In just 8 short years, Pixar animation studios has released 5 feature length films, each one pushing the boundaries of what an animated film can look and feel like. An immersive experience one after the other from inanimate objects, normally overlooked and under-appreciated species and characters of ghost story fables that are meant to scare us after the lights go out that has been crafted to see life through their eyes. The 5th film Finding Nemo is no different. From the opening frame, Nemo is easily the most breathtaking the animation has ever looked from the studio – from the light source, to the vibrancy of colors to the character models and fluidity of the water, Nemo is but another home run for the studio. They haven’t had one single misstep yet.
Aptly titled, Nemo continues the simplistic yet effective approach for telling its story. Following a clownfish who isn’t very funny named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and his son, the titular Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould) after a barracuda attack kills Marlin’s wife Coral (voiced by Elizabeth Perkins) and the rest of the hatchlings. The attack leaves Nemo with a physical disability, a smaller fin, which never deters Nemo from setting out to accomplish anything. Whereas Marlin has become overbearing and worrisome that Nemo will be hurt.
Instantly, I can identify with Nemo’s physical disability for specific reasons with how Marlin and the rest of the fish around them view Nemo. When introduced to other school aged fish, they don’t laugh or mock Nemo, instead, they make Nemo feel comfortable and included – one of the profound themes of this new Pixar fare. Constantly proving his ability, Nemo doesn’t let his disability stop him – he can swim just as easily as every other fish which serves as the basis for the father/ son relationship.
Written and directed by Andrew Stanton in his first solo outing, Stanton never pulls any punches regarding what any of his characters can accomplish despite their flaws. Marlin learns how to trust and that some things are out of his control – he ultimately has to believe in himself and others around him. After Nemo is fish napped by Phillip Sherman (voiced by Bill Hunter), Marlin comes across Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), a regal blue tang who suffers from short-term memory loss. From the moment Marlin and Dory meet, the two are attached at the fin on the adventure/rescue mission to find Nemo. The ocean covers 70 percent of the earth – it should be a piece of cake for Marlin and Dory.
The two come across a number of obstacles that are easily foreshadowed and predictable but organically explored in the opening scene post barracuda attack. From three sharks – a great white named Bruce (voiced by Barry Humphries), a hammerhead named Anchor (voiced by Eric Bana), and mako named Chum (voiced by Bruce Spencer), all who happen to be reformed fish lovers, inviting Marlin and Dory into their fish anonymous group. “Fish are friends, not food” unless a hint of blood is found, then all bets are off.
Taking a break or two from Marlin and Dory, Stanton cuts to Nemo who is sent to captivity (an aquarium) in P. Sherman’s dental office in Sydney. There Nemo meets the other fish – a group of misfits that become a family by choice and accept Nemo as one of their own in the self-proclaimed tank gang. Excuse me, I mean Sharkbait after passing through the volcanic bubbles of mount Wannahockaloogie. Knowing their fate, leader of the tank gang Gill (voiced by Willem Dafoe), a physically disabled Moorish idol devises a brilliant plan of escape. Cutting back and forth between Nemo aka sharkbait escaping the aquarium and Marlin and Dory’s rescue, Stanton never loses a grasp on the films pacing.
Coming in at 100 minutes, both sides of the story are given enough time to develop with a few detours in-between and character introductions we didn’t know we needed to obsess over until the grand entrance is made.
A surfer bro green sea turtle named Crush (voiced by Andrew Stanton) and his son Squirt (voiced by Nicolas Bird), a porcupinefish named Bloat (voiced by Brad Garrett), a starfish named Peach (voiced by Allison Janney), a yellow tang named Bubbles (voiced by Stephen Root), an OCD royal gamma named Gurgle (voiced by Austin Pendleton), a striped damselfish named Deb and Flo (voiced by Vicki Lewis), a Cleaner shrimp named Jacques (voiced by Joe Ranft) and a Australian pelican named Nigel (voiced by Geoffrey Rush). Another strong, talented ensemble cast that lends their voices to different species that will forever be associated with their counterparts whenever someone goes to an aquarium.
Normally, with Pixar films, I would spend some time focused on the technology and its vast improvements from film to film. Monsters Inc. looked ahead of its time with the groundbreaking technology that made Toy Story so unique and fresh, but Finding Nemo is beyond expectations of the early 2000’s. As I mentioned earlier, Nemo is truly remarkable, full of small details from the depths of the ocean where there is zero light to the diverse harbor full of different buildings, colors, and characters. The team at Pixar continues to subvert expectations and fill each world with verisimilitude. It’s only natural that a flock of seagulls would repeatedly say “mine” as they fight one another for a scrap of food.
We come to these Pixar stories for the visuals the science and technology creates but stay for the themes and character. Inclusivity and found family are but two that resonate the most out of Nemo. Courage and bravery are two more. Less adult-centric dialogue and jokes and more geared toward a younger audience, the adult viewer will still be drawn to the beauty of the world many of us would never explore. These first five Pixar releases prove that animation is one of the best mediums for telling stories and deserve to have the stories told. From the company’s start with Industrial Light and Magic to this point, Pixar has become the gold standard for animation. And there is no sign of slowing down.
Screenplay By: Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson & David Reynolds
Story By: Andrew Stanton
Directed By: Andrew Stanton
Music By: Thomas Newman
Cinematography: Sharon Calahan & Jeremy Lasky
Starring: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Stephen Root, Austin Pendleton, Vicki Lewis, Joe Ranft
Where to Watch: Disney Plus
Release Date: May 30, 2003
Running Time: 1 Hour 40 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99%