The movie has received mostly received mixed-to-negative reviews from moviegoers and critics alike and has even gone down as one of Dreamworks' weakest films.
In Reef City, an underachieving bluestreak cleaner wrasse named Oscar fantasizes about being rich and famous while making his way to work as a tongue scrubber at the local Whale Wash, a job in which he is following in his father's footsteps. Soon after arriving he is called to the office of his boss, a pufferfish named Sykes, to discuss the fact that he owes "five thousand clams" and has to pay it back by the next day. After explaining this to his angelfish best friend (although way omre of his love interest than sister figure) Angie, she offers him a chance to pay back the money by pawning a pink pearl that was a gift from her grandmother. Oscar brings the money to the race track to meet Sykes, but becomes distracted by his dreams of grandeur. Upon hearing that the race is rigged, he places it all on a long-shot bet by the name of "Lucky Day". Such a million dollar bet is noticed nearby by a beautiful lionfish named Lola, who flagrantly seduces an excited Oscar, but Oscar is disappointed when she leaves upon learning that he is a whale washer. Sykes is furious that Oscar bet the money but nonetheless agrees to see how the race turns out. Moments before their "horse" "Lucky Day" crosses the finish line, he trips and falls on the line. The race is lost and Oscar is set to be punished in a secluded area for his impulsiveness.
Meanwhile on another side of the ocean in the wreck of the RMS Titanic, a family of criminally-inclined great white sharks has a problem with one of their sons Lenny who is a vegetarian. Lenny refuses to act the part of a killer and wishes to not have to live up to those expectations. His crime lord father Don Lino orders Lenny's more savage big brother Frankie to tutor Lenny in the family business. After the two sharks depart their father, Frankie sees Oscar being electrocuted by Sykes' two jellyfish enforcers Ernie and Bernie and sends Lenny off to attack. The jellyfish spot Lenny and flee leaving Oscar alone with him. Instead of attacking Oscar, Lenny frees him upsetting Frankie who becomes annoyed and charges at Oscar. Frankie is killed however when an anchor falls on him. Lenny flees, overcome with grief and guilt. As no other witnesses were present and Oscar was seen near the body, everyone comes to believe that he killed Frankie, an opportunity that Oscar decides to exploit for fame.
Oscar returns to the city with a new title of "Sharkslayer". Sykes becomes his manager, Lola becomes his girlfriend, and Oscar moves to the "top of the reef" to live in luxury. At the same time, Don Lino has everyone out looking for Lenny. When several sharks get close to Oscar's neighborhood, Oscar's neighbors expect him to drive them away. When Oscar runs into Lenny, Lenny (who does not wish to return home) forces Oscar to let him stay with him since he is aware of Oscar's lie. Soon, Angie finds out about the lie and threatens to tell everyone. Oscar and Lenny convince her to keep quiet, though she is heartbroken by Oscar's dishonesty. Oscar's situation is not helped by the shallow Lola, who indicates to him that her interest in him extends only as far as he remains famous. With Don Lino planning revenge, Oscar and Lenny stage an event in which Lenny pretends to terrorize the town and Oscar must defeat him throwing him into the depths of the ocean. Though this further cements Oscar as 'Sharkslayer", it greatly angers Don Lino. Oscar leaves Lola for Angie after Angie reveals that she had feelings for Oscar even before he became famous, but this leaves the rebuffed Lola determined to get revenge.
Oscar buys some Valentine's Day gifts for Angie, but before he can present them to her, he finds that Don Lino has kidnapped Angie to force a sit-down. Lenny comes along now disguised as a dolphin named Sebastian. They arrive at the meeting to find Lola next to Don Lino, while Angie is tied up and gagged and presented to Don Lino on a plate who prepares to eat her if Oscar does not comply. Lenny grabs Angie into his mouth, but later regurgitates her. When Don Lino realizes that "Sebastian" is really Lenny, he chases Oscar through the reef. Oscar heads for the Whale Wash and ends up trapping both sharks. He is given an ovation by the other fish, but Oscar confesses that he is not a "Sharkslayer" and that it was a falling anchor that killed Frankie. He then tells Don Lino that everyone likes Lenny for who he is strongly urging him not to prejudge people before he knows them properly and to not make the mistake he made in prejudging his wealth. Realizing that Oscar is right, Don Lino apologizes to Lenny and reconciles with him while making peace with Oscar, stating that he and his gang bear him no ill will. Oscar forsakes all the wealth he has acquired, makes peace with the sharks, becomes co-manager of the Whale Wash (now frequented by sharks, killer whales, and swordfish), and starts dating Angie and enjoys a happy, honest life.
During the credits, Lola trying to find Oscar in the "top of the reef" wanting to make amends with him for what she did. All she finds is a hermit crab named Crazy Joe, one of Oscar's friends, waiting for her.
- Oscar is an unlikable main protagonist.
- Shark Tale is a rip-off of Finding Nemo.
- Poorly-written humor (as well as some stronger humor).
- The characters have creepy facial expressions. It is distressing to most people that the faces of the characters resemble their voice actors (not as much on the sharks, but still!)
- The backgrounds are not very creative.
- Over-use of pop culture references and puns.
- This movie doesn't even have to be underwater because the characters act like normal people.
- Badly-written and unlikable characters (and some tolerable-at-worst characters such as Lenny, Don Lino, Katie Current, Sykes, Ernie & Bernie, Missy Elliot & Christina Aguilera as fish and Mrs. Sanchez).
- Cliché story.
- It has unoriginal aspects.
- It can't seem to decide whether or not it's for kids, as it constantly vacillates between juvenile humor and pop-culture references that only adults would get. Not to mention an ending that tries to have a very adult moral about tolerance, but got bogged down by the constant juvenile humor, therefore not treating the issue with any measure of dignity.
- Sub-par voice acting. The use of celebrity voices was pointless and only for money. The only good ones are Martin Scorsese as Sykes, Robert De Niro as Don Lino, Ziggy Marley as Ernie, Doug E. Doug as Bernie and Jack Black as Lenny.
- The movie even makes references from R-rated gangster movies such as "Goodfellas" and "The Godfather" (in a kids movie!)
- In fact this movie could be classified as a generic gangster movie, except with humans replaced with fish and the movie taking place underwater instead of above ground.
- Also, the film's main villain seems very similar to Vito Corlone from "The Godfather" in some ways. How original! Also, can we point out that his name is Don? (Don Corlone)
- Its humor is mostly weak.
- Oscar puts his friends in danger which actually does not solve problems.
- Its original soundtrack is a combination of rock, hip-hop and real pop in the late 20th Century performed by very talented, catchy musicians.
- Oscar's has a few "cool" ghetto sayings such as "dawg", "brother from another mother", "yo", "doo" and "old-school".
- Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese do pretty good job in this.
- It has fun action scenes.
- Oscar/Will Smith can sing.