Now kids are, as F. Scott Fitzgerald might say, different from you and me. Improbable antics are the stuff of kids' animated films. Kids often see what looks like violence as funny, at least in cartoons. Cars fly off the road, barnyard animals suddenly take wing over a pasture, animals talk and bop each other in the head. To all of this, children laugh and their eyes widen. Yet kids do not think very much about gangsters or the possible ethnicity of gangsters. When Spielberg makes all the bloody sharks in "Shark Tale" gangsters with Italian-American names and slang, one has to wonder what he is up to.
In "Shark Tale" he has one shark, Lino, praising violence when Lino says of a son, "Your brother Frankie, now he's a killer. He's beautiful. He does what he's supposed to do." And a sense of the colossal brutality of the film is conveyed in a hammerhead shark, Giuseppe the Hammerhead, uttering: "May whoever did this die a thousand deaths. May this stinking, maggot-covered corpse rot in the fiery depths of hell." Aside from the fact that it is unlikely that a "maggot-covered corpse" is going to appear under an ocean, this language is a bit too vivid for young people, no?
In a March 9, 2004, New York Times article, Spielberg wrote, "We are in a race against time for the conscious mind of the young." He went on to inveigh against "the dangers of stereotyping, the dangers of discrimination, the dangers of racial and religious hatred and vengeful rage."
Fine, so how do we explain the excesses of "Shark Tale"? Well, there is something a little flafla about Hollywood, though I hope the Hollywoodians will not consider that stereotyping. They commit a lot of excesses that strike me as hypocritical. But let them consider this: Transforming sharks into Italian-American Mafiosi is not amusing, even to the young. It is not entertaining. Spielberg might have made a lot more money if his sharks were, what might we call it, ethnically neutral?