Ever since their Toy Story became the first feature length computer animated film in 1995, Pixar Animation Studios has just continued to impress critics and audiences alike. Their stories continue to be both funny and exciting, appealing to kids and adults equally, and their beautiful animation continues to improve, becoming more awe-inspiring every time out. Watching their latest entry—the wonderful fish story Finding Nemo—I can’t help but think this must be a similar experience to that of the late 30s, early 40s audiences who saw Disney explode out of the gate with classic films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Fantasia.
Finding Nemo follows the adventures of a clown fish named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) as he faces the many trials and tribulations of the ocean in search of his son Nemo (Alexander Gould), who was taken by a scuba-diver and now resides in a dentist office fish tank. Along the way, Marlin reluctantly enlists the help of a blue tang named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) who suffers from short-term memory loss. Along the way they encounter a trio of Sharks at an FA (Fish-Eaters Anonymous) meeting, a deadly field of jellyfish, some thrill-seeking sea turtles, the belly of a whale and some selfish seagulls. Marlin and Dory’s story is paralleled with that of Nemo’s adventures in the fish tank as the film cross-cuts between the two as brilliantly as Toy Story 2 did between Buzz and Woody. The fish tank is filled with an assortment of species, including a puffer (Brad Garrett), a starfish (Allison Janney) and a butterfly fish named Gill (Willem Dafoe) who is bent on escape and sees Nemo as the perfect opportunity.
With Finding Nemo, Pixar creates such a realistic undersea world that we really get the feeling that we are a part of it, just as we did with the insect world in A Bug’s Life, the toy world in the Toy Story films and the monster world in Monster’s Inc. There is so much color and detail that the audience can just sit back and absorb it all. There were two sequences that particularly caught my eye. One takes place in the cavernous remains of a sunken submarine. The scene features one of the film’s best chase sequences as Marlin and Dory escape a great white shark named Bruce (a nod to Jaws?). I can’t wait until the DVD comes out and I can watch this scene frame by frame and study the detail of the submarine. Another scene that visually caught my eye was when Marlin and Dory are stuck in the belly of a whale (Monstro?). The tongue and teeth are so finely detailed, you have to wonder if any of the Pixar animators have spent some time themselves in a whale’s belly.
Once again the voice casting is perfect. Albert Brooks’ neuroses work much better for him as a clown fish than they did recently as a dentist in The In-Laws. At least this time it came off as funny, rather than annoying. Ellen DeGeneres is funnier than she has ever been as Dory and Willem Dafoe sounds just sinister enough to make you suspicious of Gill’s early intentions. Also fun is Geoffrey Rush as a window-crashing Pelican named Nigel.
As has come to be expected of a Pixar film (or most of the computer animated films for that matter), the film is equally appealing for kids and adults. There is plenty of straight-forward humor for the kids to giggle at (such as the fish kids that call a boat a butt. “I’m gonna touch the butt.”), but there are also those subtle in-jokes that the kids might laugh at, but only the adults will truly understand. This is still Disney though, and none of these jokes are of bad taste, nor do they need to be.
There were times in Finding Nemo that I laughed so hard I almost fell over. It is by far the year’s funniest movie and rightly deserves to be called one of the year’s best films. I give it an A.