Blockbuster Movie Month: "Finding Nemo" Review

Photo Credit: Buena Vista Pictures

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Rating: G
Length: 100 minutes
Release Date: May 30, 2003
Directed by: Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
Genre: Animation / Adventure / Comedy

In the mid-20th century, The Walt Disney Company revolutionized feature-length animation and redefined the family movie. Fifty years later, Pixar, along with Disney, created another revolution in animation and family entertainment with a series of universally beloved, computer-animated pictures. Although this later revolution began with "Toy Story" in 1995, 2003's "Finding Nemo" fell right into the middle of the initial rush of Pixar's brilliance. Out of all the great movies that built Pixar's monumental reputation, "Finding Nemo" is arguably the most directly family-oriented, even with a cast of mostly aquatic characters. With a story that appeals to younger and older viewers on different levels, as well as fantastic voice acting and some of Pixar's strongest visuals, "Finding Nemo" more than earns its spot towards the top of Pixar's echelon.

When "Finding Nemo" was first released to theaters, there was no 3D version. It was made for traditional movie screens, even with a subsequent 3D re-release. The team behind the "Finding Nemo" production created a work that was so visually dense, lively and stunning that a standard projector and an old-fashioned two dimensional screen were enough to bring the story to vivid life for audiences. A run of the mill LCD TV, a laptop monitor or even a smartphone screen are enough to convey how much work and talent went into this Pixar effort.

The setting of "Finding Nemo" calls for a visual richness not inherent in the suburban setting of "Toy Story." While the "Toy Story" movies are also visually fantastic, the ocean calls for a special kind of animation, especially for a studio that was already known as an innovator in the field. Ocean depths have long been an inspiration for animation, including a memorable section of Disney's "Fantasia" in 1940 and the same studio's "The Little Mermaid" in 1989. While those films were done with painstakingly hand-drawn animation, "Little Nemo" was created on computers. However, like every other Pixar release, the animators did not take any shortcuts. They created a world of colorful and brilliantly realized tropical fish and other sea creatures brimming with character. While the ocean is often full of color, visibility is also realistically poor, which helps drive home the story's tension.

History is littered with Hollywood productions that rely almost solely on striking visuals to capture an audience. However, this being Pixar, "Finding Nemo" has much more going for it. The seed of the story came about when writer and co-director Andrew Stanton was a child at the dentist, and noticed the fish held in captivity in a tank, figuring they came from the ocean and longed to go back. The plot of the movie is deceptively simple, as clown fish and single father Marlin searches for his missing son Nemo across treacherous stretches of ocean.

Marlin, the once overprotective parent fish, is voice by Albert Brooks. Brooks is known to older audiences for experimental stand-up and for the classic comedies "Lost in America" and "Defending Your Life." However, Brooks has also demonstrated a capacity for brilliant voice work on "The Simpsons." Unlike his "Simpsons" characters, Brooks plays it relatively straight for the harried parent in "Finding Nemo," with a very Albert Brooks-like neurotic undercurrent that provides just the right emotional grounding.

Brooks is hardly the only well-known member of the cast. Ellen DeGeneres gets a more comedic role as Dory, a memory-challenged Pacific regal blue tang. DeGeneres strengths serve the character's goofiness as well as her likeability. Other notable cast members include Willem Dafoe as a butterfly fish intent on escaping the fish tank where Nemo is being held captive in Sydney and Geoffrey Rush as an enterprising brown pelican. The titular clown fish is voiced by the age-appropriate Alexander Gould. Gould was just 7 years old when the lengthy production for "Finding Nemo" began and 9 years old when it wrapped.

The story is less complex than other Pixar films, but the simplicity is effective for both younger viewers and their parents. While there is plenty of humor, lively voice acting and colorfulness, the real strength of "Finding Nemo" lies in its powerful story and relatable themes. Marlin is overprotective of Nemo, the only family he has, and it ends up driving his son away. The plot is compelling for all viewers, but certain types of anxiety are likely to hit home for any parents watching.

The all-around impressive voice acting helps these sea creatures seem much more human than the usual anthropomorphized cartoon animals, and the animation helps bring to life what may be the most astonishingly rendered animated ocean to grace cinema screens to date. The total effect is a feature-length cartoon that carries more entertainment value and emotional force than most live-action movies.

Upon its release in 2003, "Finding Nemo" was massively successful and received widespread critical acclaim. While not every successful, acclaimed movie holds up years later, as time marches on it is becoming clear that "Finding Nemo" is yet another Pixar classic that stands the test of time.