Directed by Andrew Stanton
Serving up an ambitious and imaginative story with some smart humor and stunning animation, Finding Nemo is a solid animated adventure, if not entirely the freshest catch of the day.
Send in the Clowns
Finding Nemo starts off with a bang. Marlin the clown fish (Albert Brooks, The Muse) and his sweetheart are proud parents-to-be, nervously awaiting the hatching of their litter of eggs.
Marlin's stable, settled life takes a dramatic turn, however, when a shark strikes, leaving him alone except for one misplaced egg that survived the attack.
After that dark and sinister opening, Finding Nemo is quick to turn on the Disney-esque charm and resumes the story with Marlin and his son, Nemo (Alexander Gould, They), getting ready for Nemo's first day of school.
Naturally, the single father is overprotective of his son, who sports one fin shorter than the other. Marlin's constant watch over his only spawn leads to Nemo resenting his father's good intentions and sheltering instinct.
Constantly warned to not swim into open waters, Nemo defies his father and swims out to examine the underbelly of a fishing boat. Just when he thought it was safe to clown around, Nemo gets scooped up in a scuba diver's net and is carted off to Sydney, Australia.
It then becomes Marlin's mission in life to find his son, who has become the latest addition to the aquarium in a dentist's office.
To Sydney and Beyond!
Writer/director Andrew Stanton, who collaborated on Pixar's A Bug's Life and Monsters, Inc., has the Pixar formula down pat: Trade in Disney's 1990s formula of animated fantasy musicals for dazzling digital animation, smart stories peppered with smart humor, and throw in a bit of edginess for older audiences. In this case, the edginess comes from an overall tone that is darker than Pixar's previous efforts.
With the death of Bambi's mother as the benchmark for traumatizing moments in children's cinema, the genocide of Marlin's family ranks right up there with its shock value. The rest of the film seesaws between moodiness and optimism as the characters move from one harrowing situation to the next.
In the end, it's the optimistic spirit that prevails. Along the way, gentle reminders to tolerate all walks of life and those with differences or disabilities permeate the storyline. Heck, in Nemo's aquatic world, even some sharks go to therapy to overcome their addiction to fish. (Fish are friends, not food, after all!)
The Trick Is to Keep Swimming
Finding Nemo is considerably longer than the typical children's animated feature. While most run around 80-90 minutes, Nemo is a full 101 minutes. Fortunately, the movie makes good use of most of that time.
The film also takes full advantage of its voice talent, particularly Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) as Gill, one of Nemo's fish tank compatriots, and Ellen DeGeneres (TV's Ellen) as Dory, a memory-challenged fishy who befriends Marlin. While Dory's quirky personality does start to grate on the nerves after a while, DeGeneres fills the role of the affable-but-annoying buddy quite well.
Helping to keep the proceedings interesting for all ages are some clever humor, which includes references to such classic films as Jaws and Psycho, and even Mike Wazowski, the one-eyed thingy in Monsters, Inc., manages to get into the swim of things during the film's end credits.
The film also flaunts a slick animation scheme wherein the scenes deep down in the ocean feature muted colors while scenes in the clear waters of the Sydney fish tank, basking in the natural light of the dentist's office, offer bold, vibrant colors.
Ultimately, though, a formula is still a formula and, in keeping with the formula, Nemo's calculated appeal should find his likeness gracing lunchboxes and packages of Fruit Roll-Ups at stores everywhere this summer. Parents be warned.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.