Finding Nemo (2003) — Fish are friends AND food

“Mine! Mine! Mine!”

Justin’s rating: Unprocessed fish sticks

Justin’s review: The ocean is a place full of mystery and wonder. In one aspect, it’s the mystery of what’s just over that next coral ridge, and the wonder of seeing billions of beautiful creatures swimming along. In another aspect, it’s the mystery of what happened to your right leg below the knee, and the wonder of seeing a gullet of a killer squid up close and personal.

My feelings on the ocean are more positive when I’m appreciating the view from behind a movie screen or aquarium glass pane, and less so when my legs are dangling as a tantalizing bait for ravenous sea-monsters in deep water somewhere. Although I had reservations about Finding Nemo — not knowing if it would take the Jaws or Jacques Cousteau route — I felt much more peaceful when the theater ushers handed out functional spear guns and encouraged us to fire them blindly into the screen.

In the grand Pixar studios tradition of not properly preparing kids to appreciate real dangers, we get a movie where the human-hazardous creatures are glossed over and the ludicrous are given the serious red flags. So if I was a child under the age of eight, I might come away from this film thinking that sharks aren’t so bad — ever since they’ve taken a pact not to eat anyone any more, that is — but that seagulls are just waiting to peck out my eyeballs at the merest opportunity. I so love how animated flicks are actively destroying any viable reality for the world’s children!

Although shrouded in some of the most luscious and exquisite computer graphics ever to hit the screen (that is, until the next Pixar flick comes out), the main story of Finding Nemo has traditional roots reaching all the way back to the earliest days of Disney. In this case, it’s an anthropomorphic animal who’s lost a family member and undergoes a journey of as epic proportions as you can squeeze into 101 minutes.

Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks), a widower clown fish, has lost his only son Nemo (Alexander Gould). Instead of realizing that his son’s life span is considerably lengthened by protected captivity in a dentist’s aquarium, Marlin goes ape and starts scouring the ocean for his wide-eyed offspring. Seeing as how the ocean covers (by my most recent research) at least 26% of the world’s surface, this could take some time. Fortunately, Marlin gets the help of an aquatic asylum’s worth of Things That Would Make Me Freak Out If I Stepped On Them At The Beach, including Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a blue fish who has a memory span of 30 seconds, and Crush (Andrew Stanton), an eXtreme turtle living the good life before being made into delicious soup.

As an adult with massive amounts of free time open to indulging in all the animated films that I was denied as a kid by a strict school schedule, I tend to select the best cartoons by running them down a question gauntlet (as I do here for Finding Nemo).

Was it funny? Absolutely! My girlfriend and I spent half the movie laughing, and much harder than many of the kids around us. For someone usually so reserved, my girlfriend couldn’t hold on while Dory was talking in “whale” (to talk “whale”, you just open your mouth really wide and speak really slow and do this for many minutes on end) — a small giggle, and then a torrent of laughs erupted out of her mouth. Very indicative of the humor value found in this film.

Was it creative? Hey, they made each type of fish very individual and unique, from the surfer-minded turtles to the frolicking prawn, which makes this a goldmine for the people in marketing to plunder. If nothing else, Pixar made us spend a lot of time considering how, as a fish, you could break out of a 40-gallon saltwater tank in the middle of an office; by reversing the perspectives, we identified more strongly with the fish than the people.

Was it so sappy that Canadian syrup companies are drilling this film for the product? Well, yes. Out of all the elements, the plot is as predictable as Mickey Mouse clockwork, and you know that there will be friendships formed, obstacles overcome, lessons learned, and teary reunions attended before the end credits. If you have those emotions so sought-after on eBay, then pack up the Kleenex. If not, just ignore all the huggy-lovey stuff until the next fart joke rolls around.

Finding Nemo opened my eyes to the deep feelings of these sea creatures who would indeed stop for nothing to protect their family, and as I chewed through a shrimp salad at lunch afterward, I knew that the fish lobby had gained a powerful ally. For the rest of us, however, we get treated to a swimmingly smart and giddy movie that will undoubtedly rise to the top (belly up!) of the best summer 2003 releases.

PoolMan’s rating: Hey, the sea monkeys have MY money, too!

PoolMan’s review: They say a (fleet? herd? gaggle? pride? swarm?) school of piranha can clean the meat from a fully grown cow in a matter of minutes, given the right circumstances (like, say, the cow being in piranha-infested waters). Even as someone who quite enjoys the open sea, swimming, and fishing, I have to admit, this thought usually creeps me right the heck out. I’ve been to a few aquariums in my time, and for some reason the powers-that-be always think it’s a good idea to have a cow skeleton (real or fake) adorning the inside of nearly every piranha tank I’ve ever seen, and it never fails to give me the creeps. But if there’s one thing that scares me even more (even though they move in pretty much the same patterns and exhibit similar habits), it’s a theater full of children.

I think I’m getting pretty well known around these parts as Mr. Snaps-At-Kids. I once yelled at a little girl to sit down in a movie theater because her parents had apparently decided she didn’t need supervision (they weren’t there), and I was getting tired of her repeatedly walking by me over and over again in her oddyseys to the bathroom and snack counter. I’m not inherently mean, and I really do love children, but there’s something about the very nature of a theater full of kids that just gets my hackles up. So imagine my surprise when at a screening of Finding Nemo, as has happened with pretty much every picture Pixar has done before, the room full of screaming, laughing, running, barfing little monkeys all held perfectly still and quiet.

It was like I could hear an angel’s choir.

Anyways, this is all to say that Finding Nemo once again plays to Pixar’s decidedly great strengths: being appealing to both kids and adults, being bright and fun, having conflict that’s genuine but not too scary, and being delightfully funny. I can’t think of another film house of ANY kind that’s had the string of hits that Pixar has enjoyed, ranging from Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and now Finding Nemo.

From the previews, I had decided I didn’t want to see Nemo. The trailers all showed a Disney-esque journey film with overly cute and brightly-coloured characters. I have to say, the whole thing seemed pretty cliched to me. But once again, old PoolMan is proven wrong. Well, sort of. I mean, it IS a cute and brightly-coloured journey movie, but it manages to shed a lot of the cliche that I was so afraid would be there. It was fresh and original, and really, really funny.

Kudos once again have to be handed out to the talented group of GGI artists that inhabit the bowels of the animation house. If you took away the googly eyes from the characters, you would SWEAR you were watching real fish under real water. It’s just brilliant. The sea is really as varied as it is presented here, from sunny shoals to colourful reefs to inky black depths, and Nemo nails the look. There’s just always something to look at and marvel over. Add in the personalities of a perpetually-worried clown fish (who can’t tell a joke to save his life), a Memento-inspired blue fish, and the recovering addict sharks (what DO they eat, then, anyways?) and you’ve got yet another winner.

It’s getting tough to find new things to say about Pixar’s great new generation of movies. Suffice it to say, even if Finding Nemo’s formula looks a little dated, give it a chance. It’s just one more fantastic movie from a company that could beat Michael Eisner with his own mouse ears.

Alex’s rating: Mine? Mine? Mine!

Alex’s review: Okay, so there are a few things I’ve gotta own up to concerning my undying hatred of the Disney Empire —- a few minor qualifications, if one may put it that way.

Alongside the 90% smarmy crap produced consistently under the ever-present Disney banner, which uses the same formula with ever-so-slight variations to cater to the mindless millions, I must acknowledge that there is the remaining 10% consisting of bright, innovative, and well-crafted films. I have enjoyed these films, including Lilo and Stitch, Princess Mononoke*, Spirited Away*, Pirates of the Caribbean, and most recently, Finding Nemo.

No matter whether or not your stomach suddenly revolts against your choice of viewing material when you pop in your run-of-the-mill animated Disney movie, it can’t be denied that there is a consistent high level of quality in the artwork of said group of movies. Even the most rancid of pillaged fairy-tale “adaptations” (if one is so diplomatic as to call them that) is pretty to look at. While the formulaic aspect of Disney’s movie-making practice is one of the biggest causes of my revulsion, that single element of the formula is one I have the most trouble arguing with. Call me an aesthete. No really, you can call me that — it’s not a bad word!

The other element of the formula I find difficult to quibble on is the star quality employed to create the voices (and oftentimes the personality quirks) of the animated characters. Who can deny that Robin Williams totally was Genie in Aladdin, or that David Spade made what was otherwise a real stinker of a story into something more or less tolerable in The Emperor’s New Groove? Okay, okay, you can all put your hands down now -– sheesh, you people will argue about anything, won’t you?? Like it or not, Disney can pull the big names, and usually for better instead of worse.

Finding Nemo exemplifies all these Disney non-faults exceptionally, and I do mean that literally. I would place the majority of credit for making Nemo as good as it is with Pixar, since it is decidedly a triumph of humor over sap if you look at the ratio, which I would put at 3:1. Still, there’s the stink of mouse in the house which seems difficult to avoid in the Disney + Pixar co-productions.

For example I’ll cite the standard happy ending, which everyone wants and expects, but which still seems impossibly gooey, like the wad of crushed Junior Mints that you happen to unluckily stick your fingers into at the bottom of the box. It’s not like Pixar wouldn’t have gone for the happy sappy finale, nor would it have been the same movie had the story ended differently; I just think that the way it’s been accomplished is so very typical of Disney that it’s difficult for me not to attribute it to Disney’s influence. …. Damn, I wish they sold Junior Mints over here.

Since there’s little need for plot recap here, not to mention little room as of now, I’ll stick to mentioning the other elements of Nemo which really tipped the scales for me in terms of making it a film I want to own on DVD at some point. Namely there were laugh-out-loud moments in vast number, which not only kept me awake through the midnight showing but also did a lot to cheer up a dull mood. As I’ve read elsewhere and can’t put into better words, Nemo is truly a visually lush film. Seriously! I was ready to jump the next plane to Australia, had it not been two in the morning and just after the expensive Christmas season.

My idolatry of William Dafoe not withstanding, this film is still worthy of shelf space. It was one of those warm fuzzy cute experiences that even we cynics sometimes need to experience for our own good, you know, to keep our teeth sharp.

* I mention these two with an asterisk because Disney was in charge of the Anglicized versions of both these Japanese Animé-original films, and managed not to screw them up completely.

One comment

  1. “I felt much more peaceful when the theater ushers handed out functional spear guns and encouraged us to fire them blindly into the screen.”

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