Even when Will Smith isn’t on the screen, he finds a way to draw in an audience. That point is perfectly clear with one of his animated movies, which is once again popular on the Hulu streaming platform, as it has found its way to the #2 position.
Shark Tale is an animated feature starring the vocal talents of Will Smith as Oscar, a bluestreak cleaner wrasse who schemes of being rich but whose schemes always fail. Lenny (Jack Black) is the son of Don Lino (Robert De Niro), a great white shark who leads a mob of criminally inclined sharks. But Lenny is a vegetarian and has no interest in the family business.
Oscar (Will Smith) works at the Whale Wash, where he is called into the office of his boss, Sykes (Martin Scorsese). Seems Oscar is into Sykes for five thousand clams, a debt that Oscar’s good friend Angie (Renée Zellweger) offers to help with. She has a pink pearl that she will gift to him so he can pawn and pay off his debt.
Will Smith as Oscar does so but as he brings the money to the racetrack where he is supposed to meet Sykes, he overhears that the race is rigged. He bets all his money on Lucky Day. This obviously is not going to end well for Oscar as Lola, a seductive female lionfish voiced by Angelina Jolie, tries to seduce him after seeing him drop five thousand clams on Lucky Day. It doesn’t end well as Lucky Day loses, prompting Sykes to call on his henchmen Ernie and Bernie to dispose of Oscar.
Meanwhile, Lenny’s brother Frankie (Michael Imperioli) is tasked by Don Lino to mentor Lenny, make him tough and criminal-like. When Frankie spots Oscar left for dead, he pushes Lenny to eat Oscar. Instead, Lenny frees Oscar (we knew Will Smith would make it). Furious, Frankie goes after Lenny, but an anchor drops from above, killing Frankie. Lenny swims away, leaving Oscar near the dead body. As there were no other witnesses to Frankie’s demise, the fish at the reef believe Oscar to be the “Sharkslayer.”
Oscar’s, much like Will Smith’s, dream of fame and fortune are now at hand. Sykes becomes his manager while Oscar finds himself living the life of luxury at the “top of the reef.”
But unlike Will Smith, fame and fortune for Oscar are fleeting. He has a “Sharkslayer” reputation to live up to, one that he is going to find out is a difficult one to maintain. When Lenny approaches Oscar, begging him to let him stay with him so he won’t have to face his father, Oscar and Lenny scheme to work together to keep Oscar as the Sharkslayer. Like all of Oscar’s previous schemes, this one too doesn’t work out for him.
Like much we have seen from Will Smith in the past, Shark’s Tale is a story of big dreams and acceptance. The film had not only one director nor two, but three directors. Vicky Jenson, Bibo Bergeron, and Rob Letterman directed the tale from a script written by Michael J. Wilson and Rob Letterman.
From a Will Smith perspective, the film was successful at the box office, pulling in $374 million on its $75 million budget, it was not without controversy. The controversy was on two fronts. The first came based on the negative stereotyping of Italian Americans as the film’s antagonists. When the film was released, John Mancini, founder of Italic Institute of America, spoke out against the portrayal of Italian as the criminals/bad guys of the film.
“We’re concerned about what preteens are learning from the outside world,” said Mancini via CBS News. “They don’t associate other groups as criminals, they only know Italians as gangsters. Our goal here is to de-Italianize it.”
In response to his concerns, as well as to others who spoke out, DreamWorks changed the name of one character from Don Brizzi to Don Feinberg. That wasn’t enough in Mancini’s eyes.
The second controversy was raised by the Christian conservative organization, American Family Association. Their claim was that the film was conceived to promote the acceptance of gay rights by kids. In fact, news editor Ed Vitagliano of the AFA Journal warns via Americans United, “It is when Shark Tale turns its attention to Lenny that it veers toward an undercurrent of approval for homosexuality. While it is difficult to prove intent when a film does not explicitly make a character ‘gay,’ the story and dialogue demonstrate an implicit approval of homosexuality.” Does it?
Will Smith is known for his vocal talents when it comes to singing/rapping, but he isn’t necessarily known for using said talents in animated movies. Throughout his career, Smith has only appeared in three animated projects. One came in the 1997 TV series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. The next was Shark Tale and his third was for the feature Spies in Disguise.
The last time we saw Will Smith on the big screen was for the blockbuster Bad Boys for Life. Next up for Smith is King Richard where he plays the father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams. Then Smith has a number of projects lined up that include Emancipation, The Council, Fast and Loose, and the highly anticipated fourth film in the Bad Boys franchise.
Will Smith can be heard in Shark Tale on Hulu. Ignore the controversies and just enjoy the film.