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Finding Nemo By Matt Singer
Pixar is starting to make critics obsolete. Every year or so when they release a movie, anyone who writes about film falls over themselves with praise about it. As I recall, Toy Story 2 had the highest Tomatometer rating on RottenTomatoes.com in the site’s history. Currently, 109 reviews are posted on Rotten Tomatoes, and 108 liked Pixar’s Finding Nemo for a percentage of 99%. That one stickler? Steven Snyder of Zertinet Movies, who says “few older viewers will find themselves caught up in this underwater tale.” What movie was he watching? In a theater packed to the gills (Rim shot!) with little kids, the theatergoer laughing the loudest was sitting in my seat.
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A warm, ingenious adult dramedy masquerading as a cartoon for children, Finding Nemo extends that Pixar hit streak to 5 (after two Toy Story films, A Bug’s Life, and Monsters, Inc.). It is a movie that will dazzle moviegoers of nearly all ages - little kids might be a bit put off by the adult pacing, as some in my theater were - with gorgeous sights and effortless humor. Along with Bend It Like Beckham, which had a similar tone, it is about as good as 2003 has gotten at the movies.
Nemo (the voice of Alexander Gould) is a tiny clownfish born with one damaged flipper. His father, Marlin (Albert Brooks), is an overprotective single parent-fish, after losing his mate and the rest of his children before the opening credits. Brooks generates the perfect mix of fatherly love and overbearance, and by explaning his neurosis’ origin, his character becomes that much richer. When Nemo tries to prove he is better than Marlin’s domineering parenting style, he winds up being wisked away by deep sea divers, and Marlin must risk the open ocean - which he fears - to rescue his son, whom he loves with all of his heart. His companion on his adventures is Dory, a blue tang voiced with adorable spunk by Ellen DeGeneres. Dory has a problem with short-term memory to the point that Finding Nemo answers the question “What would Memento look like if filmed by Pixar as a fish buddy movie?”
Marlin and Dory’s quest places them in the path of as many forms of undersea life as Pixar can come up with, and it proves to be fertile ground for a team of writers and animators led by co-writer/director Andrew Stanton. There are the sharks who are holding AA-style meetings to get clean of eating fish. There is a school of fish who would make top-notch charades players. And in the scene for which the film will probably be best remembered, our heroes meet a fleet of surfer-dude sea turtles led by Crush (voice provided by Stanton) cruising an underwater current. Each scene is almost like a new episode in a television series, with wonderfully developed new characters and impressive sights.
The visuals have gotten so convincingly realistic, in fact, that you’re no longer sitting there going “This is amazing animation! This was done with a computer?” as was often the case in the early Pixar films and you are simply left remarking “Boy the ocean looks beautiful.” They have gotten so good at their craft, the form is now almost completely invisible - and that’s WITH talking fish!
So what the heck is it about Pixar? Obviously there is a great deal of talent at this studio, but there are talented people working all over. While the specific combination of personalities and talents may have something to do with it, their unbeaten track record may have to do with the nature of their creating process. Due to the length, difficulty, and expense of computer animation, there is no place for rewrites as is traditionally found in regular movies. To commit to an undertaking like Finding Nemo you need to have complete faith in your material, and the approval of any number of very difficult gatekeepers. The phrase “We’ll fix it in post-production” does not apply, and this emphasis on story and character (as well as voice talent, which is outstanding once again here) makes for better movies.
The rest of Hollywood (and even the rest of Disney) should pay attention.