Finding Nemo (2003)
Starring: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Geoffrey Rush
Directed by: Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich
[Originally written March 23, 2005]
I’ll start with the obvious: the outstanding Pixar animation that manages not only to maintain the high standards the studio set with earlier works, but to surpass them as well. Finding Nemo is quite simply the greatest achievement visually in Pixar history. Water is the hardest element for animators to capture, so naturally, they chose a movie that spends about 90% of its time underwater. And does it magnificently. The utter beauty of the candy-coloured universe portrayed deserves all the praise I can think to give it, making it one of those movies you put in the DVD player to show off your TV. I imagine it also makes the movie really fun to watch while high.
However, what Pixar knows and it seems most other big-time animation studios of late don’t, is that it is all well and good to create a visually stunning world, but it don’t mean squat without a story (by all reports, this is the major flaw of recent films like Robots or the Nemo-ripoff Shark Tale). Animation has reached the level artistically that the audience expects the art to be good (unless the film has a sloppier style as an artistic choice), so making a beautifully-looking picture isn’t enough. Animators really have to start with an idea for a story, not just a bunch of sight-gags that compare their animated universe to ours (I’m talking to you Shark Tale, Robots, and even Shrek).
Pixar, which already beats the other studios on visuals, knows this better than most. Finding Nemo starts off with a opener that rivals Bambi for its portrayal of the harsh realities of nature, and then sets about telling the story of the journey of a clown fish trying to reunite with his only son, all the while on a journey of coming to grips with the events of the opening scene. Along the way, we are treated to kinetic action scenes, humour, and eye-popping visuals.
My favourite character in the movie is Dory, the Regal Blue Tang fish voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. She is the sidekick to the father clownfish, Marlin, voiced by Albert Brooks, who gives him all the neurotic nervousness one would expect from an Albert Brooks-voiced clownfish. Dory is a rare sidekick in today’s animated movies in that she is sweet, naive, and unintentional funny, a marked difference from the standard wise-cracking sidekick that has been in practically every animated film since Robin Williams’ Genie from Aladdin (all the way to Robin William’s Fender in Robots). The unintentional humour comes from her lack of short-term memory, or as I like to call it, her fish brain. What a wonderful touch, since fish have something like 6 seconds of memory.
Other standouts are the Willem Dafoe-voiced butterfly fish named Gill, the Allison Janney-voiced starfish named Peach, Barry Humphries (Dame Edna) as Bruce the shark, and Brad Garrett as Bloat the blowfish. I think the film is a classic that is infinitely re-watchable (okay, maybe not infinitely, I’m sure it, as with everything, will grow tiresome upon a child’s inevitable 1000th viewing), one that won’t fade into obscurity due to a billion pop culture references (I’m talking to you Aladdin and Shrek 2).