Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
"Casablanca" was only 25 years old when I started as a movie critic, but I thought of it as an old movie. "The Godfather," which is behind most of the inspiration for "Shark Tale," is 32 years old, and "Jaws," its other inspiration, is 29 years old. Time slips into the future, and movies still fresh in our hearts are considered by younger audiences to be ancient classics.
Since the target audience for "Shark Tale" is presumably kids and younger teenagers, how many of them have seen the R-rated "Godfather" and will get all the inside jokes? Not a few, I suppose, and some of its characters and dialogue have passed into common knowledge. But it's strange that a kid-oriented film would be based on parody of a 1972 gangster movie for adults. Strange, too, that the movie's values also seem to come from "The Godfather," a study in situational ethics that preferred good gangsters with old-fashioned values (the Corleone family) to bad gangsters who sold drugs. Sure, it would be better for your kids to grow up to be more like Don Vito than Scarface, but what a choice.
The movie is the latest production of DreamWorks Animation, co-directed by Vicky Jenson ("Shrek"), Bibo Bergeron ("The Road To El Dorado") and Rob Letterman. It takes place on an underwater reef where sharks are the local gangsters, and run things from their headquarters on the hulk of the Titanic. Coral formations, undersea debris and vegetation combine to create an aquatic Times Square, and, as in "Shrek 2," real retailers have their Toon equivalents.
The movie doesn't follow the plot of "The Godfather" so much as recycle its characters, and the "Jaws" inspiration gets an early smile when the famous theme music, scary for people, is as inspiring to sharks as the national anthem. The story's hero is Oscar (voice by Will Smith), who works down at the Whale Wash. It's a mob front, run by Sykes (voice by Martin Scorsese), a puffer fish who has extraordinary eyebrows, for a fish. Oscar is deep in debt to Sykes, who assigns a couple of Rastafarian enforcers (Ziggy Marley and Doug E. Doug) to take him on a trip and teach him a lesson he'll never forget.