For those who have been keeping up with my Pixar reviews, I hope I was careful in refraining from complimenting Pixar’s artistic merits. Yes, there are some exhilarating sequences in which the animation is ground-breaking and the physics is superb, but I always thought Pixar’s films lacked the artistic qualities found in Disney’s traditionally animated features. I was beginning to think it was not a problem with Pixar, but a problem with the medium itself. Then I saw Finding Nemo, Pixar’s first film that made me wonder at the potential of computer animation. Make no mistake about it, Finding Nemo is Pixar’s first work of art.
The Unique Premise
There are plenty of films that have been shot underwater featuring fish, the most iconic species being a shark. For as much critical acclaim Jaws has gathered, I’ve always wondered when the natural beauty of our oceans would be fully utilized in cinema. To my surprise, it came from, out of all places, animation.
The Little Mermaid had glimpses of what Finding Nemo constantly offers. An immersive underwater world that visually engages upon multiple viewings. It really is impossible to absorb everything Finding Nemo has to offer in one sitting. Every time I watch Finding Nemo again, I find a new scene to marvel at.
Needless to say, the premise isn’t unique. No, not in the conventional sense of the word. To reiterate, there have been plenty of films that have been shot underwater, even outside the genre of horror or action, but rarely is it done this well. Finding Nemo’s premise of anthropomorphizing fish is unique because the natural beauty of our oceans is fully appreciated.
Finding Nemo has a prologue of sorts, telling a short story of two characters who we never really meet again. These characters are two clownfish named Marlin and Coral, future parents of 400. In a tragic incident, Coral is presumably eaten by a barracuda and Marlin is now the only parent of 1. He names his son, Nemo.
What follows is a brief but majestic transition to the main story, the story of Marlin and Nemo. Just by watching Marlin interact with Nemo, we can see that Marlin is no longer the fish he once was. Paranoid beyond belief, Marlin has become obsessively overprotective, the repercussions of losing almost everything that was important to him. Unfortunately, Marlin’s insistence eventually gets the best of Nemo, and Nemo suffers the consequence for disobeying his father and gets captured by a scuba-diver. Marlin, having absolutely nothing more to lose, and on the brink of having nothing else to live for, goes on an unexpecting adventure to find his son.
Now, it has come to my attention that Pixar films are really the only family films that address the issue of flat-out depression. First Buzz in Toy Story, then Marlin in Finding Nemo, and I’m sure you can think of at least one more (hint: look Up). I said the prologue tells a story of two characters who we never see again, and I stand by that statement strongly. Marlin is a broken fish. And finding Nemo simply isn’t enough to resolve the story with the way Pixar has set things up. This adventure is all about the journey, not the final destination. It is an internal journey, and the physical journey simply accompanies it. This film isn’t actually about finding Nemo; it’s about finding Marlin.
The Pixar Moment
For as much as I have been raving about Finding Nemo, this is the first of two problem spots for me: there are too many Pixar moments.
With the way I’ve defined things, it would seem many Pixar moments would be good, but instead, it makes Finding Nemo an almost jarring and exhaustive emotional rollar coaster. Pixar masterfully understands how to tug your heart into saddness, into fright, into laughter, and then back to saddness, but it cycles through our emotions too many times for one moment to really stick out. Some people will enjoy this, but I prefer my movies to feel a little less manipulative. In any case, there are some genuinely touching moments in the film, my personal favorite coming from the defeat Marlin communicates to Dory when stuck in the whale. It would be a good time to say that the dialogue in this film is just terrific.
The story marvelously builds to Marlin and Nemo’s re-union, but once again, finding Nemo isn’t enough. Marlin and Nemo hardly have any time to embrace because of a more precedent external and internal conflict. Dory is being fished out of the ocean, and Nemo tries to help her. Marlin forbids Nemo from trying, afraid of losing Nemo again, but Nemo asks his dad to trust him. Marlin, after shutting out the world for so many years, finally takes his first steps towards recovery by trusting the world again, trusting himself again, and trusting his son.
It would be heresy to write a Finding Nemo review without talking about Dory: Ellen DeGeneres does a wonderful job voicing a much needed, hilariously memory-deficient tag-along partner for Marlin. Pixar likes to have their protagonists in pairs, but this is the first time a female has taken the role of comic relief, and the effect is hysterical. This leads me into an unsuspecting second complaint, which is that I never understood the meaning of having Dory’s memory become miraculously better when with Marlin. I’m glad Pixar didn’t turn this pair into a love story, but in some ways, I felt it would have been appropriate. Does Dory’s happy ending extend to just her memory being patched-up? Considering how delicately Pixar treated Marlin’s depression, Dory’s amnesia seems to have been depicted far too naively.
Minor problems aside, Finding Nemo is definitely one of my favorite Pixar movies, the first to fufill the artistic requirement of a taestful masterpiece grade. I haven’t even mentioned the soundtrack, which is my favorite of Pixar’s. So it is with earnest regret that I cannot bring myself to award Finding Nemo a 95% or higher. The problems I have outlined simply keep Finding Nemo from joining an even more elite class of movies. But in no way should these problems deter anybody from watching Finding Nemo. I think what makes Finding Nemo a truly tremendous piece of family entertainment is because it is about parenting, therefore transcending the often pretentious disposition that family films are for kids. No, this film, more than any other Pixar film, is directed at the parents. Even though life gives you terrible children films, you have to trust cinema, take the bad with the good, just keep on swimming, in order to experience movies as rewarding as Finding Nemo.
Final Grade: A (94%)–Finding Nemo brings the depth and beauty of the ocean into its screenplay.