The movie features anthropomorphic sea animals in an underwater setting, and premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 10, 2004. It was later released on DVD. During production, the movie was titled "Shark Slayer".
Critical reaction and box office
Shark Tale received mixed reviews from movie-goers. Some felt that this was DreamWorks' attempt to copy Pixar's Finding Nemo (even though Shark Tale was already well into production at the time of Finding Nemo's release), and that the movie relied too heavily on dated pop-culture references.
Others felt they couldn't sympathize with Oscar (the protagonist), who had little in the way of redeeming characteristics until the end of the movie. Many fans of the movie felt more concern for the plight of Lenny (the deuteragonist).
Despite the mixed reactions, Shark Tale did well at the box office, generating $160,861,908 in the US and $202,668,288 elsewhere in the world.
Two controversies surrounded Shark Tale. Before the movie was released, groups including the National Coalition Against Racial, Religious and Ethnic Stereotyping (CARRES) and the National Italian American Foundation denounced the film for its use of Italian-American mafia stereotypes. 
Critics of this label point out that, although Lenny behaves in quite an effeminate manner, his sexual orientation simply does not arise one way or the other in the movie. What is true, however, that Lenny's vegetarianism is an excellent allegory for homosexuality – he is initially in the closet, afraid to admit it to anybody and is especially afraid that his father will never accept him for who he is. He wonders if he is the way he is because something is "wrong" with him, and eventually "comes out" by confiding with a friend.
Main characters and cast
- Oscar (cleaner wrasse), the main protagonist of the film. He is a Whale Wash tongue-scrubber and later, the co-manager. – Will Smith
- Lenny (great white shark), the deuteragonist of the film. He is Oscar's best friend, as well as Don Lino's youngest son and Frankie's brother. – Jack Black
- Angie (angel fish), the tritagonist of the film. She is Oscar's love interest and later, girlfriend. – Renée Zellweger
- Don Lino (great white shark), the anti-hero of the film. He is the boss of the Great White sharks, Sykes, the reef, as well as Lenny and Frankie's father. – Robert De Niro
- Sykes (porcupinefish), one of the anti-heroes of the film. He is Oscar and Angie's boss and also founder of Whale Wash. – Martin Scorsese
- Lola (part lion fish, part dragon fish), the true main antagonist of the film. She is a gold digger who wants Oscar just to get his money. – Angelina Jolie
- Ernie (jellyfish), one of the supporting protagonists of the film. He is one of Sykes' henchmen. – Ziggy Marley
- Bernie (jellyfish), one of the supporting, protagonists of the film. He is one of Sykes' henchmen. – Doug E. Doug
- Frankie (great white shark), the secondary antagonist of the film. He was Don Lino's oldest son and Lenny's brother of Lenny. Later in the movie, he gets killed by an anchor while trying to eat Oscar. – Michael Imperioli
- Don Feinberg (leopard shark), one of the supporting, protagonists of the film. He is an old leopard shark. – Peter Falk
- Luca (octopus), one of the supporting, protagonists of the film. He is Don Lino's right-hand man who irritates him often. – Vincent Pastore
Shark Tale takes place in the underwater world of South Side Reef, a crowded metropolis where streams of fish surge between coral skyscrapers, police dolphins deal with traffic chaos caused by an overturned mackerel, lobster-trains scuttle along elevated tracks, and such business as Coral Cola, The Gup, and Old Wavy operate.
One of the inhabitants of the reef is Oscar, a lowly tongue-scrubber who works at Sykes' Whale Wash, where whales move along an assembly line having barnacles removed and their skin and teeth scrubbed clean. Oscar dreams of riches and fame beyond his humdrum life.
Arriving late for work, Oscar finds that he's already punched in on the time clock, and realizes he has been helped out by Angie, the angelfish receptionist and cashier at the Whale Wash with whom he is a close friend. He stops by her office to thank her and chat, and exasperates her with his latest get-rich-quick-scheme: bottled water.
Meanwhile, in a sunken ocean liner off the reef, Whale Wash owner Sykes – a porcupine blowfish – is nervously meeting with Don Lino, a great white shark and head of the reef mafia. Lino explains that he's retiring and is handing over control of the reef to his two sons Lenny and Frank. Sykes can understand the choice of the mean, bullying Frankie, but scoffs at the thought of passive, kind-hearted Lenny running the reef. Lino loses his temper and orders Sykes out, telling him that he'll have to start paying protection money if he doesn't want something to happen to his Whale Wash.
As the day progresses, Oscar bemoans his existence shoveling slime in the gaping maw of an endless line of whales. A prank turns unpleasant when a whale is accidentally hit in the eye with a jet of soap and thrashes about in pain. Oscar closes the emergency clamps to hold the whale immobile and squeegees the soap from the whale's eye, shortly before Ernie and Bernie – two Rastafarian jellyfish, and henchmen of Sykes – arrive and hurl him into Sykes' office. To raise the cash to pay of Don Lino, Sykes is calling in his IOUs and Oscar owes him five thousand clams, to be paid back my tomorrow. Oscar protests that is impossible, but Sykes tells him to bring it to the racetrack tomorrow, or else. As Sykes leaves, Bernie stings Oscar in the eye as a warning.
That evening, Oscar mopes on Angie's balcony as she tends to his swollen eye. She can't understand why Oscar always gets himself into these situations, nor his obsession with trying to live at the top of the reef. Oscar recalls his late father, a tongue-scrubber at the Whale Wash for 25 years. Oscar had always thought that working at the wash was the greatest job anyone could do until he took his father's scrubbing broom to school for show-and-tell, and got laughed at. After that, he desperately wanted to be a somebody. Angie tries to explain to him that he doesn't need to live at the top of the reef to be a somebody, and, feeling sorry for him, she tries to help him out by giving him a pink pearl – a precious gift from her grandmother. Oscar is reluctant to take such a valuable object from her, but Angie insists, saying it will get him the money he needs to pay back Sykes.
In the meantime, the great white sharks are dining on Lino's ship. Don Lino, Lenny, and Frankie occupy a table in the corner. Lino praises Frankie for being a killer, but he expresses concern about Lenny, about whom he has been hearing things. Lino plucks a live shrimp from his shrimp cocktail and demands that Lenny eat it in front of him. Lenny refuses and helps the shrimp escape to freedom out the window. Lino is furious and tells Frankie to take Lenny out to show him the ropes – Lenny is going to learn how to be a shark, whether he likes it or not.
The next day, Oscar has pawned Angie's pearl and arrives at South Side Racetrack with the 5,000 clams. Overhearing two fish discussing how the next race is rigged to allow long-shot seahorse Lucky Day to win, Oscar rashly bets all of Sykes' money on it. The boldness of the wager attracts the attention of gold-digging femme-fatale Lola, half-lionfish, half-dragonfish. When Sykes turns up with Ernie and Bernie, he is livid that Oscar has placed a bet with the money he is owed, and Lola, realizing that Oscar isn't the millionaire she imagined, she quickly loses interest in him, calling him a nobody.
In the race on which Oscar has bet, Lucky Day gets off to a bad beginning when his starting gate jams and doesn't open. However, he manages to smash through it and – astonishingly – not only manages to catch up with the pack but begin to draw ahead. The last length sees Lucky Day and Fishfingers neck and neck, before Lucky Day puts on a burst of speed and pulls ahead. A win for Lucky Day seems certain until he wobbles and trips, tumbling in a heap just short of the finish line. Oscar sees his dreams of begin rich and famous evaporate, and Sykes, inflating in anger, tells Ernie and Bernie to find the deepest, darkest hole in the ocean.
Ernie and Bernie take Oscar out into the wasteland surrounding the reef, and, with Oscar tied to a rock, torture him with their glowy stingers. At the same time, Frankie and Lenny approach from the direction of Lino's ship. Frankie tells Lenny it doesn't come any easier than this, and instructs him to eat Oscar. Ernie and Bernie flee as Lenny approaches. Lenny psyches himself up to eat Oscar, but can't go through with it, and tries to fake it by biting through Oscar's ropes and thrashing his tail to stir up a cloud of silt to hide Oscar's escape. But Oscar is confused by Lenny's attempt to save him, and is still there, looking baffled, as the silt settles.
Frankie declares that he has had it up to here with Lenny, and, with a growl, launches himself after Oscar. Just as Frankie catches up with Oscar, he's unexpectedly hit from above by a falling anchor. Horrified, Lenny tosses the anchor aside and cradles his dying brother. Feeling responsible for what happened, Lenny swims off distraught, leaving Oscar along with Frankie’s body when Ernie and Bernie return. Realizing he can become famous, Oscar lets them believe he killed the shark.
Back at the Whale Wash, Oscar is soon telling an increasingly embellished story about what happened, and soon the media is reporting the story. An interview with reporter Katie Current is interrupted by Sykes, who declares himself Oscar’s manager. Oscar is a little dubious, but he and Sykes agree to a 50/50 partnership.
Things are somber back on Lino's ship as Frankie's funeral is held, attended by members of the Five Families – the great whites, hammerheads, leopard sharks, killer whales (orcas), and swordfish (or sailfish). At the wake afterwards, Don Feinberg, the aging don of the leopard sharks, tells Lino about the Shark Slayer, about whom the word is getting around. Lino determines to find out who this shark slayer is.
In the meantime, Oscar rockets to stardom, and holds a lavish party in his new penthouse apartment at the top of the reef. Angie arrives and Oscar shows her the breathtaking view from his balcony. He seems on the verge of proposing to her when they are interrupted by Lola. Now that Oscar really is a somebody after all, she's determined to make him her own, and leads him away from Angie. Back inside the apartment, there is panic as the cry goes up that there are two great whites on the edge of the reef. Oscar reluctantly leaves to take care of the sharks.
Hiding in a bed of kelp from the sharks – who are out searching for the Lenny – Oscar finds the missing shark also lying low. Lenny begs Oscar to take him home. Oscar is appalled by the notion, but when Lenny learns that Oscar has lied about killing a shark, he blackmails Oscar into helping him, pointing out that if he has to go back to Lino, soon everyone will know what really happened to Frankie.
Oscar reluctantly agrees to help, and hides Lenny in a storage shed near the Whale Wash. Oscar sets a few ground rules, worried about what will happen when Lenny gets hungry. Lenny tells him not to worry, he's different from the other sharks. When pressed for details, Lenny reluctantly admits to Oscar he is a vegetarian. He complains that his father will never accept him for who he is, and piteously whines, "What's wrong with me?". Oscar assures Lenny he wishes all sharks were like him, but then learns Lenny's father is head of the shark mob and realizes how much trouble he is in for taking the credit for Frankie's death.
Panicked, Oscar returns to his now-nearly-empty apartment where Sykes is on the phone trading insults with Lino. Lino asks to talk with Oscar and tells him he's going to tear him fin from fin. After Sykes leaves, Oscar finds Lola has been waiting for him. She assures him that all he has to do is show the sharks who’s boss and they'll leave him alone. With the beginning of a plan forming in his mind, Oscar returns to the storage shed to find Lenny.
What he does find is that Angie has discovered the fugitive shark, and he has confessed everything to her. She is furious that Oscar has lied to everybody, especially her. She tells Oscar to tell the truth and Lenny to go home. Neither like the sound of this, and Lenny devises a plan to stage a public fight in which he "dies", thereby solving both their problems.
The plan begins well, with Lenny terrorizing the reef until Oscar arrives and punches him through a billboard. Things take a slight turn for the worse when Lenny, chasing after Oscar, gets a little enthusiastic and accidentally swallows Oscar whole. Realizing what he has done, Lenny begins to gag, on the verge of throwing up. Oscar, inside Lenny's mouth, calms him down and "forces" open Lenny's jaws in a appearance of superhero-like strength. The chase resumes, and, after being "thrown" through a jumbotron screen, Lenny plummets screaming to his "death" down a crevice. In the aftermath of the fight, Lola sidles up to Oscar and gives him a lingering kiss in front of the television cameras. Angie, watching the live news reports back at the Whale Wash, is scared.
In the storage shed afterwards, Lenny is busily painting himself blue. When his shark snout squashed with rubber bands and his gills hidden behind a scarf of caution tape, he intends to pass himself off as Sebastian the Whale-Washin' Dolphin. When Oscar returns, Angie is furious about Oscar kissing Lola, and asks him if he really believes she would be interested in him if he wasn't rich and famous. Oscar replies that at least she treats him like a somebody, and that no one loved him when he was a nobody. Hurt, Angie yells that she did. Oscar is taken aback, and Angie tells him that, to her, he was a somebody, but now she just sees him as a sham. Oscar tries to mend the situation, but Angie tells him to go away. Oscar leaves sadly, leaving Lenny to comfort a weeping Angie.
Oscar glumly swims around the reef, visiting old familiar places and fondly remembering the fun parts of his simpler life before becoming the Shark Slayer. Returning to his penthouse apartment, he ignores the party going on inside, and, alone, down on the reef from the balcony. He realizes that Angie's right, and when Lola joins him from inside, he tells her that he doesn't think things are going to work out between them. Furious that anyone would dare to dump her, Lola slams him repeatedly against the plate-glass window.
Oscar arrives at the Whale Wash the next day determined to make up with Angie, but he finds out through Sykes that she hasn't turned up to work. A phone call from Luca, Lino's octopus consigliere, reveals that she has been abducted, and that if he doesn't want to see her sleeping with the fishes (the dead ones), he had better present himself at a sit-down in one hour. Oscar resolves to rescue her. Lenny, now working at the Whale Wash in his guise as Sebastian, says he can't just waltz in there and say, "Hi Pop! I'm a dolphin!". Sykes is doubly scared to realize his new employee is Lenny and Oscar isn't a real shark slayer. Oscar muses that the sharks don't know that.
Oscar, Sykes, and the still-disguised Lenny attend the sit-down. Whilst waiting for Lino to arrive, a very nervous Oscar realizes the members of the Five Families are actually terrified of him. Lino enters and regards the fish who has killed both his sons. When he teases Oscar by revealing Angie wriggling on a serving platter, Oscar tries to say he barely knows her. Lola emerges from the shadows and declares he's bluffing, after which Oscar says Lino has nothing, and tells Lenny to take her out – in a flash, Lenny swims down the table and swallows Angie whole (in fact, holding her safe in his mouth). Oscar teases the sharks and he almost gets away with it, but the taste of Angie on his tongue is making Lenny nauseous and he vomits over the meeting table. Hearing Lenny say, "I couldn't take it! The taste was killin' me!", Lino realizes the dolphin at the end of the table is his son. He is bewildered, yet relieved, that Lenny is still alive, then embarrassed about how the situation makes him look in front of his mob underlings, and finally furious that Oscar has not only took Frankie away, but also turned Lenny into a dolphin.
With surprising speed, Lino throws himself at Oscar with the intent of eating him. Oscar escapes from the ocean liner and lures Lino to the Whale Wash, where he tries to trap him in the emergency whale clamp, but in the confusion, he pins Lenny instead. Continuing to play cat-and-mouse with Lino, Oscar eventually traps the great white in the middle of the Whale Wash's various robotic sponges. A gathering crowd, including a TV crew with Katie Current, hails Oscar as a hero once again and lift him aloft, chanting his name. Angie sees everything's going to go on just as before, and, having had enough, begins to swim away. Seeing he's about to lose Angie again, Oscar screams an admission that he isn't a real shark slayer. He explains to Lino that an anchor killed Frankie and that neither he nor Lenny had anything to do with it. Lino can't understand why Lenny would then run away, and Lenny miserably explains it was because he always wanted him to be more like Frankie, and that he could never be the shark he wants him to be. Oscar admonishes Lino, telling him everyone loves Lenny just the way he is, and why can't he? He further tells Lino he shouldn't make the same mistake he has, and lose someone important. Lenny looks hopefully at his father, who relents, and asks to be released so he can forgive his son. Oscar withdraws the traps, and Lino hugs Lenny. As this happens, Oscar is approached by Angie, and he awkwardly tells her than he has realized he didn't need the top of the reef, and everything he wanted was already in front of him. She asks him about being a somebody, and he sheepishly tells her that he's a nobody without her. Angie throws her arms around Oscar and kisses him, to the crowd's approval. After the kiss, Oscar tentatively questions Lino about what will happen to him after this, but Lino, having regained his son, seems willing to call it a truce. Asked by Katie Current what he's now gonna do, having lost everything he lied so hard to achieve, Oscar looks thoughtful.
The movie ends with Oscar now one of Sykes' partners at the Whale Wash. Over a lengthy musical number, we see the Whale Wash workers dancing as they clean the incoming whales. Lenny and Lino arrive and greet Angie in the cashier's booth, telling her they have bought some new customers – the various members of the Five Families. In the closing scene, Oscar and Angie share a kiss atop a revolving sign near the Whale Wash.
Meanwhile, Lola enters the Empty penthouse looking for Oscar (unaware that he's not there) trying to apologize for her actions only to find Crazy Joe there instead.
- Shark Tale at Wikipedia