Finding Nemo is the raucously entertaining new movie from Pixar Animation and Disney, the creative minds responsible for the equally imaginative Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story. It pulled over seventy million dollars at the box office on its opening weekend, which means a large percentage of the population has almost certainly given up eating fish. Bad news for fisherman is good news for movie-goers: it is hard to imagine that a more exciting or funny film will be released this summer–maybe this year–than this tale of a neurotic clown fish who pursues his son across an ocean of coral reefs, sea turtles, torpedoed submarines, and sharks gone veggie. Nemo’s richness and warmth make its dour summer movie competitors, like the grim Matrix Reloaded, look positively anemic. At a time when most adventure films seem willfully to cultivate a somber, post-industrial look and feel, Nemo is an explosion of bright, joyful color and ebullient storytelling.
Finding Nemo begins in an exquisitely rendered coral reef, where Marlin, voiced by the great comedian Albert Brooks (seen–or rather heard–to better advantage here than in the languid In-Laws, also in theaters), has brought his wife and their four hundred eggs to live. The reef is kind of an upscale housing development for fish and other aquatic creatures, and Marlin is the perfect suburban dad, despite his orange and white stripes and fins. Before the opening title appears, a shocking tragedy leaves Marlin bereft of his wife and all but one of the eggs–the child he will call "Nemo." (It is notable that darkness and violence enter the picture so early, with the death of Nemo’s mother. As the film is more or less marketed for young children, parents of especially sensitive youngsters should be cautioned that Nemo, in large part a big-hearted comedy, is punctuated with potentially distressful scenes and images.) Marlin, a loving, devoted father to Nemo, is also full of pain and loss, which is manifest in his desperate over protectiveness of Nemo. Afraid for Nemo’s gimpy fin, and terrified of the dark, treacherous waters over the wall of the reef, he won’t even let the boy go unaccompanied to nursery school. When Nemo is caught by a deep-sea diver and taken to a new, scary home in a dentist’s aquarium, Marlin must struggle to overcome his own fear of danger to rescue his son.
What follows is a wonderful, comic epic, full of suspense and humor, as Marlin swims the channel to rescue Nemo, encountering all manner of delightful ocean life and adventures on the way. Nearly every scene is cleverly written and brilliantly executed, with a breathless editing style. The voice work is uniformly superb. In addition to Brooks, Nemo features a terrific performance by Ellen DeGeneres, as Dora, a daffy blue-colored fish with short term memory loss, and another by the unmistakable Willem Defoe, who plays a grizzled, laconic veteran of the fish-tank where plucky Nemo awaits his rescue. Like its predecessors in the Pixar canon, Finding Nemo is destined to become a classic among animated films.
I have only a slight qualm about Finding Nemo. Although its father and son theme makes the movie an especially apt Father’s Day offering, I am concerned about the ongoing tendency in American animated blockbusters to avoid the subject of mothers–whether by killing them off or simply ignoring them–in order to concentrate on the plight of real or surrogate Dads. With any luck, the wildly popular Pixar films will one day add a mother figure to their dazzling retinue of intrepid monsters, heroic toys, and tropical fish.