Christina Aguilera and Missy Eliot’s “Car Wash,” and a Hans Zimmer score to round it all out. And if that wasn’t enough, the vibrant and unique animation style gives the film a colorful and distinctive look that looks fresh almost twenty years later. 

Beyond the flashy looks and attention-grabbing names, the story at the center of this film is what really makes it all shine. Yes, it's a mafia movie. Yes, it’s FULL of fish puns. But the messages of accepting who you are and the damage that lying can do are timeless. Lenny struggles to be accepted by his father because of his inability to kill other fish and be, in his mind, a real shark. Oscar envies others and tries to constantly take the easy way out of situations without thinking about the consequences. The scheme they cook up together takes them to their respective rock bottoms, even if Oscar's plan gets him in a penthouse with a floor-to-ceiling lava lamp. Through tense trials and the power of real friendship, they learn to accept themselves and live in their truths. It's powerful and raw and more importantly, a lesson people of all ages can resonate with. 

Jaws may have given sharks a bad name, but this cinematic magnum opus might just be the P.R. they needed to get back into our good graces. 

Shark Tale is now streaming on Peacock