The folks at Pixar Films, responsible for some of the most imaginative
and visually astounding animated efforts of the last decade (1995's
"Toy Story," 1999's "Toy Story 2," 2001's "Monsters, Inc"), can't
seem to miss. If not for them, distributor Disney would have very
few remarkable recent releases (not counting Hayao Miyazaki's 2002
anime masterpiece, "Spirited Away," which they picked up after the
fact and intentionally buried at the box office).
Disney and Pixar's latest collaboration, the marvelously entertaining
and wondrous "Finding Nemo," surpasses everything they have made in
the past to achieve undoubted "modern animated classic" status. The
secret of Pixar's success has nothing to do with their inventive plots
or lovely animation, although that may be part of it. No, the reason
the "Toy Story" series, for example, have really won over so many
widespread fans is that they do not pander to or look down upon their
audience. With Pixar, there are no age limits to enjoying their motion
pictures, and each film is universal and truthful in its themes. They
also happen to be quite funny. There is no better example of all of
these characteristics than "Finding Nemo."
Set in the boundless and awesome world of undersea creatures, Marlin
(voiced by Albert Brooks) is a neurotic clownfish who has been overprotective
of his young son, Nemo (Alexander Gould), ever since his wife was
killed in a run-in with a barracuda. When Nemo disobeys his dad by
venturing out too far into the open and is captured by a human undersea
diver, Marlin sets out on a desperate search to save him with nothing
to go by but an address on a pair of lost goggles. Joining Marlin
on his quest is a short-term memory-impaired blue tang named Dory
(Ellen DeGeneres), whom he forms a trusting friendship with despite
her forgetting things every two minutes. Meanwhile, Nemo finds himself
in a salt water tank at a dentist's office in Sydney, Australia, threatened
to be adopted within days if he doesn't find a way to escape back to the ocean.
Under the writing-directing helm of Andrew Stanton (1998's "A Bug's
Life") and his top-notch crew of computer animators, "Finding Nemo"
is both a genuinely touching story of a father and son and an utterly
beautiful oceanic travelogue. On the former account, the parent-child
relationship between Marlin and Nemo is understated, realistic, and
winning. Nemo was born with an abnormality in which one of his fins
was smaller than the other, but yearns to be treated like everyone
else, making friends and going to school. In frustration with his
strict father, Nemo's last words to Marlin before he is fishnapped--"I
hate you"--are filled with bitterness and the kind of anger that only
comes when you actually love someone as much as Nemo and Marlin love
each other. Their movie-long struggle to find each other and rekindle
their relationship is deeply involving and always exciting.
Marlin and Dory travel far and wide within their ocean home as they
breathe in the sights and come into contact with a number of delightful
characters: three sharks who hold a sort of AA meeting that has nothing
to do with drinking alcohol and everything to do with eating fish;
a school of fish able to form elaborate shapes and give them directions
to Sydney; and a group of traveling turtles. The CG animation is as
good as any seen since 2001's "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within"--colorful,
textural, sumptuous, detailed, and filled with complete wonder. Mixing
accuracy with an understandable artistic license, the underwater world
has never been seen quite like this before onscreen. The scenes set
on land--featuring Sydney's famous lovely landscape--are just as amazingly rendered.
As the distraught and increasingly brave Marlin, Albert Brooks' voice
work is sterling, giving him the chance to stretch his dramatic muscles
while being given a number of his usual sharp comic barbs. He may
never be seen in the flesh, but Brooks' performance is every bit as
accomplished as his work in the recent "The In-Laws" is wasted. As
Dory, who would be surprisingly smart if not for her memory impairment,
Ellen DeGeneres (1999's "Ed TV") is the easy standout. DeGeneres,
whose flagging career should deservedly get a boost from her work
here, is funny and endearing when, in the wrong hands, the role could
have become annoying. Together, Brooks and DeGeneres make an unforgettable team.
At 101 minutes, "Finding Nemo" whisks by in a sea--pardon the unintended
pun--of endless originality and narrative resourcefulness and doesn't
come close to ever overstaying its welcome. It has the ability to
make you laugh, and make you cry--tears that are earned by real emotions
and no hint of mawkishness. Special note should also go to the clever
end credits, played to the atmospheric classic tune, "Beyond the Sea,"
covered by Robbie Williams. When all is said and done, "Finding Nemo"
is superlative family entertainment, joyous and alive in a way few films are.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman