Mark Reviews Movies


3 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Andrew Stanton

Cast: The voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Austin Pendleton, Stephen Root, Vicki Lewis, Andrew Stanton, Geoffrey Rush, Elizabeth Perkins

MPAA Rating: G

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 5/30/03

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Review by Mark Dujsik

After creating an entire world where monsters work and play, Pixar studios returns to the real world. Well, sort of. Finding Nemo takes us under the sea, through bright reefs, rusted ships, dark, bottomless caverns, and into the mouth of a whale. The undersea world of the film is alternately bright and shadowy—colorful and dreadful. One moment, you just want to sit and absorb the beauty of some of these images; at the next, you instinctively feel like clutching something in apprehension. The film has everything, really. It's inventively amusing, genuinely thrilling, visually fascinating, and full of humanity. Just like in the Toy Story films and A Bug's Life, Finding Nemo takes a real world setting and transforms it into something we've never seen before and anticipate visiting again to try and catch all the little details we know are just waiting to be discovered. I don't know how the staff of Pixar does it, but this is their fifth overwhelming achievement in a row. These people are consistently at the top of their game and arguably the entire game of animated filmmaking, although the latter could easily be a stated as certainty if they keep this trend up.

The film begins with a prologue that finds Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks) and Coral (voice of Elizabeth Perkins), two clownfish, taking a look at their new anemone home somewhere near the Great Barrier Reef. The move is necessary to ensure the security and comfort of their future children, which will be hatching in a few days. Suddenly, Marlin and Coral find themselves confronting a barracuda, and to protect her children, Coral swims out to save them. Marlin is knocked unconscious, and when he comes to, he discover Coral and all the eggs are missing—except one. Some years later, that egg has grown up into Nemo (voice of Alexander Gould), an extremely curious youngster who worries his single father—now understandably anxious and timid—to no end. On Nemo's first day of school, he and a few classmates head out to the cliff between the reef and the open sea. To prove himself to his companions and, more importantly, to spite his father, Nemo swims out to a nearby boat, but on the way, he's captured by a scuba diver. As Marlin chases after his son, he runs into Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres), who will help him to the best of her abilities, which are significantly limited considering her short-term memory loss.

The film switches between Marlin and Dory's quest and Nemo's new life in a fish tank at a dentist's office in Sydney. Along the way, we meet a widely varied cast of eccentric characters. There are thrill-seeking sea turtles that talk like surfers and have cute but unintelligible offspring. A support group for sharks that want to change their dietary habits ("Fish are friends—not food") offers little help until the scent of blood arouses a feeding frenzy. A school of fish helps guide the way (and mock Marlin) by forming illustrations. Sea gulls are ridiculed for the annoying scavengers they are (when they see possible food, they clump together and squawk "Mine!") and make for a highly amusing homage to Hitchcock. Then there are the characters in Nemo's new world—tank dwellers and local natives (animal and human). Gill (voice of Willem Dafoe), also a former inhabitant of the ocean, is the leader who has come up with a few brilliant schemes to escape captivity—all having ended in miserable, painful failure. Another fish swears her reflection is her twin sister, and another is positively fascinated by the bubbles that emerge from a treasure chest. The real treat, though, is the fishes' captor's orthodontically-challenged niece, whose build up as a sort of monster child is more than fitting and who provides a brief but hilarious second nod to Hitchcock.

Pixar sets these eccentric characters within a world full of exquisite detail and incredibly realistic touches. They've gone to great lengths to make the marine world of the film fully believable, and they've succeeded. From the underwater terrain to the seaside locale of Sydney, the entire array of backdrops is superbly lifelike. You can see the attention to detail in every frame, from the algae around the bottom edge of Nemo's new fish tank home to the wear and tear on the sea turtle's shell to the way the great white shark's eyes go black when it smells blood to the brush-like teeth of a whale to the ripples on the surface of the ocean when it rains. It's a total antithesis to the cartoon-like design of the characters and even the simple adventure plotting. Not that the plot doesn't work, though, it just takes a highly episodic form with almost each section ending with a cliffhanger. The adventure sequences are creative and exciting, keeping the proceedings highly lively and entertaining, and the film has no real villains, keeping it from becoming formulaic. Some of the standout scenes include a chase through the ship surrounded by mines, a race through a school of jellyfish, and Nemo's attempt to swim through tank's filtration system to jam it with a pebble.

The voice work is effective all around and great in some spots. Albert Brooks' work as Marlin begs the question, who else would voice a timid fish? His neurotic persona shows through even vocally. Alexander Gould is just right as the scared but determined Nemo. Willem Dafoe lends his distinct voice to Gill, giving an air of unease upon his immediate introduction that grows into sympathy as his character develops. The assorted voices of Nemo's friends in the tank are perfectly fitting, and Geoffrey Rush plays Nigel, a pelican that gives news to the captives. Even director Andrew Stanton gets in on the game as Crush, the sea turtle. The standout, though, is Ellen DeGeneres. Dory's antics and forgetfulness make up a good amount of the laughs, and DeGeneres' energetic performance gives them a solid foundation. There's even some pathos to her situation as the film progresses.

And that's where Pixar's films have found their greatest success. There's more sincere heart in just about any of their five features than we've become accustomed to in recent animated films. Just like Monsters, Inc. ended with a scene of unexpected emotional impact, Finding Nemo finds a similar tone at its finale as it hits upon the theme of parents letting go and allowing their children to grow up without them. It's not what you'd expect, but it makes quite an impact.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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