The big news isn’t that Finding Nemo has returned in 3D (an admittedly good format for a movie like this) but how, once again, it can be experienced on the big screen. This is one of the most magnificent achievements in the history of the Pixar Animation company, a perfect blend of brilliant animation and intelligent screenwriting. The opportunity to see a film this timeless, beautiful and funny in a movie theater is not to be missed.
Most have seen the film at least once, since it was one of the most popular films of 2003, but here’s a refresher: in Australian waters, a clownfish named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) loses his son, Nemo, who is captured and placed in a dentist office fish tank. Marlin finds an unlikely ally in a child-like fish named Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), who aides him on his quest to find his son, despite her frequent bouts of short-term memory loss.
Revisiting the film nine years later, I was frequently overcome with emotion (which is to say, I cried a lot) and found myself deeply moved by the story’s handling of its central theme: how parents can sometimes smother their kids when trying to keep them from danger. The story oddly mirrors the classic The Bicycle Thief and makes a series of nods to Hitchcock and The Odyssey, as every turn Marlin and Dory make in the ocean is often an excursion into danger.
Tonally, the film is a textbook example of how to switch gears, as intense scenes of peril are interrupted by surprising comic set pieces. One of the great scenes in this or any Pixar film is the darkly funny set piece where Dory and Marlin encounter a group of sharks; rather than eating them, the sharks want them to participate in their shark self-help group.
That’s just the set-up for a howler of a sequence, which, in a hilarious touch, features Eric Bana as the voice of a hammerhead shark. The humor balances some of the more wrenching moments, such as the first scene, which will remind many of Bambi, as Marlin is relishing his family’s new home, until…
You won’t care that the characters are fish and, the animation is so breathtaking and vividly realized, you may often forget you’re watching a “cartoon.” The underwater world has a startling accuracy and so do the mannerisms of the characters.
One of the funnier running jokes is how, since he’s a clownfish, everyone assumes Marlin is funny: the look of sinking disappointment on the other fishes’ faces as he fails to tell a joke is priceless. So are the vocal performances, with DeGeneres never better as a character many will remember as foolish, until her struggle to keep her memory intact becomes truly dire. Brooks is also in top form, though my favorite character has always been Gill, a scarred but determined fish, voiced perfectly by Willem Dafoe.
Most will remember Dory’s mantra of “Just Keep Swimming” and the swarm of sea turtles who speak fluent Dude (“Righteous! Righteeeeoouuusss!!”). Revisiting a film this visually and thematically layered again, you’ll notice the funny bits that may have been missed in the background, like how Nemo is being held captive by the worst dentist in Australia. There’s also the action sequences, which are edge of your seat exciting, particularly an aerial chase in a Sydney harbor.
Pixar once again cements their reputation as a crew of great cinematic storytellers, and this is one of the great ones, a milestone film for them and a gift for audiences everywhere.
Finding Nemo 3D
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Rated G / 100 Min.