My overriding memory of Finding Nemo is one of uncontrollable laughter. As Dory endeavours to communicate with a resident whale, I put my need for oxygen on hold and proceeded to crack up, guffaw and generally LOL hysterically. While I adore all of Pixar’s movies (yes, even Cars), and might hold Wall-E as the height of the studio’s creativity, Up as their most emotional release and Toy Story as the studio’s biggest technical achievement; only one of their movies might be described a personal favourite. The fifth of their releases hasn’t yet gathered any dust on my shelf – the incomparable Finding Nemo.
Telling the story of the ocean’s least funny clown fish, Finding Nemo pits overprotective father Marlin (Albert Brooks) against the big wide aquatic world as he sets about rescuing his ever-slightly-impaired son, Nemo (Alexander Gould), from marauding fish-nappers. Having lost his wife and the rest of his fish-lings to a peckish barracuda, Marlin must leave his anemone-encased comfort zone in order find and rescue Nemo.
Unintentionally enlisting the help of the ever-forgetful Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), an odd-couple road boat-trip springs from tragedy as the two fish set aside their differences and learn to work together as a team. Held prisoner in an Australian dentist’s surgery, Nemo begins his own adventure as he befriends his fellow inmates and puts his own escape plan into action.
Hot off the heels of Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc. and Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo’s sitting as a buddy movie might seem far from innovative. However, while Finding Nemo boasts the traditional rescue attempts and familiar central relationship, it juggles such conventional tropes with a layered narrative that also allows for a well-handled opening tragedy and exuberant Great Escape style sub-plot. Although the studio have consistently proved masters of storytelling, it is their fifth feature that proves the most fulfilling and endearing as the ocean coughs up some of the most memorable characters in the Pixar canon.
While their previous outputs could largely be reduced to single conflicts (old against new or subordination against royalty), Finding Nemo has almost as many themes as it does characters. Is the glass half full or half empty? What does it mean to be a good parent? What are the benefits of teamwork? Just how do you speak whale? Luckily, this depth does not conspire to invoke unflattering comparisons to condescending after school specials, but instead gives proceedings a substance that might have so easily been neglected- you have seen Shark Tale, right?
The reason that Finding Nemo doesn’t have to fall back on dated pop culture references or nauseating family values is it’s smorgasbord of endlessly entertaining characters. From Bruce the vegetarian shark to Deb, a fish who believes her own reflection to be a silent sister called Flo, Finding Nemo is so bristling with gags and colourful supporting players to humour its sponsors or stringent parents. Even the smaller roles benefit from inspired casting and a bubbly script. Eric Bana can’t have more than two lines as shark lacky Anchor, Geoffrey Rush absolutely owns his small screentime and Dame Edna Everage of all people is cast as the aforementioned Bruce, yet it never feels like DreamWorks-esque stunt casting. It just works beautifully.
Of all the characters, however, it is Dory who makes the most lasting impression, ironic as it may be. Boasting a memory more suited to your average goldfish, this surrogate child of sorts has complete control over your emotions from beginning to end. Voiced by Ellen DeGeneres in a fit of extraordinary foresight, the character is arguably the best marriage of voice acting and animation committed to film, besting even Robin William’s acclaimed genie for canniness. As her memory slowly improves, and P. Sherman’s Sydney address cements itself in her mind, any threat to her progression and newfound independence pull any heart string left intact following the film’s opening massacre. Whether confessing to her fish-free diet, attempting to speak whale or monologuing her fear of regression, Dory, to me at least, epitomises the collective power and joy of computer animation like no other.
It is not just in characterisation that Finding Nemo excels however, the studio’s first underwater feature continues Pixar’s tendency for innovation and boundary pushing. While Toy Story illustrated the potential for computer animation even at feature length, A Bug’s Life generated hundreds of individual characters and Monster’s Inc. rendered one of the most realistic (and furry) of all its characters, Finding Nemo is reliably breathtaking – though it is easy to overlook the challenges that faced the movie’s filmmakers. A director’s commentary later it is clear that the finished product was no small feat, the difficulties invisible under a truly beautiful gloss. The film’s lighting in particular is incredible, the way the sunlight dances across the sea bed or plays of a plastic bag completely – yet unobtrusively – impressive.
Above all, however, my favourite thing about Finding Nemo is how excellently it balances the adult and child-friendly humour. In my opinion, Finding Nemo is the polar opposite of something like Up, which is often cited as many adults’ favourite Pixar movie, largely as a result of the heart-breaking opening montage. I have always found Up (my least favourite of the studio’s features) relatively uneven in this respect, the talking Dog’s squirrel obsession jarring with the deliciously mature opening sequence and moving thematics. In Finding Nemo, however, there is a far reduced distinction between humours, each joke simply hilarious without being aimed at anyone in particular. Of course parents will sympathise with Marlin in respects that no child could reasonably fathom, but the film has a timeless and ageless quality that sells it completely.
Overall, then, Finding Nemo is the Pixar movie to rule all Pixar movies. Layered, consistently hysterical and absolutely spectacular to behold, the movie hits about every note you could ask of a kids movie, leaving you in a state of elation that will never fully leave you. With HeyUGuys offering you the chance to vote for your favourite Pixar character, I ask you to vote for Dory, for Marlin, for Nemo; I ask you to vote for Finding Nemo, the studio’s greatest animation to date.