The original title for the movie was "Sharkslayer," but it was changed to "Shark Tale" about a year before release, because Jeffrey Katzenberg thought the title might scare families away (the title still appears in some early promotional material). The change is clear in the movie, as in the song before the credits, the singers interlock between calling the movie "Sharkslayer" and "Shark Tale."
According to Hans Zimmer, he told Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg that he could not deal with any more epic films, but wanted to do a fun animated movie instead, and so he got the chance to compose for this film.
During the end credits, Crazy Joe, the hermit crab, taps on Head of Artistic Development Frank Gladstone's name and yells out, "What! You see this guy? He hardly worked on the movie at all! Always on the phone yakking yakking yakking."
Ernie the Jellyfish (Ziggy Marley) sings the song "Three Little Birds", a song written by Ziggy's father, Bob, with the small difference of Ziggy changing "birds" to "fishes" in keeping with the film's aquatic theme.
When Oscar (Will Smith) goes to the time clock, there is a note on the wall saying, "If you don't come in Saturday, don't bother..." This is a reference to a famous memo Jeffrey Katzenberg sent to executives while he was with Disney.
Classifying the characters in terms of species, Oscar (Will Smith) is a bluestreak cleaner wrasse (which explains his whale-cleaning status), Angie (Renée Zellweger) is a marine angelfish, Sykes (Martin Scorsese) is a porcupinefish, Lola (Angelina Jolie) is a lionfish, Don Feinberg (Peter Falk) is a leopard shark, and Crazy Joe (David P. Smith) is a hermit crab.
The Castilian Spanish dubbing of this movie is considered by the Spanish audience to be one of the worst dubbing ever made in Spain. At that time, the Spanish television show Aquí no hay quien viva (2003), was a big hit. So, the distributors decided to used some of the actors and actresses from that show (some of them with no dubbing experience) to do the voices of some of the characters. Fernando Tejero dubbed Oscar, María Adánez dubbed Angie, and Santiago Ramos dubbed Sykes. Also, actor and actress (not from the original show) José Sancho and Natalia Verbeke, were in the cast as Don Lino and Lola, and also television journalist and host Mercedes Milá as Katie Current. The audience criticized Tejero's performance as Oscar the most. This happened again a couple of years later with Over the Hedge (2006).
Anthony Anderson was cast as a sperm whale, but the role's suggestive dialogue got his character cut down. Anderson had only a few non-risqué lines, when the whale meets Angie, and when Oscar cleans the whale's eye.
There are nods throughout the movie that sharks' den is the wreck of the R.M.S. Titanic. However, the outside and interiors of the shipwreck are based on the S.S. Normandie, a French ocean liner of the 1930s. Particular examples are, the scenes at the bar, when Don Lino (Robert De Niro) and Sykes (Martin Scorsese) meet for the first time, and the dining room, where the sitting is set.
The American Family Association, a Christian conservative organization, raised concerns about this movie, suggesting that it was designed to promote the acceptance of gay rights by children. Primarily, by having Lenny, who is a vegetarian shark, and his struggles, as an allegory for the struggles gay men go through with their homosexuality.
In the film's early stages of production, James Gandolfini was considered for the voice of Don Lino, Christopher Walken was considered for the voice of Luca the Octopus, and Sacha Baron Cohen was considered for one of the Jellyfish. Cohen voiced King Julian in the Madagascar film franchise, also from DreamWorks Animation.
Don Feinberg (Peter Falk) was originally called Don Brizzi. Bowing to pressure from the Italic Institute of America, an organization protesting Hollywood's stereotyping of Italians as mobsters and gangsters, DreamWorks agreed to change the name of the character to Don Feinberg just before release.
After Oscar (Will Smith) "defeats" Lenny (Jack Black) in their staged fight, the crowd starts chanting, "Oscar, boma ye!" Smith was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Muhammad Ali in Ali (2001). The climax of the film depicts the legendary "Rumble in the Jungle" match against George Foreman, including the crowd's famous chant of "Ali, boma ye."
Only DreamWorks Animation film where the cast names of major characters in the film are listed at the start and the end outside of the credit crawl (though the end features six other cast members than at the start). Other DreamWorks Animation films either have it being shown the latter way or the former way.
During the staged fight scene between Oscar and Lenny, Lenny accidentally catches Oscar in his mouth. Oscar slowly opens Lenny's mouth to demonstrate his strength. After doing so, he spouts off a few famous movie lines, one being, "You had me at hello." This line is a reference to Jerry Maguire (1996), and it was spoken by Renèe Zellweger, who was the voice of Angie in this movie. In the film, Angie has a very subtle reaction to this line in particular, a small nod to her former role.
This film received negative reception for the reasons that the characters in the movie looked a lot like their voice actors and actresses, there were jokes that made no sense, and there was a mean spirited environment, Oscar was being a complete jerk towards most of the characters in the film, and acted like a bad person in general, there were a lot of stupid attempts at comedy, and DreamWorks made this film dark, due to some characters dying on-screen, and using that as dark comedy that frightens younger audiences.
Brittany Murphy, Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Angela Bassett, Marilu Henner, Dana Reeve, Bette Midler, Katharine Isabelle, Carol Ann Susi, Jan Hooks, Peta Wilson, Natasha Richardson and Lynda Carter were considered for the role of Lola.
John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Gene Wilder, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, John Neville, Austin Pendleton, Barry Humphries, Jay Leno, Steve Zahn, Don Knotts, John Jarratt, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rowan Atkinson, Simon Callow, Edward Hibbert, Eddie Deezen and Dominic Chianese were considered for the role of Sykes.
With Lola forming an alliance with the sharks during the climax to get revenge for being dumped, as part of her tougher side, this makes her the first character in a DreamWorks Animation film to be a hidden secondary antagonist.