This hip-hop/mob action comedy set undersea is fast, fresh, fun, and finny — I mean –punny — I mean funny.
Okay, you watch the movie and see if you don’t come out making silly jokes like that. This isn’t a classic like Finding Nemo or Shrek, but it throws so much at you so fast you will be too busy enjoying yourself to notice.
Oscar (voice of Will Smith) is a little fish who dreams of fame and fortune, which seem very far away while he works as a mouth scrubber in a whale wash. He doesn’t notice that Angie (voice of Renee Zellwegger), the pretty receptionist, is in love with him. And he hasn’t been keeping count of all the money he has borrowed from his blowfish boss, Sykes (voice of Martin Scorsese). When Sykes says he needs the $5000 Oscar owes him the next day, Angie gives him her family heirloom pink pearl. Oscar sells it but then, on the way to give it to Sykes at the racetrack, he bets it on a horse. (That’s a seahorse, by the way.) The horse loses.
So, Oscar is in a lot of trouble. Sykes’ Rasta-jellyfish henchmen (voices of actor Doug E. Doug and regge singer Ziggy Marley) take Oscar out to rough him up.
They come across two sharks, tough guy Frankie (voice of “Soprano’s” star Michael Imperioli and his sweet-natured vegetarian brother Lenny (voice of Jack Black). Frankie is supposed to show Lenny how to be a killer, so they can take over the family business from their father, Don Lino (voice of Robert De Niro in full-on Godfather mode). But when Frankie is hit by an anchor, the jellyfish think that Oscar killed him, and he returns home as “The Shark Slayer.” Fame and fortune at last.
Sykes becomes his manager, a flirty glamorpuss named Lola (voice of Angelina Jolie) shows up to share the wealth (literally). Oscar enjoys the high life until the sharks come searching for the “Shark Slayer.” Lenny runs away from home because he cannot be a predator like his father and the other sharks. He and Oscar come up with a scheme to solve both their problems — they will stage a fight. Oscar will pretend to kill Lenny. Then the sharks will be so scared of Oscar they won’t try to come after him. And Lenny can start a new life.
That’s the plan. But it’s not a very good plan, as Lenny and Oscar soon find out.
The plot is nothing special, but the visuals are, with eye-popping color and wonderfully expressive fish faces, hilariously funny and surprisingly touching. The voice talent is top-notch and the animators have managed to bring the essence of the actors to the characters. Don Lido has De Niro’s birthmark on his cheek and Oscar has Smith’s eyes and mouth. There are dozens of gags and pop-cultural references and some bright musical numbers that keep things moving briskly, with a remake of the Rose Royce “Car Wash” song by Missy Elliott and Christina Aguilerra a highlight.
Parents should know that the plot involves the death of one of the characters, the son and brother of two other characters. This may be upsetting to some viewers. The characters are all so vivid that there may be a Bambi-reaction; some viewers may want to become vegetarians like Lenny. There is also some mild peril and tension. In addition, the movie has some mildly crude humor and a bit of schoolyard language. Characters “tag” — spraypaint graffiti — and parents may want to talk about how that behavior is destructive vandalism and illegal.
Parents may also be concerned about what could be perceived as stereotyping of Italian characters as gangsters, because the character names are Italian and some of the actors who play them are associated with “The Godfather,” “Goodfellas” and “The Sopranos.” Children may not understand that these actors are spoofing their other roles and may get the wrong impression, even concluding that an Italian name or accent is an indication of a connection to the mob. Families should discuss the issue of bigotry and the importance of judging people on their actions, not their heritage.
Families who see this movie should talk about why fame and fortune were so important to Oscar. Why was it so hard for him to realize that Lola was not sincere? They should also talk about why it was so hard for Oscar to see how Angie felt about him — and how he felt about her. All probably came from his having a hard time feeling good about himself — why was that hard for him? Families should also talk about how sometimes people like Lenny can have a hard time feeling accepted and loved for who they are. What can friends and family do to support them?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Finding Nemo and A Bug’s Life. They might also like to visit the local aquarium or travel to some of the nation’s best, like Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and the National Aquarium in Baltimore.