Director : Andrew Stanton
Screenplay : Andrew Stanton and Bob Peterson and David Reynolds (story by Andrew Stanton)
MPAA Rating : G
Year of Release : 2003 / 2012 (3D Re-release)
Seeing Finding Nemo on the big screen again (now in 3D!) is a pure shot of delight and a reminder of the strength of Pixar’s cinematic vision at its finest. Released at the height of the studio’s initial run of creative output (it followed Toy Story and Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life, and Monster’s Inc.), it remains a strikingly beautiful, wonderfully comedic, and frequently moving testament to the twin powers of faith and family.
The story takes place almost entirely under the ocean, and its first pleasure is its astounding visuals. The depth, dimensionality, and texture of computer were brought to new heights in visualizing a complex underwater world filled with colorful plant and animal life that move and sway with the dexterity and detail of our most fantastic dreams (the addition of 3D is best when highlighting the depth of the watery environs). It’s not so much real as it is hyper-real—the way those of us who have never been to the bottom of the ocean might imagine it to be, both beautiful and terrifying.
The movie opens on a colorful and bustling warm water shelf near Australia, where Marlin (Albert Brooks), a clownfish, loses his wife and 399 of his 400 yet-to-be-hatched eggs to a barracuda. (It’s quite a shocking way to open the movie, and its ripples of sadness resonate throughout the story, intensifying it.) The one remaining egg hatches into little Nemo (Alexander Gould), who Marlin overprotects as a way of compensating for his previous loss (it doesn’t help that Nemo also has a gimp fin, which Marlin uses as an excuse to keep him from doing anything out of his sight).
When Marlin finally allows Nemo to go to school, the little guy is snagged by a scuba diver and finds himself in a fish tank in a dentist’s office that has a tantalizing view of the harbor in Sydney. Marlin, wracked with guilt as only a character with Albert Brooks’ voice can be, is determined to rescue his lost son. He inadvertently teams up with a dotty, short-term-memory-challenged blue tang fish named Dory (voiced to absolute perfection by Ellen DeGeneres, who makes the character so funny-sad that you want to swim out into the ocean, find her, and give her a big hug), and off they go to find Nemo.
Finding Nemo, of course, involves a series of adventures and challenges for Marlin to overcome, which is all the more difficult because he is so afraid of everything. He and Dory first cross paths with a group of sharks who, lucky for them, have banded together to form an AA-type group for sharks who want to resist eating fish (“I am a nice, friendly shark. Not a fish-eating monster. Fish are our friends, not food,” they recite). They later hook a ride on the East Australian Current with a group of sea turtles (the leader is voiced by director and co-writer Andrew Stanton) who are envisioned as a group of adrenaline-junkie surfers. Their travels also include a run-in with a wicked-looking angler fish in the black depths near the bottom of the ocean, tricky navigation through a swarm of jellyfish, and a detour in a whale’s mouth.
Meanwhile, Nemo finds comfort in the dentist’s fish tank with the other captive fish, all of whom were bought at pet stores and yearn for their freedom in the “big blue.” Their leader, Gill (Willem Dafoe), has an elaborate plan to spring them from the tank, which involves Nemo plugging up the tank’s filter. Nemo is in a particular hurry to escape because he knows that, within a few days, he will be given to the dentist’s niece, a horrifying little girl named Darla, whose last pet fish never made it out of the plastic bag because she shook it so hard.
Like the best of Pixar’s films, Finding Nemo works so beautifully because it effortlessly combines humor, feeling, and an important life lesson (in this case, that parents have to trust their children if they are ever to grow up) in such a way that all of the components are in harmony. The jokes are just as important as the emotions, and they often reinforce each other, particularly in developing the relationship between the uptight Marlin and the goofy, free-wheeling Dory. The dialogue by screenwriters Andrew Stanton (who had worked on the scripts for all of Pixar’s previous features), Bob Peterson, and David Reynolds (The Emperor’s New Groove) is fresh and funny, ripe with one-liners and memorable quotes (one wonders, though, how much of Dory’s hilarious dialogue was improvised by DeGeneres).
And, of course, there’s the movie’s look, which is consistently astounding to the point that you want to see it again and again just to marvel at the details. From the play of sunlight on the ocean waves, to the thousands of saw-like notches on the teeth of the Great White Shark Bruce (the name of whom is a little nod to Jaws’ mechanical monster), to the perky freckles that dot Dory’s nose, each frame of Finding Nemo is a visual delight. Along those same lines, credit must be given to the animators for the way they bring such detailed emotions to their characters, especially given the fact that fish have to be among the most inexpressive of all Earth’s creatures. The little arcs of an eyebrow, the turn of a mouth, the slightest movement of a fin all convey a range of recognizable human emotions, which draws us that much deeper into the underwater realm Finding Nemo so exactingly creates.
Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Pixar Studios and Walt Disney Studios