FINDING NEMO **** (out of ****) a film review by Richard A. Zwelling
Holy crap! Of course I'll say more, but that just about sums up my feelings about this stunning, exciting, touching, thrill ride of a film that completely blasted past all expectations I had.
This is the fifth film that marks a collaboration between Pixar animation studios and Walt Disney Pictures (past entries include the Toy Story films, Monsters Inc., and A Bug's Life). Upon each viewing, it was apparent to me that the films were only improving with each new effort. The last of the four, Monsters Inc., was one of the most enjoyable and purely fun films of 2001, and a work of CG animation that I found far more satisfying than Dreamworks' more popular and critically successful Shrek.
Fans of the Pixar films will be delighted to know that the trend has not stopped. Monsters Inc. is a great movie; Finding Nemo is better. Shocked? I was too. Being a critic, I must have a cynical side, a keen detector for flaws. I must not get sucked into the film and let it blindside me. Oooooh…pretty fishies!
As good as the animation has been in the Pixar films, this one boldly outshines them all to a stunning degree. Sting rays, sharks, whales, and even jellyfish are simulated to such an incredible degree of accuracy that the film, quite simply, overtakes you. The colors are bright, bold, and vivid. The moment the film maroons you in this vast undersea world, you cannot escape it….you are there.
Alert! Alert! "Flashy CGI equals sacrifice of story," Mr. Cynic says. "Not so with Finding Nemo," I proudly retort back. The story is relentlessly engrossing with a host of three-dimensional characters (as well as some obligatory types and comic relief). The kids will love this film, but the adults will have much to savor as well.
Nemo (Alexander Gould) is not a good swimmer by nature. He has one disproportionately underdeveloped fin that impairs his ability to swim normally. His father Marlin (Albert Brooks) is terrified for him to excessive degrees. The term "overprotective parent" doesn't do him justice, even though his fear is understandable, considering past events. Through a series of mishaps, Nemo is lost from the colony he lives in, and Marlin must begin a frantic quest through the deep, unknown recesses of the ocean.
Along the way, he meets an energetic, but slightly forgetful fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a companion who he detests at first, but gradually grows accustomed to. Down the road, their bond predictably enhances, but through the outstanding script by Andrew Stanton (who also has a directing credit), the bond goes beyond merely avoiding clichés…it shines with a radiant authenticity that reflects upon the characters' strengths and weaknesses to its maximum degree.
Alert! Alert! "Yeah ok fine, so it's a well done story, but the comic relief is always predictable and low brow," interjects Mr. Cynic. "Wrong again!" I shout back. This movie is funny. I don't mean just slightly funny or cute funny. There were at least five or six times when I audibly broke into laughter (along with many of my fellow viewers). There is snappy, witty dialogue. There are clever one-liners. There are recurring comedic motifs. And perhaps coolest of all, there are a ton of references to other movies, and not just Pixar films, although there are those too. Look for references to The Shining and Psycho for starters. In addition, there is a less mirthful moment in the film that echoes Bambi. And anyone familiar with Pixar films doesn't need to know the following, but, stay after "The End" flashes across the screen! More fun stuff happens!
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, but was there a standout performance?" asks Mr. Cynic. "No, there was not one," I answer, "there were several." My personal favorite was DeGeneres, but there is also a great supporting role voiced by Willem Dafoe. In addition, Marlin and Nemo are continuously well-portrayed by Brooks and Gould respectively. In terms of pure acting, I found the most enjoyable scenes to be the interactions between Marlin and Dory. They are at once humorous and fun, but can also be extremely touching and thoughtful.
"Well, alright, but c'mon, it's a kids film! There must have been some ill-fated tumble into trite, disgusting, maudlin syrup," boasts Mr. Cynic. "Not a once," I say, not believing that I'm saying it. The more emotional moments of the film are so involving and so undeniably genuine that at times I felt overwhelmed with a desire to cheer, cry, or just smile.
I cannot overstate how wonderful a motion picture this is. It is thematically rich. It is consistently funny. It is unfalteringly genuine. It made me leave the theater feeling incredibly bittersweet, reveling in awe at the experience I just had, but reluctant to leave the wondrous world I had inhabited for almost two hours.
To date, Finding Nemo is my favorite film of 2003.
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