Sunday, September 29, 2013

Film #104: Finding Nemo (2003)

Initial Release Country: United States

Directors: Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich

Times Previously Seen: once (about ten years ago)

Quick-Fire Summary (No spoilers)

A father clown fish goes a helluva long way to find his lost son. A dippy blue tang and various other sea creatures help him out.

Extended Summary (Spoilers Included, if that even matters)

In the middle of the ocean, a clown fish named Marlin (voiced by James Brooks) just settles into his new anemone home with his wife and their innumerable eggs, which are waiting to hatch. Unfortunately, the home is attacked by a barracuda, killing Marlin’s wife and eating all of the eggs but one. From that lone egg emerges Marlin’s only living family member – Nemo.

Some time later, a young Nemo (Alexander Gould) prepares for his first day of school. Marlin is the epitome of an overprotective parent, but Nemo is itching for adventure. Once with his schoolmates, a variety of other youngsters representing all manner of ocean species, Nemo is goaded into venturing away from the pack, towards a distant boat. When out a bit too far, Nemo is captured by a human scuba diver, who then takes the young clown fish ashore in Sydney, Australia. There, Nemo is sold to a dentist and placed in an aquarium with a small collection of other fish, and he is forced to wait and be taken by the dentist’s klutzy niece.

Nemo (the little orange guy) with a few of his fellow fledgling ocean-dwellers.

Out in the ocean, Marlin overcomes his fear of the open ocean and goes in search of his son. In the beginning, he meets a kind but highly forgetful blue tang named Dory (Ellen Degeneris), who Marlin unwillingly allows to tag along and assist him. Over a very lengthy odyssey, the two little fish make their way past various dangers, including sharks, jellyfish, and other hazards, on their way towards the distant Sydney.

Back in the dentist’s office, Nemo befriends his fellow captives in the aquarium, who are led by Gill (Willem Dafoe), a fish with serious determination to escape back to open water. After a few failed and nearly fatal attempts by Nemo and his comrades to get out of the tank, they are eventually successful in getting Nemo into one of the dentist’s drainpipes, which Nemo follows out to the sea.

Out in the waters off the coast, Marlin and Dory get some final bits of assistance from a friendly pelican, Nigel (Geoffrey Rush), finally manage to get close enough to the dentist’s office to eventually find Nemo. The father and son are reunited, and they both have new-found respect for each other’s tenacity in the face of so many dangers. Marlin learns to let his son have adventures, and Nemo learns to respect his father’s hidden but proven courage.

Marlin and Dory. Dory's flightiness gets on Marlin's last nerve, but the nervous little clown fish eventually learns to love the well-intentioned, blue dope.

My Take on the Film

As with the best Pixar films (and most of them are excellent), Nemo gets everything right, and it’s still really fun to watch. That is, of course, as long as you’ve kept a little bit of your inner child alive.

Finding Nemo was the one that really gave Pixar its first sure-fire classic film. Sure, Toy Story 1 and 2 and Monsters, Inc. pre-dated Nemo, but Nemo put together the excellent storytelling and humor of those earlier efforts with the stunning visual majesty of the oceans, as rendered through computer graphics.

Finding Nemo, in the spirit of the original Walt Disney pictures like Snow White, Pinocchio and others, was not meant to be a “kids film.” Rather, it was clearly meant to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. This isn’t exactly an easy feat, as many parents will probably tell you. Often, such “family films” will be geared more for the younger kids than their older siblings or parents. As such, anyone over the age of ten will have to sit patiently through hokey gags, shallow action, clich├ęd morals that bash you over the head, or some combination of the three. Nemo avoids all of these pitfalls.

Nemo in the aquarium "prison." The other "inmates" all provide some of the best humor in the film, not least of whom is Gill (far left), voiced by Willem Dafoe.

The story does have a clear message which adults may or may not find mind-blowing. The warning against being overprotective isn’t exactly subtle, but at least it’s a message that remains universally relevant.

In terms of characters, I feel that I have a rather adult perspective on this movie. In truth, I don’t really find either of the two main characters – Marlon and Nemo – particularly novel or compelling. And though their dialogue can be funny at times, they are not what makes the film entertaining to me. In terms of characters, it’s all of the secondary and tertiary ones that steal the show, scene after scene. While I’m far from an Ellen Degeneris fan, her voicing of the memory-challenged Dory is actually pretty damn funny to me. Even funnier are critters like Gill, Nigel, the sharks, and plenty of others. Even the little voices given to the seagulls (“MINE!!MINE!!MINE!!MINE!!”) or the crabs (“Heeeey...heeeey...heeeey...”) are hilarious, if you’re into goofy humor like I am. The writers at Pixar and the voice actors must have had an absolute blast coming up with and executing their voice-overs of marine life.

The other grand appeal of Nemo is the visuals. As vibrant and smooth as their previous films had been, Nemo brought it to a whole new level. Their computer programmers managed to capture the color and fluidity of life under the ocean so beautifully that it was a pleasure to watch this film in high definition. On top of this, the writers and animators pull off a great amount of visual gags, many in the form of facial expressions on the fishes and other sea creatures. This should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Pixar’s brilliant short films, none of which ever have any dialogue.

The friendly seagull, Nigel (voiced by Geoffrey Rush), smacking into the dentist's office window. One of dozens of great visual gags that anyone with goofy sensibilities can appreciate.

While Finding Nemo is not my favorite Pixar film (for me, it’s The Incredibles), it’s not hard to see why it made the TIME 100 Great Films list. It set the absolute standard for computer-animated films that all others, even Pixar’s, have tried to match in the succeeding decade. It truly is a film that anyone, at any age, can watch and enjoy.

That’s a wrap. 104 shows down. One to go. (My god)

Coming Soon: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003):

And this grand journey of mine comes to an end, along with the grand journey of Frodo Baggins’s trek towards Mount Doom. Come on back to see how it all wraps up for me.

Please be sure to pick up all empties on the way out.