Finding Nemo

Reviewed By Collin Souter
Posted 06/09/03 14:34:11

"Pixar's masterpiece"
5 stars (Awesome)

I have seen “Finding Nemo” twice and I can now declare it my favorite of all of Pixar’s films. I always thought of “Toy Story 2” as the best, if for no other reason than the sequence in which the cowgirl character reminisces about her former playmate. I defy anyone not to be moved to tears by that sequence. “Finding Nemo” doesn’t have any sequences quite that sad, but it has enough emotional pull to make one feel as though they can relate to its many themes and situations to the point of feeling very much involved. It also goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that Pixar has also made their most visually awesome movie yet.

The movie feels dizzy with color and drunk on its own otherworldly creation. Sure, it derives most of its splendor from what actually exists on our ocean floors, but that doesn’t make it any less wondrous. The camera (if I can call it that) swoops over the landscape and flies high above its densely colorful surface with such precision that one can’t help but wonder, even while knowing that Pixar has made four feature-length films before this: How did they do that?

Really, how do they do it? Pixar’s movies have all been huge hits and have all been wonderfully entertaining and yet they never rest on their laurels. By now, most studios would have figured they have carved a niche for themselves and would feel content to repeat past successes, but John Lasseter and his team manage to keep telling emotionally engaging stories while also pushing the envelop of computer animation.

With “Toy Story 2,” Pixar gave special attention to the details of the human characters, giving them realistic flesh tones and body hair. Their efforts looked so realistic that somebody out there felt it would be a good idea to make a computer-animated movie based solely on this principle (“Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within.” Not a bad movie, but not a good idea, either). With “Monsters Inc.,” Pixar brought a monster to life by giving him a million or so strands of hair that had to be replicated for every frame in which he appeared.

With “Finding Nemo,” as with “A Bug’s Life,” Pixar has created a world all its own and in doing so has gone above and beyond the call of duty for entertainment. Oddly enough, the center of attention, technically, has more to do with the surface of the ocean than the ocean itself. The surface of the water looks just as gorgeous and compelling as anything else. Light dances in its reflections and it doesn’t look fake for a second. Again, how did they do that?

Yet, I find it most miraculous that while watching these movies I am able to not repeat that question to myself because I am so involved with the story. By now, you all know that the story centers around a overly-protective father clownfish named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) searching for his lost son, Nemo (Alexander Gould), who had been taken away by scuba divers and now sits trapped in a fish tank populated by other eccentric characters. So, I’ll spare the details.

The primary theme of “Finding Nemo” has to do with holding onto something so tight that you almost end up losing it. Sometimes, the bravest thing a father can do is just accept the fact that his son or daughter must sooner or later flee the nest and become their own person, that leaving and taking risks builds character, lends to experience and could end up saving the day. The writers of this tale seemed well versed in one of the most fundamental principles of screenwriting: Show, don’t tell. The message behind “Finding Nemo” never gets verbally pounded into our heads, yet when the message does come through the mouths of the characters, it comes at a time when one would least expect it.

We can also thank the folks at Pixar for not interrupting the proceedings with a gushy lite-rock diddy from a 50+ rocker (Again, “Toy Story 2” notwithstanding). Not that I minded any of the Randy Newman songs from previous films, nor did I mind any of his score work, but the welcome addition of Thomas Newman (“American Beauty,” “Erin Brokovich”) helps make “Finding Nemo” all the more distinct. It’s a gorgeous, refined and perfectly nuanced score, one of his best yet.

The vocal performances have also never been better. Albert Brooks makes the perfect neurotic father figure who must also succumb to the harsh facts of single parenthood. Ellen Degeneres also gives a brilliant performance, almost out of left field, as Dory, Marlin’s good-natured, forgetful traveling companion. Her declaration to Marlin that she finds a sense of being home just by swimming in his company comes off beautifully, because it doesn’t come out of some forced romantic sub-plot, but out of the emptiness of her own self knowledge. She has severe soul sickness and the real tragedy of her character’s condition comes after the declaration when almost all has been lost. And Willem Dafoe’s performance as Gill, the black-and-white striped prisoner of the fish tank, reminds us that even off-screen, he remains one of our most vital and interesting talents.

I guess I should mention that I have seen the movie twice, both times with digital projection. I have issues with this technology, but only because of the nagging purest side of me that refuses to take a nap. I have yet to see this movie on film. I doubt it matters one bit. The most miraculous thing about Pixar’s movies, and others like it, usually has to do with the fact that we can forget that our emotions rest at the mercy of computers, a machine born to be purely functional and not thoughtful. If a movie has been made on a computer, I guess I shouldn’t mind that I’m watching it on a computer. So long as the movie doesn’t freeze up and I have to wait for the “Buffering…buffering…” message to go away, I’m fine with it.

I find it hard to imagine what envelope Pixar will push next. They did put a teaser trailer at the beginning of the digital print for their next project, “The Incredibles” (Slated for November, 2004). So far, it looks as though it tells the story of an overweight superhero who lives with his mother. It looks cute. I’m sure it will be more than just cute, but it’s just too soon to say. Right now, we can look at the gifts they have given us and bask in them with repeated viewings, a feat not often earned with today’s movie climate. It’s a rhetorical question, but it bears repeating: How do they do it?

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