The most resonant image in my head after I left the darkness of the theater for the hot summer air of the parking lot was a great field of shimmering blue green surrounding a lonely speck of orange. In the joyous and funny Finding Nemo, Pixar and Disney have created more than just smart entertainment, they have created a true work of art.
Animation, more than any other genre of film, hearkens back to the pre-celluloid, pre-photograph days where images were created with splashes of paint and then were put on the wall in ornate gold frames. With the advent of cinema, someone had the bright idea to make these pictures move, and animation was born. In essence, however, they are still simply pictures; thousands of them, strung together to create the illusion of motion. Few animated films these days really get that, though. They all want to be quick with the jokes and the wit and the innuendo, and they forget that they are a unique art form with a rich heritage. Finding Nemo is a rare exception; a cartoon that celebrates its balance and color and form, all the while telling a captivating story.
Nemo is a clownfish with a deformed fin, a heart full of courage, and a father full of anxiety. Bad memories of a family lost make Marlin wary of leaving the reef where he and Nemo live, and when a school trip goes awry and Nemo is captured by a scuba diver, it looks to Dad as though all is lost. Not so, for that plucky little clownfish screws his courage and embarks upon a harrowing and hilarious adventure to find his son and bring him safely home. Along the way, Marlin meets twelve-stepping sharks, a Memento-esque parrot fish, surfing sea turtles, and a whole host of other memorable characters that will have you and the kids laughing from the edge of your seat.
Rife with cameos and celebrity voices, from Ellen DeGeneres to Albert Brooks to Willem Dafoe, Finding Nemo is one of those wonderful but increasingly rare cartoons that works on two levels. The kid level is wacky, funny, and colorful eliciting squeals of glee. The adult level does all that too, but with drier wit and impeccable comic timing. Degeneres, laying any political or social agendas aside, steals the show as an addled parrot fish who can't remember anything for more than a few minutes, but whose unstoppable optimism drives the momentum of the picture. Albert Brooks brings his trademark self-deprecation and is perfect as the slightly nerdy, anxious father with a heart of gold.
Marlin's journey across the wide open ocean is, as you might expect, one of self-discovery as well as Nemo-discovery. Almost all kids movies hit you over the head with their message, and Nemo is no different, though it does succeed in staying entertaining while it instructs. Children's entertainment has come a long way since I was a kid, and now, at the ripe old age of thirty, I feel I am qualified to start railing about the media and how they are warping the minds of our kids. They certainly never did anything like that when I was a kid, nossir. Granted, every generation complains about the one previous and its lack of respect, decorum, and quality entertainment, but while I watched the previews for the new big kids' films on the horizon I thought to myself, "There's no way our stuff was this bad, was it?" Our screening of Nemo was packed to the gills (ha!) with previews for movies either cloying and insipid or so manic and frenzied I get a headache at the mere thought of having to review them. Sexual innuendo has become rampant, violence commonplace, and plot and character development nearly non-existent. Pixar alone seem to be able to stay above the fray. From Toy Story to Monster's Inc., this one-time upstart young computer animation studio has consistently put out family friendly, yet compelling and intelligent films. Finding Nemo is no exception. It has charm, heart, and a real story, something kids desperately need to be exposed to. There may be a whole lotta fish in the sea, but rarely do find one as beautiful and friendly as this one. Grade: A
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