On the surface, cartoons may seem like merely non-intellectual entertainment for children, but delve a little deeper and inevitably there is a hidden meaning or a message that can apply to everyone. The latest masterpiece Shark Tale from Dreamworks is no exception. It boasts a star-studded cast including Will Smith and Renee Zellweger, but it also sends a message of hope to closeted gay men who live their lives feeling different and out of touch- constantly afraid of their sexual preference disappointing the ones they love.
So, how is Shark Tale a coming out story?
One of the film's main character's, Lenny (voiced by Jack Black) is a sensitive and emotional shark who is in line to inherit the "family business." The only problem is the requirement- It takes a tough killer to run a mob family of great white sharks. As a fish loving vegetarian Lenny doesn't quite fit the bill. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm different from other sharks. You're the first fish I've ever told. I'm sick and tired of keeping it to myself," Lenny emotionally proclaims to leading fish Oscar after disclosing his vegetarianism.
Sound familiar? As the Gay Life Guide I receive dozens of emails a week from men who are in the closet and frustrated because they feel they have to hide to survive. The same as Lenny from Shark Tale. After a failed attempt to force Lenny to eat live shrimp, his father Don Lino disappointingly expresses, "I'm hearing things... When you look weak, it makes me look weak. What's wrong with that kid? Why does he have to be so different" Many parents feel homosexuality makes a man weak and are utterly afraid of the apparent or perceived gossip surrounding their sexuality. It's not unknown that gay men often feel different than other men and are afraid to be themselves.
The similarities between Lenny and some gay men is even more apparent when he cross-dresses as a dolphin. This is not to say all gay men cross dress, but the lengths many go through for acceptance. "Do you have any idea how this looks?" Don Lino continued as he chastised Lenny for dressing like a dolphin. Lenny replied, "I'll never be the shark you want me to be."
Nonetheless, this tale of self-discovery has a happy ending. Main character Oscar is forced to teach Don Lino a lesson about unconditional love, "So your son likes kelp; so he has a fish as a best friend; so your son likes to dress like a dolphin." Of which Don Lino replied, "I love you son. No matter what you eat or how you dress."
Not all stories of people who feel they are "different" or "weak" end with the acceptance of those they love. Shark Tale sends a clear message to a mainstream audience that love and family is more important than the perceptions of others and that being oneself is worth fighting for, without shame or embarrassment.
More on Coming Out: