One of the best films of 2003 was animated and primarily targeted at kids. That may lead some to think less of it, but it is a piece of art that should charm anyone who sits through it. Director Andrew Stanton’s work shows Pixar at its very best, at the peak of its powers. I’ll never look at my fish tank the same way again.
The movie begins somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. That’s the home of a clown fish called Marlin and his young son Nemo. Ever since losing Nemo’s mother and siblings to a barracuda, Marlin has been raising his son to always look out for the danger bound to lurk behind the next corner. If it were up to Marlin, they would never leave the safety of their anemone. But boys will be boys and when Nemo on his first day to school swims a little too far, he is suddenly caught by a diver. Heartbroken but certainly not a defeatist, Marlin sets out on a journey through the ocean to try and find his son. A bewildered blue tang called Dory comes along for the ride. Extremely forgetful, she probably would have named this film “Finding Pesto”.
Meantime, Nemo is taken to a fish tank in a dentist’s office in Sydney where he becomes the key ingredient of a dangerous escape plan hatched by a scarred and cynical butterfly fish called Gill. Danger is indeed lurking everywhere, in the ocean for Marlin and Dory in the shape of sharks, jellyfish and even mines, as well as for Nemo who is going to be a gift for the dentist’s niece, a horrible little sadist.
Different environs but equally seductive
Those dangers are what keep you on the edge of your seat throughout the film, because it is packed with action sequences. When you’re back in a comfortable position you will be laughing hard, not at simple one-liners, but at the hilarious situations these animals get themselves into. What is even more extraordinary is that you will also be quite moved by the darker and emotional facets of the story. We all know that in the end Nemo will be just fine, but we’re not one hundred percent sure because the film did open with his mother being eaten alive. The story is basically pretty conventional, but the writers have done such an excellent job of making us want to fully invest our energy in it.
The beauty of the film is magnificent and the two environs that the animation artists have created, the ocean and the fish tank, look distinctly different (because of the way colors and light are used) but equally seductive. Believable to a certain point, these places are a little too perfect, but this is after all a fantasy and we’re not inclined to reject beauty. Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres make a great couple as Marlin and Dory; the blue tang is especially suited for DeGeneres’s brand of comedy. The supporting cast is just wonderful, not least “Dame Edna” herself, Barry Humphries, as Bruce, the great white shark, who’s struggling to quit eating fish and has joined a group of other sharks who are trying not to fall off the wagon.
The film tries to make a point about friendship and how impossible goals are met whenever people, sorry, animals, learn to help each other. It’s cute but effective and the film avoids sugarcoated traps. Thomas Newman’s music is a lovely accompaniment, but the filmmakers spare us the obligatory Disney song-and-dance numbers. Everyone’s too busy avoiding getting killed and trying to get back together.
The movie easily won the Oscar for Best Animated Film. It deserved a chance to beat The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for Best Picture, period. Some people still consider this art form to be reserved for children, but that’s foolish. This is no less than a masterpiece.
Finding Nemo 2003-U.S. Animated. 81 min. Color. Produced by Graham Walters. Directed by Andrew Stanton. Screenplay: Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds. Music: Thomas Newman. Voices of Albert Brooks (Marlin), Ellen DeGeneres (Dory), Willem Dafoe (Gill), Geoffrey Rush, Allison Janney, Alexander Gould… Barry Humphries, Eric Bana, Brad Garrett, John Ratzenberger.
Trivia: Released again in 2012, in 3D. Followed by Finding Dory (2016).
Oscar: Best Animated Feature Film.
Last word: “By far the biggest challenge was getting the water right. Water has always been a Holy Grail for CG animators because it’s not a fixed medium, it’s constantly shifting and changing. For this film we had to learn how to portray the way that water breaks on the surface of the ocean, and how water would look inside a whale’s mouth. Those were the real money shots. To get that right we researched a lot of ocean-set films and documentaries and then we broke the ocean down into its, like, constituent parts. But there were only a few of those shots. But, for the most part we were shooting down in the deeps, in the void, where water works in different ways. And, again, we had to learn new techniques.” (Stanton, IndieLondon)