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With: (voices) Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Austin Pendleton, Stephen Root, Vicki Lewis, Joe Ranft, Geoffrey Rush, Andrew Stanton, Elizabeth Perkins, Nicholas Bird, Bob Peterson
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 100
Date: 05/30/2003

Finding Nemo (2003)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Hooked on Nemo

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The plot is as old as the tides; it's the same old search-and-rescue used in films like Disney's The Rescuers (1977), which was just released on DVD. But in the new animated Finding Nemo, it's the little things that count, the mood, the motion, the sense of light and darkness -- all taking place under the sea.

The latest computer-animated epic from Pixar, Finding Nemo is far more complicated than it may sound. It's one thing to lay out a city block on a computer, or a toy character with smooth surfaces, but it's another thing entirely to design the constantly changing, topiary nightmare that is the bottom of the ocean.

Director Andrew Stanton (A Bug's Life) and his army of technicians and creative people have put together an astonishing water world for their tale. On Blade Runner, Ridley Scott drenched his sets in darkness and rain to cover up for the cheap sets, but in Finding Nemo, no such ruse is necessary.

Albert Brooks provides the voice for Marlin, a neurotic clownfish who lives in a sea anemone with his wife and their 400 almost-hatched eggs. When an evil, dangerous creature attacks, he leaves only Marlin and one lone child, called Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould).

Needless to say, Marlin is more than a bit reluctant to let Nemo venture out into the wide blue yonder -- especially since Nemo was born with a bum right fin. On his first day at school, Nemo attempts to prove his bravery by swimming close to a human's boat (dubbed a "butt" by some of Nemo's classmates) and winds up in a net.

Marlin darts out after him but quickly loses his way in unfamiliar waters. A blue tang fish, Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), with short-term memory loss -- shades of Memento -- agrees to help. Together they road-trip across the ocean, taking on sharks, jellyfish, and a turtle with a Jeff Spicoli complex, looking for little Nemo.

Meanwhile, Nemo lands in a fish tank in an Australian dentist's office. His tank mates include the hardened Gill (voiced by Willem Dafoe) and the kooky starfish Peach (voiced by Allison Janney), among others. Not willing to rest on their laurels, this club attempts an escape of their own.

In the Disney tradition, Stanton allows very little down time or quiet moments in this non-stop chase movie, but his imagination runs wild when it comes to the wonders of the ocean.

When chasing after a diver's mask that might hold a clue to Nemo's location, Marlin and Dory plunge deep into a dark fissure, discovering a toothy creature with a glowing light hanging from its head. Later, when they get caught in a whale's mouth, the movement of the water sloshing back and forth above them is absolutely convincing.

A hundred different little moments constantly impress either with their use of movement and light or their use of stillness and darkness. The "human" story is a little less impressive, with plenty of funny moments but with Brooks getting a little annoying after a while. (Woody Allen might have been a better pick; he was so well used in 1998's Antz.) But DeGeneres finds her true niche. Her clear, vibrant voice adds real warmth and life to Dory, bringing the character back from potential Jar Jar Binks sidekick territory.

With its simplistic theme and straightforward storytelling, Finding Nemo isn't nearly as interesting as Toy Story 2 -- Pixar's greatest moment -- but it totally transports you to another world. It takes you underwater and lets you breathe.

On September 14, 2012, Pixar released a new 3D version of Finding Nemo in theaters. I haven't seen the new version, but in a preview, the filmmakers argue that the 3D works incredibly well with the underwater setting, suggesting a new depth and expanse for he ocean. In any case, this was Pixar's highest-grossing film up until Toy Story 3, so undoubtedly, they're hoping that the new format will pull in a few extra million.

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