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Dustin Putman

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Finding Nemo (2003)
3 Stars

Directed by Andrew Stanton
Voices: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Austin Pendleton, Stephen Root, Vicki Lewis, Joe Ranft, Geoffrey Rush, Andrew Stanton, Elizabeth Perkins, Erik Per Sullivan, Nicholas Bird, Barry Humphries, Eric Bana, Bruce Spence
2003 – 101 minutes
Rated: Rated G (nothing objectionable).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 31, 2003.

The folks at Pixar Films, responsible for some of the most imaginative and visually astounding animated efforts of the last decade (1995's "Toy Story," 1999's "Toy Story 2," 2001's "Monsters, Inc"), can't seem to miss. If not for them, distributor Disney would have very few remarkable recent releases (not counting Hayao Miyazaki's 2002 anime masterpiece, "Spirited Away," which they picked up after the fact and intentionally buried at the box office).

Disney and Pixar's latest collaboration, the marvelously entertaining and wondrous "Finding Nemo," surpasses everything they have made in the past to achieve undoubted "modern animated classic" status. The secret of Pixar's success has nothing to do with their inventive plots or lovely animation, although that may be part of it. No, the reason the "Toy Story" series, for example, have really won over so many widespread fans is that they do not pander to or look down upon their audience. With Pixar, there are no age limits to enjoying their motion pictures, and each film is universal and truthful in its themes. They also happen to be quite funny. There is no better example of all of these characteristics than "Finding Nemo."

Set in the boundless and awesome world of undersea creatures, Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) is a neurotic clownfish who has been overprotective of his young son, Nemo (Alexander Gould), ever since his wife was killed in a run-in with a barracuda. When Nemo disobeys his dad by venturing out too far into the open and is captured by a human undersea diver, Marlin sets out on a desperate search to save him with nothing to go by but an address on a pair of lost goggles. Joining Marlin on his quest is a short-term memory-impaired blue tang named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), whom he forms a trusting friendship with despite her forgetting things every two minutes. Meanwhile, Nemo finds himself in a salt water tank at a dentist's office in Sydney, Australia, threatened to be adopted within days if he doesn't find a way to escape back to the ocean.

Under the writing-directing helm of Andrew Stanton (1998's "A Bug's Life") and his top-notch crew of computer animators, "Finding Nemo" is both a genuinely touching story of a father and son and an utterly beautiful oceanic travelogue. On the former account, the parent-child relationship between Marlin and Nemo is understated, realistic, and winning. Nemo was born with an abnormality in which one of his fins was smaller than the other, but yearns to be treated like everyone else, making friends and going to school. In frustration with his strict father, Nemo's last words to Marlin before he is fishnapped—"I hate you"—are filled with bitterness and the kind of anger that only comes when you actually love someone as much as Nemo and Marlin love each other. Their movie-long struggle to find each other and rekindle their relationship is deeply involving and always exciting.

Marlin and Dory travel far and wide within their ocean home as they breathe in the sights and come into contact with a number of delightful characters: three sharks who hold a sort of AA meeting that has nothing to do with drinking alcohol and everything to do with eating fish; a school of fish able to form elaborate shapes and give them directions to Sydney; and a group of traveling turtles. The CG animation is as good as any seen since 2001's "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within"—colorful, textural, sumptuous, detailed, and filled with complete wonder. Mixing accuracy with an understandable artistic license, the underwater world has never been seen quite like this before onscreen. The scenes set on land—featuring Sydney's famous lovely landscape—are just as amazingly rendered.

As the distraught and increasingly brave Marlin, Albert Brooks' voice work is sterling, giving him the chance to stretch his dramatic muscles while being given a number of his usual sharp comic barbs. He may never be seen in the flesh, but Brooks' performance is every bit as accomplished as his work in the recent "The In-Laws" is wasted. As Dory, who would be surprisingly smart if not for her memory impairment, Ellen DeGeneres (1999's "Ed TV") is the easy standout. DeGeneres, whose flagging career should deservedly get a boost from her work here, is funny and endearing when, in the wrong hands, the role could have become annoying. Together, Brooks and DeGeneres make an unforgettable team.

At 101 minutes, "Finding Nemo" whisks by in a sea—pardon the unintended pun—of endless originality and narrative resourcefulness and doesn't come close to ever overstaying its welcome. It has the ability to make you laugh, and make you cry—tears that are earned by real emotions and no hint of mawkishness. Special note should also go to the clever end credits, played to the atmospheric classic tune, "Beyond the Sea," covered by Robbie Williams. When all is said and done, "Finding Nemo" is superlative family entertainment, joyous and alive in a way few films are.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman