Shark Bait (2006) / Animation-Adventure
aka The Reef
MPAA Rated: G, suitable for all audiences
Running Time: 78 min.
Cast (voices): Freddie Prinze Jr., Rob Schneider, Evan Rachel Wood, Donal Logue, Andy Dick, Fran Drescher, John Rhys-Davies, R. Lee Ermey
Director: Howard E. Baker, John Fox
Screenplay: Scott Clevenger
Review published February 21, 2007
With the current glut of cutesy 3D-animated features that have been churned out in theaters recently, the thrill is definitely gone. Even so, despite the derivative nature of many of the recent releases, few of them have been so out-and-out bad that I would refrain from recommending it, even to undiscriminating children. Shark Bait (aka The Reef in some markets) certainly is testing the limits. It's easily the worst CG-animated adventure to date, burdened with lame puns (one character is a prominent sturgeon, names are dropped like "Ricky Marlin" and "Harry Codfish Jr.", while phrases like "hold your seahorses" and "check out my mussels" are indicative of the level of the humor), shaky animation, and a story that recycles ideas from other films in a way that you might actually think you've seen it before on your first (and probably last) viewing.
Freddie Prinze Jr. (Shooting Gallery, Scooby Doo 2) provides the voice of a fish named Pi (short for Pisces), who becomes orphaned when his parents get trapped in a fisherman's net, leaving the youngster to learn the ways of the ocean with help from his friends. As he grows older, he develops a crush on a dish of a fish in Cordelia (Evan Rachel Wood, The Upside of Anger), but the wily tiger shark named Troy (Logue, Just Like Heaven) already has his eye on her, and she sacrifices herself in order to keep Troy from making chum out of Pi, and not the friendly form of the word. Now Pi is challenging Troy for the hand (er, fin) of the lovely Cordelia, in a dangerous competition, winner take all.
After Finding Nemo and Shark Tale, you would think another underwater adventure featuring cute fish and rascally sharks would be completely out of the question for the near future. Not only is there little not already covered by those two films in terms of subject matter, but the best of the gags would be among the worst found in its predecessors. The plot itself seems like it is decades old, with the new fish in the reef falling for a girl who belongs to the main bad guy, and only through the teachings of a wise master can he learns the discipline and techniques that will have him winning her, as well as the respect of everyone else, in the end (Um, Karate Kid, anyone?).
Even the one thing that generally saves computer animated features falls far short, with some of the most lackluster character designs and overly simplistic backgrounds. Reportedly, the film is the first low budget feature from the Korean animated studio called DigiArt Productions along with the American studio called Wonderworld, made very cheaply (one source claims it is $10 million, which, as lacking as the animation is, seems utterly ridiculous).
In addition to the visuals, the sound components also fall short. The music is just god-awful, particularly in a recurring gag where Troy the tiger shark bust some half-hearted braggadocio rap with his evil hench-fish backing him up in unison. Even the voice talent is without distinction -- does anyone still get flutters at seeing Rob Schneider (The Benchwarmers, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo), Andy Dick (Employee of the Month, Hoodwinked), Fran Drescher (Cadillac Man, Jack), or Freddie Prinze Jr.'s names attached to any project? More like shudders...
With everything substandard from a production standpoint, the fact that the storyline and dialogue are dead and rotting makes this a thoroughly unpalatable experience for anyone who has seen their share of animated kids fare. I'm not a kid, but I'd wager that toddlers watching Finding Nemo for the hundredth time will still find more entertainment value in that now-classic family film than in their first viewing of Shark Bait. Perhaps the only intention of this little fish entry in an already big pond is to capitalize on enough random kids out there who will confuse it for its better brethren and cajole their parents into a ticket of DVD purchase.
If you're going to make an underwater adventure, why does it always have to feature the same kind of creatures -- sharks, sea turtles, jellyfish and crabs? Why not set things in a freshwater lake full of trout, or a silty river full of catfish? Ah, yes, catfish would be much more appropriate for a film that relies on the refuse of bigger, more interesting productions for its survival. In the world of computer animated feature films, this is a bottom-feeder all the way.
©2007 Vince Leo