Finding Nemo (2003)

Posted by on Dec 19, 2011 in Fun With Animals | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Will both repel you from and inspire you to get a fish tank.

I forget who said it or wrote it – and I hope I paraphrase it accurately – but a good film is one you’d like to see again; a great film is one you can’t live without seeing again. I don’t know where that places Finding Nemo for you, but the first time I saw it was a sunny Saturday right after its home release. That morning my friends all headed out to a beach and I was stuck indoors with the flu. As I laid there, nasally, medicated, slack-jawed, drooling, and unleashing sporadic wails of exhaustion, my half-closed and crusted eyes couldn’t believe what they were witnessing and I somehow mustered up enough strength every two hours to stand up and press play, and start it from the beginning. When my suntanned friends who abandoned me asked me how I spent my day, I responded, “the same as you, in the ocean.”

The film opens with a couple of clown fish (Albert Brooks and Elizabeth Perkins) as they claim an anemone home in a nice family-oriented neighborhood with an ocean-side view. The duo expects dozens of kids and a life of happiness, but a vicious barracuda spoils their plans. Marlin is left with just one egg, which he names Nemo (Alexander Gould) and comforts with the notion, “I promise I’ll never let anything happen to you.” Perhaps he takes it too literally, as he grows unreasonably overprotective of his short-finned son starting with his first day of school (a play on words), which he plans to visit after “brushing” (another play on words). While purposely ignoring his father’s instructions, Nemo is captured by a Scuba-diving dentist who plants him in an Australian aquarium. Thus the desperate father sets out on an impossible journey to rescue him, with the only piece of evidence being an address (which you’ll no doubt memorize) and his only help coming in the form of a forgetful blue tang named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who speaks whale.

Their journey, of course, Nemo3is no picnic as they run into self-realized sharks (one named Bruce, after the Jaws villain), a minefield, jellyfish orgy, hungry claymation seagulls, and a pelican. While Marlin and Dory fight their way across the ocean, Nemo tries to escape from his new environment and befriends a mastermind (Willem Dafoe), a blowfish (Brad Garrett), a germophobe (Austin Pendleton), a fish obsessed with bubbles (Stephen Root), a French shrimp (Joe Ranft), a split-personality (Vicki Lewis), a starfish (Aillison Janney), and a pelican (Geoffrey Rush). Nemo does, however, have to contend with the dentist’s niece Darla, the female version of Toy Story’s Sid.

The lengths that the production team took to create this visual masterpiece (more than three years) are almost as stunning as the production itself. When Executive Producer John Lasseter gave the project the go-ahead, he knew immediately that the look and feel of the underwater world was essential. Thus the production crew spent days at aquariums, hearing lectures from physiologists and ichthyologists, studying Pixar’s own fish tank, and Scuba diving in Monterey, Hawaii, and the Great Barrier Reef. After their months of research, the animation team went to work by recreating some real-life ocean footage via animation. Though technology advanced since Toy Story, allowing for a speedier CGI process, the complexity of the underwater environment (particles, sun rays, scales, vegetation, etc.) kept them at work on one frame (there’s 24 of them per second) for as long as four days. The result proved too “realistic,” so they added touches like enhanced colors and cartoony features on the characters. The film takes us through all manner of fish habitats: reef, harbor, deep, murky, sewer, current, and aquarium (each with distinct qualities). Plus animators contend with unbelievable water actions including a scene so compelling that Pinocchio would split with excitement: the inside of a whale.


Not only did their research pay off visually, but viewers stand to learn something from its relatively strong scientific authenticity (they even used dead fish to appropriately capture their texture). Kids will learn about loads of sea creatures including Nemo’s seahorse and octopus friends, or his stingray teacher. They’ll also learn that clown fish do not tell better jokes, though swordfish do swordfight and Boston crabs say things like “Wicked dahhhhhk.” Perhaps the only oversight in that department was Gill’s saying, “All drains lead to the ocean.” While perhaps true, a water filtration and sewage treatment company feared kids would free their fish through drains and released a warning during the release of the movie that drains eventually break down solids, so the movie may be more appropriately called Grinding Nemo. I doubt the company needed to seriously worry about kids freeing their fish from the clear anti-aquarium attitude, because if you ask a pet store what its most popular seller was after this movie I guarantee they’d tell you clown fish and blue tang.

DeGeneres provides spot-on timing for Dory, a character not unlike Shrek’s Donkey (though in this case far less anooying), while Brooks vocally transforms into the overwrought and skittish Marlin. But their vocal talents wouldn’t have amounted to much without the superb work of animators that somehow capture a wide range of emotions using the limited expressions of aquatic denizens.

Like many Pixar movies, Nemo took home the best animated feature Oscar with nominations going to Thomas Newman’s score, sound editing, and original screenplay. Not only did Andrew Stanton (A Bug’s Life and WALL-E) write the screenplay and direct, but he also provided the voice of a Jeff Spicoli-esque turtle named Crush.

While I wasn’t particularly happy about having the flu that Saturday, I’m sure glad that Nemo was around so I could still spend my day in the ocean.

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