Pixar Animation’s “Finding Nemo” was the first time the studio brought tears to an audience’s eyes right off the bat; they did so even more successfully in the opening sequence of 2009’s “Up.” But watching “Nemo” on the big screen again (courtesy of a 3D rerelease that, admittedly, doesn’t really improve on the visually dazzling film), “Nemo” reminded me, from those first, frightening moments, why I fell in love with the film immediately during that first screening.
The story, for those who don’t remember, involves the evolution of the father-son relationship between Marlin (the brilliant Albert Brooks), a clown fish who is afraid of the ocean after the death of his wife, and most of their brood, and little Nemo, who has a gimpy fin. On his first day at school, Nemo goes out too far, and is captured by a diver. Marlin gives chase before losing the boat, and he meets up with a forgetful blue fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres, matching Brooks every step of the way). Together, Marlin and Dory swim the ocean trying to find Nemo, encountering sharks trying to reform; a deadly, but beautiful, forest of jellyfish; and finally hooking up with some laid-back sea turtles on the East Australian Current on their way to Sydney, where Nemo has been placed in a dentist’s fish tank before being given to the dentist’s niece (who wouldn’t stop shaking the bag) for a birthday present.
That should be enough to jog your memory of the humorous and heartwarming tale Andrew Stanton (who directed another Pixar landmark, “Wall-E,” as well as an underrated, live-action epic in 2012’s flop, “John Carter”) has in store for viewers. Up until “Nemo,” Pixar had prided themselves on showing us things we were familiar with in a new way. Since “Nemo,” they’ve gone in a different direction, starting with their next film (Brad Bird’s incomparable “The Incredibles”), but have continued to show us amazing sights at the service of emotional stories.
With “Nemo,” the main theme of the story is Marlin’s change from an over-protective parent to one that trusts Nemo to be able to survive the difficult world around him. The key stop on that journey for Marlin is when Dory and he are with the turtles on the EAC, and the wise Crush (voiced by Stanton), who knows first-hand how capable his child, Squirt, is by the nature of how turtles lay their eggs on land, and trust their children to make it back to the ocean. It’s an eye-opening realization for Marlin, although it still takes this cautious father some time to put that mindset into action, especially when he and Dory are swallowed by a whale, and after it looks like they were too late to save Nemo. Albert Brooks is a master comedian, but here he gives, arguably, his most emotional, and complete, performance. There isn’t a moment with Marlin that feels forced, or false, and his chemistry with DeGeneres’s Dory is pitch-perfect. When the film first came out, it felt as though Dory stole the film from under everyone (and let’s face it, Dory trying to speak whale is the funniest thing in the movie), but watching it almost a decade later, Dory and Marlin really do compliment one another in an effortless way that wasn’t quite as apparent in 2003. It’s performances like these that make me wish the Oscars would find a way to recognize voiceover performances, even if it did mean adding a new category.
Of course, I haven’t even touched on things like the beautiful animation (still among the studio’s finest); Thomas Newman’s deeply resonate score; and of course, the classic pieces of comedy in the film, from Marlin’s failed attempts at joke-telling, the odd bunch of fish in the dentist’s tank, or the anarchic silliness of the seagulls (“Mine!”). All of those are still great (and few lines makes me smile more than, “Curse you, Aqua Scum!!,” and “The sea monkey has my money.”), but it’s the heart that makes a Pixar film unforgettable, and in the end, “Finding Nemo” is all heart. That’s why it remains one of the brightest jewels in the Pixar crown even after some truly sterling additions to the collection over the years.