Gills and all, the pairing of Scorsese and De Niro pays off for this animated feature.
By BRUCE DANCIS
Director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro have made many movies together, including "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull" and "Casino." But the duo can be seen in a much different light -- in fact, with gills -- in "Shark Tale," the animated musical comedy released on DVD this week (DreamWorks Home Entertainment, $19.95, rated PG).
As top shark Don Lino, De Niro is basically playing his exaggerated "Analyze This/That" mobster character Paul Vitti, though the music used during his scenes suggests "The Godfather," as does the theme of the Don's relationship with his two (very different) sons, the tough Frankie (Michael Imperioli) and the sweet, vegetarian Lenny (Jack Black).
The puffer fish
Scorsese, portraying fast-talking Sykes, a puffer fish who owns the Whale Wash and consorts with mobster Don Lino, gets the additional honor of having his animated fish actually look like him -- if you can imagine a fish with Scorsese's bushy eyebrows. And the fast-talking Sykes/Scorsese actually has a fuller, more nuanced and funnier part than Don Lino/De Niro.
Will Smith, as Oscar, a small fish who works in the Whale Wash but dreams of fame and fortune, is the real star, playing a basically good fish who tells a big lie that gets him that fame and fortune, but also brings him a lot of trouble.
Most notably, "Shark Tale" is the first recent big-buck animated feature that's not only led by an African-American character (Smith) but is built on top of a soundtrack filled with modern black music, from hip-hop to rap to reggae to dancehall to Old School.
The DVD's bonus features expand upon that musical theme, particular in "Club Oscar," a segment showing the film's fishy stars doing their best dance moves to current sounds.
There are also the usual behind-the-scenes documentaries on how the film was made, interviews with the voice actors, a "Rock The Reef" segment featuring a guide to musical scenes, a new version of the song "Car Wash" performed by Missy Elliott and Christina Aguilera, and assorted games.
Like the "Shrek" films, "Shark Tale" throws in gallons of pop-culture references designed to hook parents as well as kids ("You can't handle the truth," "You had me at hello" and "Say hello to my little friends" are all heard during the movie). Yet its derivativeness and continual use of other movies as its source material prevent the film from achieving the compelling originality of an animated feature such as "Ice Age."
But it all adds up to a fun -- and wet -- tale of ambition, forgiveness and tolerance for kids and parents on land or sea.