reviewed by Marci Miller
Finding Nemo is a whale of a tale, and every little minnow will flip over it. Which is not to say it’s just for the small fry.
Pixar Animation Studios follows its winning tradition of the Toy Story films, A Bug’s Life and Monsters, Inc., creating in Nemo a story that mesmerizes the kids and tickles the adults. The undersea world depicted is rapturous, and utterly magical with color, movement and mystery — and everywhere there lurks danger. The story is mythic (the entire sea helps bring a father and his lost boy together) and cutting edge (although the kids probably won’t get the goofy humor of the 12-stepping sharks — “Fish are friends, not food!” — what they will get is the experience of their parents laughing out loud). Nemo a fantastic way to spend 101 minutes.
The film’s beginning is pretty scary (you’re never too old to fear a repeat of the Bambi tragedy). Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks, The In-Laws) is a nervous orange-and-white-striped clown fish who has just moved his wife and 1,000 eggs into their new home in a wavy pink anemone in the spacious suburbs of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Alas, a marauding barracuda destroys Marlin’s happiness, leaving him with only one remaining child. Son Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould), born with an undersized yet “lucky” fin, yearns to be free from his father’s neurotic over-protectiveness. In a fit of kindergarten rebellion, Nemo swims beyond the safety zone and gets captured in the net of a diver.
As his anguished father watches helplessly, the boat with the captured Nemo disappears in the distant murky waters toward the little fish’s eventual destination — an aquarium in a dentist’s office in Sydney. Nemo becomes the newest member of the Tank Gang, lead by a battered, Moorish idol fish (voiced by Willem Defoe, Spiderman). Troubling the tank neighborhood is the impending arrival of the dentist’s niece, Darla, a terror in orthodontia who’s already proven to be a fish-in-a-plastic-bag killer. (“The girl with the wire in her mouth — she was the scariest part,” noted one of my movie companions, Nicholas Larson, age 3-1/2.)
Marlin, though fretful and timid (“You’ve got serious thrill issues, dude,” a sea turtle tells him), is determined to fulfill the promise he made to his son (“It’s OK; Daddy’s here. I promise I’ll never let anything happen to you”). He sets off across the ocean to find Nemo, joined by Dory, (voiced by TV’s Ellen DeGeneris), a cheery blue tang with short-term memory loss, who keeps every human in stitches. (“Dory was the funniest!” said Robert Edwards, age 12.) If you see a bunch of kids stretching their faces, bulging out their eyes and making weird, high-pitched sounds, don’t worry. They’re just doing imitations of Dory trying to speak whale.
At every turn in the EAC (the Eastern Australian Current, for those who don’t speak ocean fish) is another obstacle on Marlin’s journey, from predator fish to poisonous jellyfish, to baleen whales. Topside, the dangers are different — hungry sea gulls scouting for any careless surfer fish (“Mine! Mine! Mine!”) and freeway traffic.
Every terror in Nemo, though, lasts only long enough to be tantalizingly scary before the pressure is released with humor, escape or rescue of some kind. This genius pacing makes the film continually suspenseful without being too frightening for children. It also means kids can view this movie on video for years and still find it fresh.
What was the best part of the movie? “The whole thing!” proclaimed Jacob Edwards, age 5. “I loved Nemo!“