FINDING NEMO (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

FindingNemo poster

Directed by: Andrew Stanton

Written by: Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson & David Reynolds

Voices of: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Andrew Stanton, Barry Humphries, Geoffrey Rush, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Stephen Root & Eric Bana

Back when Pixar had a perfect winning streak, FINDING NEMO cemented its place among critically acclaimed animated features. NEMO won an Oscar, became one of the best-selling DVDs of all-time, grossed the second-highest amount of box office cash in 2003, and even spawned a Disneyland ride. It was also watched countless times throughout many different childhoods and entertained plenty of adults along the way. FINDING NEMO is a heart-warming, fast-paced, and hilarious adventure that still holds a place as one of Pixar’s finest creations.

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In the depths of the ocean, clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) is overprotective of his only son Nemo (Alexander Gould). Marlin’s sheltering attitude has made young Nemo desperate to go to school, socialize with other sea creatures, and explore the underwater world. Nemo’s first day of school goes south when he’s captured by an Australian dentist (Bill Hunter) and thrown into an office aquarium with a variety of quirky fish. Marlin nervously swims across the vast ocean in a desperate effort to rescue his son. Along the way, he’s aided by blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) who suffers from short-term memory loss. Together, Marlin and Dory pair will encounter many treacherous dangers and colorful characters as they make their way to Sydney, Australia.

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FINDING NEMO is a fast-paced story that kicks off its central journey within the first ten minutes, after a brief tragic prologue gives us further insight for why Marlin is overprotective of his only child. This oceanic adventure never really lets up in terms of excitement or humor. The Pixar animators designed the creatures to be on the scale of real-life animals, which further showcase the dangers that Marlin, Nemo and Dory encounter. This is especially heightened when dangers like a deadly school of jellyfish, a scary angler fish, and a hungry trio of “reformed” sharks pop up.

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That last bit gives a brief glimpse into just how funny FINDING NEMO is. Lots of jokes about different fish and their underwater environments will entertain both kids and adults, while there are plenty of subtle mature laughs hidden for older viewers. One of my favorite nods comes in the great white shark being named Bruce, a deliberate callback to JAWS, and then this character directly spoofing an iconic shot from THE SHINING. The funniest fish in a literal ocean of hilarious characters comes in the forgetful Dory. Voiced by Ellen DeGeneres (who was a perfect choice), Dory swims the careful line between being annoying and endearing. Laughs come from her frustrating flaws (mainly stemming from bad memory and occasionally snarky attitude), but she also delivers a couple of emotional moments.

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Albert Brooks voices nervous clownfish father Marlin, who’s not without obvious flaws, but his drive and desperation are completely understandable. While Dory delivers lots of over-the-top laughs, Marlin provides subtle gags and also has a couple of touching revelations when he laments his shortcomings. The rest of the cast features both recognizable big names and smaller unknown voices, but every character is equally hilarious and memorable for a variety of reasons. Child actor Alexander Gould is great as Nemo, while Willem Dafoe serves as grizzled aquarium tank mentor Gill. Geoffrey Rush is hilarious as pelican Nigel and has one of the most exciting sequences in the film as this friendly bird attempts to outmaneuver a pack of seagulls. NEMO’s director/writer plays the memorable surfer turtle Crush, while Australian comedian Barry Humphries is hysterical/threatening as the aforementioned Bruce.

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FINDING NEMO’s narrative is split into two different plotlines that run side-by-side. Every time Marlin and Dory’s adventure needs a break, we cut to Nemo trying to hatch an escape plan from the aquarium. Then when Nemo’s encounters with the colorfully quirky Tank Crew begin slowing to a crawl, the film cuts back to more exciting open ocean hijinks with Marlin and Dory. It’s all driven by a nearly perfect screenplay that’s populated by unforgettable characters, brilliant scenes, and a strong emotional core. The messages that both Marlin and Nemo take away from this story aren’t exactly new, but they’re executed in a fresh and heartwarming way. Though I have a minor complaint regarding a scene with a school of tuna at the end of the film being needlessly tacked on, FINDING NEMO remains among Pixar’s top-tier.

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To cap everything off, the film’s music perfectly captures the whimsy, emotion and adventure of every scene and the animation is fantastic to behold. Though the cartoon fish are obviously animated, the environments look very realistic…bordering on the ultra-believable backgrounds seen in last year’s THE GOOD DINOSAUR. It also greatly helps that NEMO’s characters are beyond memorable and the story is simultaneously smart and sweet. FINDING NEMO is a movie that reminds you of how amazing Pixar (and animated family films overall) can be. A great piece of family entertainment can make children gaze at the big screen with awe, teenagers chuckle at the humor and adults feel like kids at heart. FINDING NEMO accomplishes all three of these feats and makes them seem easy.

Grade: A

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