Finding Nemo (2003)

reviewed by
Laura Clifford


Marlin (Albert Brooks, "The In-Laws") is a sad and wary clown fish after having lost his wife and 299 unhatched babies to a vicious barracuda at the edge of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The one child saved, Nemo (Alexander Gould, "They") has an unformed fin, so dad is doubly overprotective of the lad. On the first day of school, Nemo's embarrassed and challenged by his father's hand-wringing in front of his classmates and rashly swims out to a boat in deep water where he's promptly scooped up in a diver's net. Distraught, Marlin sets out after the boat, picking up an unlikely companion, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres, "EDtv"), a blue tang with short term memory loss, on his way to "Finding Nemo."

Disney's "Pinocchio" meets "Memento" in the latest charming, computer animated film from executive producer John Lasseter's Pixar. "Finding Nemo" doesn't reach the heights of "Toy Story" or "Monsters, Inc." because of a more familiar storyline, but its underwater marvels and fish tank politics will keep audiences alternating between delight and dread when they're not helpless with laughter.

Marlin presents his wife Coral with their new pink anemone home at the edge of a drop off and she accepts his embrace of the grandeur of the ocean. After the deep issues tragic danger, though, Marlin is practically paralyzed with fear, rarely venturing far from safety. His excitement of vast possibilities is reborn when Nemo gets his first look at the big blue, but Nemo's curiosity ironically lands him in a the fish tank of a dentist's office overlooking Sydney Harbour.

Meanwhile Marlin's anguished panic is offset by the spirited optimism of Dory, even if she can't quite remember what they're doing from one minute to the next. The duo will face a trio of sharks, underwater mines, deep sea angler fish, the Eastern Australian Current and the belly of a whale. And that's just before a series of surface adventures begin. Even though he's confined to a tank, Nemo must be indoctrinated by swimming through a 'ring of fire' at the summit of Wannahawkaloogie and brave an escape mission within the tank's filtration system before his own literal fish-out-of-water experiences.

Pixar animators went the Disney route in their study of fish to capture natural movement. This is exhibited in large scope by the darting of schools of silvery fish and in detail by the gradual blackening of Bruce the shark's eyes when he smells prey. Lasseter describes three different textures used for the fish bodies as "gummy, velvety and metallic" and while the fish look sensational underwater, they have the unfortunate cast of vinyl when shown on the surface. Supervising technical director Oren Jacobs defines lighting, particulate matter, surge and swell, murk and reflections and refractions as the properties that make water look like water and Pixar delivers. Directors of photography Sharon Calahan and Jeremy Lasky have developed a complex and beautiful lighting scheme to recreate the sensation of snorkeling on a sunlit day. Composer Thomas Newman ("Road to Perdition") delivers an aural backsplash that never overwhelms the visuals.

As usual, vocal talents have been meticulously cast. Brooks appears as a worrywort dad for the second time in as many weeks, but he's much better matched here with DeGeneres, who is "Finding Nemo's" biggest catch. The concept of a fish with short-term memory loss sounded dubiously annoying, but DeGeneres just swims off with it. Her infectious good nature and naive screw ups are made totally endearing. Then, there's that whale singing... Other denizens of the deep include Barry Humphries (a.k.a. Dame Edna) as Bruce and fellow Aussies Eric Bana ("Black Hawk Down") and Bruce Spense ("Dark City")as his hammerhead and mako self-help buddies, director Stanton as surfer-dude-speak sea turtle Crush and John Ratzenberger ("Toy Story") as an entire shape-shifting school. The tank is ruled by Willem Dafoe's ("Spider-Man") Gill, a maimed moorish idol who yearns to return to the sea and his more satisfied pet store inhabitants Brad Garrett (TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond") as puffer fish Bloat, Austin Pendleton ("A Beautiful Mind") as Gurgle, a worried royal gramma, Vicki Lewis ("Pushing Tin") as damselfish Deb and Allison Janney ("The Hours") as Peach, the tank's lookout starfish. Comic amusement is provided by Stephen Root ("Office Space") as a yellow tang that obsesses over tank bubbles and Joe Ranft ("A Bug's Life") as Jacques the fastidious cleaner shrimp. Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush ("Frida") is a helpful pelican who connects the two different worlds. Nine year old Alexander Gould has just the right amount of pluck for the voice of Nemo.

"Finding Nemo" finds some familiar elements from past Pixars. Darla, the dentist's bratty niece who may be Nemo's destiny, is a female replay of "Toy Story's" Sid while the colorful fish tank accessories evoke the 1989 short which precedes the film, "Knick Knack." But the expert storytellers at Pixar are still unsurpassed in the genre, as evidenced by their clever, elevating use of the bathroom joke with a juvenile octopus who squirts black ink when scared, the bubble from an underwater explosion being misinterpreted by one of a pair of pelicans floating on the surface and a couple of crabs battling over waste from a water treatment plant. The message in this delightful family entertainment even addresses both parent and child. Dory spins Marlin's vow to never let anything happen to Nemo into a pronouncement of an existence devoid of experience, while Nemo learns that his fearful father's love will endure any danger.

"Finding Nemo" is a colorful, suspenseful and fun two-fold family adventure.


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