Finding Nemo
review by Elias Savada, 30 May 2003

Yes, Finding Nemo is another filmed-on-location animated beauty, teeming with incredible underwater production values, saturated with tropical colors, swimming with noble spirit, and awash with whimsical delight. Andrew Stanton, a CGI veteran on all four Pixar/Disney features and now first time director and co-writer, continues the grand, award-winning and critically acclaimed tradition that has made the Toy Story films, A Bug's Life, and Monsters, Inc. instant comedy classics from the universe's (i.e., to infinity and beyond) greatest animation partnership. Every impish blink, every adorable dimple, every marvelously rendered drop of water, every shadow-encrusted fleck of plankton, every computer generated pixel, every heartfelt blemish, and nearly every line of finely-etched dialogue combine to make number five an aquatic treasure that will make Disney CEO Michael Eisner seriously consider the economic consequences should his company not quickly renegotiate a renewal of its distribution relationship with the incredibly hard-working and triumphant boys and girls of Emeryville, California. Coupled with its predecessors' blockbuster status, Nemo will easily push the total world-wide ticket sales for Pixar-produced/Disney-released works to over $2 billion.

It's obvious that the creative talent behind this film has found inspiration in some of Disney's own legendary library. Finding Nemo opens with a barracuda attack that leaves one cold-blooded creature a grieving widower and his future family of over 400 roe decimated save for one single egg. It's a tragic, Bambiesque moment, but the audience is not allowed to wallow in despair for more than a few seconds, although the event does delineate the lone adult survivor's feature-length anxiety as a single, over-protective parent of a rambunctious, school-age offspring. Who better to play the Nervous Nellie clownfish than the eternally-anxious Albert Brooks! His son, the eponymous Nemo, is filled with fearless determination, despite a stumped appendage (or "lucky fin" as his father constantly refers to it) by 9-year-old Alexander Gould.

In a clamshell, Finding Nemo is the first underwater road movie. The basic set-up is that Nemo, while on a school field trip to the edge of his neighborhood, has been netted by a scuba-diving dentist. His dad, Marlin, chases after the butt, er boat, that will land the youngster in an office aquarium full of its own idiosyncratic briny prisoners gloriously intent on escape to fresher waters. The film cross-cuts between the two settings: the larger Great Barrier Reef, filled with glistening shark teeth, a dangling platoon of stingy pink jellyfish. a whale-size gulp right out of Pinocchio, and a darkly hypnotic angler fish; and the methodical break out plans hatched by the glassed-in denizens.

Easily, the pearl of this ambitiously animated cast is Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, a "naturally" blue tang fish who suffers from short term memory loss. Dory's every utterance, every sublimely comic expression raises the ocean's comedy level a few more inches. This ditsy, cock-eyed optimist literally collides with the self-doubting Marlin and the odd couple begin a yin-yang excursion for the pint-sized Nemo (or Elmo or whatever Dory forgetfully calls him). Millions upon millions of gallons of comic potential are thus mined as they adventure forth.

Now, while we ostensibly have three stars, the rest of the vibrant cast provides a salty froth of comic foam. It's not only that the voices register so well, but how they do so within the merry, mixed-ups caricatures that Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, and David Reynolds have written into the "roles." Let's talk a deeper look.

Barry Humphries (a.k.a. Dame Edna), Eric Bana, Bruce Spence are three sharks undergoing anger management therapy. (Four years in production, how coincidental that Anger Management bypassed Nemo in hoisting the amusing flag of this fretful condition upon us.) "Fish are friends, not food," is their mantra. (There's also a great in-joke here for fans who recollect the production name given to the title character in Jaws.) Allison Janney (West Wing) is Peach, an ebay-purchased starfish and one of the half-dozen guests in that Sydney aquarium. Others include Bloat (Everybody Loves Raymond's Brad Garrett), a emotionally-triggered blowfish; Bubbles (King of the Hill's Stephen Root), a effervesce obsessive yellow tang; Newsradio's Vicki Lewis is Deb, a black-and-white damsel fish caught in a reflective tug-of-war with herself; Gurgle (Austin Pendleton), a bacillophobic royal gramma; Jacques (Joe Ranft) a French cleaner shrimp; and their brooding leader Gill (Willem Dafoe), a Moorish Idol fish. News of the outside world (with Marlin's ocean mission humorously transmitted via a game of telephone) is provided by Nigel (Geoffrey Rush), a gossipy pelican who shares the tank gang's dental knowledge of their warden's profession, having observed the dentist and his patients ad nauseum. Even director Stanton has a memorable role as Crush, a current-surfing dude of a turtle.

One of the more divinely inspired moments involves a very knowledgeable and impressionable school of silvery fish (collectively voiced by Pixar regular John Ratzenberger).

Aside from the Jaws reference, adult viewers with any sense of cinematic history will giggle at the several Hitchcockian allusions: the arrival of the dentist's vicious niece is cued by Bernard Herrmann's music from Pyscho, while a distinctly visual reference borrowed from The Birds plays fun with a flock of seagulls.

An added treat is the pre-feature presentation of Knick Knack, the 1989 precursor to Toy Story about another water-bound escape by a snowglobe snowman. One final reminder: wait through ALL the end credits, as most of the cast has fun playing with the lengthy scroll of talent (and 43 production babies). Watch for a special "guest" appearance by Mike Wazowski.

Pixar has raised the animation bar once again. Finding Nemo is nothing short of terrific.

Directed by:
Andrew Stanton

Starring:
Albert Brooks
Ellen DeGeneres
Alexander Gould
Willem Dafoe
Brad Garrett
Allison Janney
Austin Pendleton
Stephen Root
Vicki Lewis
Joe Ranft
Geoffrey Rush
Andrew Stanton
Elizabeth Perkins
Barry Humphries
Eric Bana
Bruce Spence
John Ratzenberger

Written by:
Andrew Stanton
Bob Peterson
David Reynolds

Rated:
G - General 
Audiences
All ages admitted.

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