This film kind of upped DreamWorks’ ante a bit, as their first non-Shrek CG film, but also being their second release in 2004, while meanwhile to this day Pixar hasn’t been able to churn out more than a film a year, at least not yet. And beyond that, it was a commercial success, and coming off of the monster cash that Shrek 2 raked in, DreamWorks had solidified its position as a major contender. This movie is also technically Pixar v. DreamWorks Part II, at the time being compared to Finding Nemo given them both focusing on aquatic life. Now whether any copycatting intentionally occurred is irrelevant, as the two films are nothing alike apart from their settings. But aside from all that, this movie also kind of contains all the negative attributes of the studio’s films, or specifically the Shrek movies, but amplified on high. Big, big stunt casting, hip, “urban” appeal, adult humor, and pop culture references out the ass. It’s a bizarre film on a number of levels, and is hands down their worst so far, and possibly the worst in their entire library.
Oscar is a lowly tongue scrubber at the Whale Wash in a bustling coral city, wishing for a shot to hit the big time. The town is constantly on alert for a mob family of great white sharks; head Don Lino currently has his hands full with his younger son Lenny, who’s a vegetarian, but is too meek to stand up to his father about it. When Oscar is unable to repay his debts to his pufferfish boss Sykes, who has the sharks breathing down his neck, he is left to be stranded and tortured in a desolate part of the ocean. It’s there the two worlds collide when Lenny’s brother Frankie is off to teach him how to be a hunter, spots Oscar, but ultimately ends up being struck and killed by an anchor. Broken free, Oscar takes credit for offing the shark and becomes a hometown celebrity, under the moniker of the “shark-slayer.” Complications arise when Lenny imposes on Oscar to let him stay with him, not wanting to go home to his father. Meanwhile, Don Lino is out for the blood of the fish that killed his son, and Oscar must figure out a way to rectify the situation whilst maintaining his lie.
There’s several indictments I can give this movie, a big one being that there was no reason this story needed to be told underwater. The fact that these characters were fish didn’t seem to matter at all given the major plot points or thrusts of the story. You can compare this with Nemo, but even with any kind of animated film with non-human characters; all of them hinge on the worlds they exist in. This weird mobster/small guy hitting the big time story could have been told with completely different species using the same script with only some minor revisions. Beyond that, the universe the movie sets up just feels so uninteresting, as it’s basically the human world… but with fish in it. Fish have normal looking houses, sit down on benches, use elevators for some reason. This also carries over to the way they move and interact with each other. The characters all “stand” upward, so they look like they’re just faces sitting on top of fish bodies, with their fins moving just like arms. It not only makes for a bizarre, slightly unappealing look, but just further emphasizes how this film really doesn’t seem to regard the fantastical environment or even the species of the characters.
Another big problem of the movie is our lead, Oscar, played by Will Smith, basically playing him as the Fresh Prince, an energetic, cool, bravado guy always trying to talk his way in and out of situations. We see from the start he’s got some character flaws to buff out, with him being in debt with his boss and throwing the money he owes away on an impulsive seahorse racing bet. All of his problems are basically self-created, culminating in his big lie that gets him famous that he has to keep from falling like a house of cards. There’s also an issue with his lofty goals: Oscar dreams of being up on top of the reef, but what exactly does that entail? How does a fish get famous, what do they have to do? We don’t really see any big shot fish, or at least none are identified, it’s not clear exactly what Oscar wants. But being the shark-slayer makes him a celebrity, when you’d think it would make him like a police officer or official town protector or something. But ultimately in the end Oscar’s apology and redemption for lying is all but swept under the rug for him convincing Don Lino to appreciate his son for who he is. Meanwhile that element of the story is so minor; Lino disappears for like forty minutes in the middle of the movie, even though he’s our antagonist. Why isn’t he out looking for Oscar? Is it that hard to find him when he’s a big star for killing the shark? I don’t understand…
So beyond the shoddy writing and crummy world-building, the icing on the shit sundae is the humor, which basically consists of puns (Jessica Shrimpson! Cod Stewart!) or pop culture references. Lots and lots and lots of them. It’s incredible. From the very start with seeing the coral city, we see ads for GUP, Coral Cola and Fish King. Oscar directly quotes lines from Gladiator and A Few Good Men, we get shout outs to PlayStation and Krispy Kreme, MC Hammer, Pimp My Ride, Goodfellas… they play “Baby Got Back” on a record player, for God’s sakes. Some references come like three or four in a row, they’re relentless and just keep coming. I’d say they feel shoehorned in, but that would apply to every single joke. I think I smirked maybe once or twice, both from Martin Scorsese as Sykes, even though I have no idea what he’s doing in this movie.
Quite terrible. I really can’t think of any redeeming qualities this film has; as bad as an animated movie can get, I can at least usually praise its visuals, but the world in this one is so grungy and uninspired, especially compared to the lush, richness of Nemo. Also the animation is kind of lacking in some spots. It’s just a really empty movie, without any kind of uniqueness or originality, just ripping its premise and its jokes from other sources, hoping the audience will appreciate that they’ve watched the same material and laugh at the fact that they alluded to them.