Finding Nemo

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By its fifth movie, Pixar was in full swing of producing a string of instant classics that’s almost impossible to beat – however, while the previous entries from the gargantuan animation house was fairly adept and delivering swift, punishing jabs to the emotions, nothing could have prepared us for the brutal body blow to our feels that was delivered right out the opening gate by 2003’s fishy titan, Finding Nemo.
Pixar already had a talent for stuffing adult-style neurosis into cute, easily marketable characters (the pain-inducing, existential crisis and abandonment issues of Toy Story 1 & 2 are nothing to be laughed at, even when you are laughing), but Finding Nemo ratchets things up noticably as we watch a movie that has a widower clown fish trying to cope trying to raise his disabled son following the death of his wife and over 400 of his unborn offspring – Pixar don’t fucking play.

After an obscenely traumatic opening act which plays as the cutesy, undersea version of a crazed home invasion or a drunk driver killing a pregnant spouse. The anxiety plagued Marlin finds himself down one beloved wife and hundreds of eggs consumed and so the widower raises his sole surviving son, Nemo, with all the relaxed attitude of a super hyper caffeine addict. Matters are made even more tense by the fact that Nemo has a birth defect that’s left the plucky youngster with a withered fin, something that make Marlin all the more over protective.
However, when Marlin freaks out over Nemo’s first day of school, the dam finally breaks and Nemo’s act of defiance gets him scooped by a passing diver and spirited away to live in his fish tank in his dentist’s office.
Marlin is obviously apoplectic with fear and as he races off in the direction the dentist’s  boat went he comes into contact with Dory, a perpetually upbeat blue tang fish with a short term memory problem who offers to aid the hyperventilating clown fish in his quest to get his boy back.
However, for all her good intentions, Dory proves to be a bit of a forgetful, disaster-magnet and the two fish endure a rapid fire string of run ins with leering sharks, bio-luminescent deep sea predators and stinging jellyfish to contend with. Meanwhile, Nemo has bonded with the slightly unhinged inhabitants of his new home and their leader, the determined Gill, has a plan to escape back to the ocean that involves utilising the young fish in a major role. However, if they don’t instigate their bid for freedom soon, Nemo has a date with Darla, the dentist’s niece, who’s excitable nature means that any fish in her care ends up floating belly up. Can Marlin and Dory get to him before the young fish takes the porcelain express to the piscene afterlife?

If I oversold the harrowing nature of the missing child plot, I can assure you that Finding Nemo doesn’t play like Pixar’s Gone Baby Gone (could you imagine?), but instead is pound for pound possibly one of the most consistently funny and touching releases the studio has ever gifted us. After the fun, farcical knockabout that was Monsters Inc., the added gravitas of kicking off a kids movie with a heart rending loss (we’re talking Bambi levels, here) makes all the difference. Once the dark opening is out the way, the movie is free to go for broke with it’s lush, beautiful visuals and broad humour, but lodged among the razor sharp jokes and memorable characters is a real sense of stakes that all comes from that pitch perfect opening.
As as for those jokes? Oh man, for a couple of fish, Finding Nemo’s joke hit rate is phenomenally high. Led by Albert Brooks’ nervous straight man (err, fish), Ellen DeGeneres’ scatty Dory is a stone cold work of comic genius (regardless what you may think of her chat show persona) and she’s backed up by a virtual army of eccentric water breathes that include a trio of dagger mouthed sharks who have sworn off eating fish, a surfer dude turtle with sage parenting advice and the various misfits who all share the dentist’s fishtank. As well as this, even the bit part characters are stunningly adept by drawing out huge belly laughs, be it the seagulls who can only scream “MINE”, the constantly combative Australian crabs, or the various aquatic creatures who make up Marlin and Nemo’s neighbourhood.
Visually, Nemo is light years on from Monsters Inc., with the undersea views so stunning it gives you actual pangs of regret that you don’t actually have the necessary gills to dive in and explore it yourself. Even the animation is superbly subtle as the bobbing of the fish’s bodies mimick the head motions you’d usually get from the actor voicing it (Dory’s in particular is sublime).
If we were to be super picky, you could suggest that maybe Finding Nemo once again is Pixar delivering yet another mismatched buddy comedy and maybe the various different adventures means the plot is fairly episodic. Also, there’s some weirdly tantalising questions that are mercilessly left hanging, like how exactly does Dory know how to read english? What are the sharks eating eating if they’re not consuming fish? Does kindly Pelican hobo Nigel ever find out that Nemo isn’t dead after the fast paced climax?

Of course, this is mere krill-sized issues compared to the whale-sized genius on show here and director Andrew Stanton (upgraded from co-director on A Bug’s Life) handles matters with confidence. If you even want to debate this, all you have to do is compare it to DreamWorks’ 2004 shipwreck, Shark Tale, a family movie as toweringly obnoxious as Finding Nemo is genuinely moving and it just goes to further prove that Pixar had delivered yet another instant animated classic.
A fish movie that’s not afraid to go deep.

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