Finding Nemo was always one of my favorite movies as a kid. Heck, I still have the DVD now—16 years after the film released. It combined the best in animation with a narrative that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike to create a timeless film about family and adventure.
Shark Tale is an extremely weird film that’s just a mobster film that happens to be underwater with fish as characters. Literally nothing about the narrative required them to be fish, and the quality of the animation didn’t feel worth the $75 million budget. It’s a mediocre film that is forgotten about almost immediately after watching it.
Then we have The Reef.
Now, I’m not referring to the 2010 horror film by the same name. I’m referring to the 2006 animated fish film that is totally original and not ripping off either of the aforementioned movies at all. Nope, it is a 100% original concept that has never before been done. Where did you even get that silly idea?
Sarcasm aside, The Reef or, as it was originally titled, “Shark Bait” is a South Korean film that attempted to ride on the coattails of Finding Nemo and Shark Tale with only a tenth of their budgets. It’s also, unsurprisingly, a bad movie.
I think the first issue I have with the film is the design of the characters.
In Finding Nemo, the fish are all anatomically accurate (mostly), and their movement is done so well that they feel like real fish swimming — despite having human-like faces and talking. The animators pulled this off by spending countless hours researching the movements of fish and water, as well as visiting aquariums, Hawaii and even bringing in an ichthyologist (fish zoologist) to lecture about fish anatomy.
They cared about never bringing viewers out of the world of the film and did the work required to actually pull that off.
In Shark Tale, the fish just act as stand-ins for humans and are much more anthropomorphic than in Finding Nemo. They stand upright and use their fins as arms and legs, and their bodies often move in ways that wouldn’t work in reality. They don’t even really need to swim because they just kind of move around without their bodies supplying the thrust.
The Reef does a weird blend of the two, with the characters looking closer to their real-life counterparts, but their movements not matching up to their motions at all.
They don’t feel unique or stand out in any way except for the protagonist, but he’s just given a top fin to act as hair. Most other characters feel incredibly bland and generic, oftentimes with exaggerated facial features that in the end make them look really bad.
The backgrounds of the film are about 50% bland CGI underwater landscape and 50% painted pictures the characters are in front of. The paintings don’t look bad on their own, but they have a weird contrast with the animated fish in front of them. They look like the backgrounds of the Playstation 1 game “Chrono Cross,” which is sad considering this movie came out the same year as the Playstation 3.
All of the characters in this movie are written terribly, despite how well they are voice acted.
See, this movie has a surprising list of great actors voicing the characters, including Freddie Prinze Jr., Rob Schneider and even John Rhys-Davies (Gimli from The Lord of the Rings). If one actor stands out of those three, it’s Rob Schneider, because he not only does a great job but an awful job as well. How you may ask?
He voiced nine characters in this film.
Yeah, nine characters. With some of them, like the old man turtle, he does an amazing job, but with others (looking at you, pelican) it’s simply like nails on a chalkboard. Somehow, each of the voices feels like an over-blown stereotype and weaker than Schneider intended at the same time.
The humor in this film is severely lacking. The only laughs my friends and I got out of this film were from laughing at the ridiculousness of many of the story events. At the beginning of the film, we made bets on how much of this movie was stolen from the other two, and none of us guessed nearly high enough, because almost every story beat felt unoriginal.
A quick summary would go as such: parents die, raised by British porpoises, fall in love with pink fish, learn shark loves pink fish, meet weird extended family, meet teacher character, MacGuffin is stolen, lose fight, training montage, unnecessary but appreciated story at the theatre, scene that makes villain relatable, big battle where villain is killed by humans, marriage scene with pink fish and hero, happy ending.
Congrats, now you don’t need to even think about watching this film because that’s about as detailed as the plot actually is. It’s an extremely poorly executed hero’s journey, where the growth is extremely specific and characters exist for a single role.
Certain characters are only introduced so they can be used at one specific point at later in the film. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character act as a Chekhov’s gun, but many of the characters in this film do.
I rate movies from 10 to -10, with negative being ironic enjoyment. This movie is a solid -4, because it was awful to sit through, and we could only laugh at the mistakes so much.
It wasn’t that things were done incredibly wrong, because that’s entertaining. It’s a middle of the road film that I would never show to my future kids for fear of scarring them. I really wouldn’t suggest watching this film; it isn’t worth the time or effort. Go watch Finding Nemo again instead.
This week I’d like to shout out my two favorite narrative devices: the MacGuffin and the Chekhov’s gun.
The MacGuffin is the central item to a story and what the hero must either bring into his possession or destroy. Think the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings or the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
A Chekhov’s gun is an item introduced at an early part of a story that is then only used at a pivotal moment later in the story. It came from Chekhov’s belief that if a gun is introduced to the audience in one act, it should be fired by the end of the play in order to not make false promises to the audience.
Once you know to look out for one, they act as a form of foreshadowing to later happenings of a story, though in recent years subverting this trope has led to some great unexpected moments.
This article was originally written for The University of Tennessee’s Daily Beacon’s Bad Movie Showcase.
Editing done by Evan Newell