Let me confess that American-made animation is not the type of thing I go out of my way to see, since most movies always seem to be adaptations of other Disney movies, only with different characters and different songs. I hate singing cartoon characters. Then Disney surprised me with “Lilo and Stitch”, which I adore completely. And now there’s “Finding Nemo”, made by Pixar Studios, the same people who gave us “Toy Story” and “Monsters Inc.”, to help further change my mind about American animation. It can be said that Pixar is the next generation of animators; besides their use of computers, they also shun the singing and dancing animals. While Pixar Studios is a branch of Disney, they aren’t Disney, if you know what I mean.
“Finding Nemo” is set in an ocean off the coast of Australia, with fish as characters. Like some recent American animation, the story has gotten a bit more serious, with mature themes for adults to ponder mixed in with harmless stuff for the kiddies. Albert Brooks (“The In-Laws”) provides the voice of Marlin, a clown fish who cares for his only son Nemo (Alexander Gould) after his wife and the rest of their brood becomes snack food to a big fish. Being that Nemo is his only offspring, Marlin has become neurotic (which makes the casting of the always neurotic Brooks pitch perfect) about his son’s safety, leading him to smother the boy.
Marlin’s worst fears come true when, during a school trip (on the back of an eel, no less) Nemo is snatched away by human divers. Marlin pursues, abandoning the safety of the reef in search of Nemo, and encountering the sometimes helpful but other times not so helpful Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) along the way. Dory is a fish with short-term memory. And yes, she is as funny as the description sounds. While Marlin maneuvers the dangerous seas to get to Nemo, the clown fish tyke finds himself in a dentist office’s fist tank. Here, the veteran fish Gill (Willem Dafoe) plots to escape, a goal that takes on greater urgency with knowledge that the dentist plans on giving Nemo to his precocious young niece who has already killed one fish!
The animation in “Finding Nemo” is, not unexpectedly for the fine folks at Pixar, just brilliant. The movie is constantly awash (har har) in a sea of colors and flawless renderings of various sea life. Everything is done with great attention to detail, from the way the animal’s eyes are rendered to the way they move. This is the type of film that really shows the loving devotion lavished on it by its animators. I’ve said it already and I don’t mind saying it again — “Finding Nemo’s” computer animation is flawless.
The most thrilling moments of “Nemo” involves Marlin navigating his way through the strange world of the ocean. While Marlin via Brooks mumbles neurotically, Ellen DeGeneres provides the laughs. The gifted comedian is on the mark, and nearly every single line of dialogue that comes out of her fish’s mouth is hilarious. The scenes where Nemo plots his escape from the dentists’ fish tank is not altogether that interesting, which is probably why there is so little of it. Oh sure, the notion of the other fishes in the tank going, literally, crazy from having been locked away in the tank for so long (i.e. prison) is worth some chuckles, but there’s only so much you can do within the confined spaces of a fish tank.
While “Finding Nemo” is not “Jin-Roh” or “Kite”, parents should nevertheless be warned that there is some mature stuff present. In the first 4 minutes, a fish wipes out Marlin’s entire family, leaving just him and Nemo. Of course we don’t see the actual “killing”, but the point is made. Later, a shark suffering from blood-frenzy tries to eat Marlin and Dory. It’s a vicious scene, very beautifully rendered, but potentially very frightening to younger viewers. (My own niece was scared.) Also, there are numerous scenes where young Nemo is put into harm’s way, risking everything from being eaten to being dump in the trash to being chewed up by the fist tank’s churning machinery.
While American animation still has a lot of catching up to do with their Japanese counterparts, you can already see the changes happening, and all for the better. The Japanese realized long ago that animation was not just for kids, and while adult-themed animation in America have been box-office disasters (which is the primary reason you don’t see that many, they just don’t sell here), one gets the sense that American animators are starting to slowly but surely change attitudes toward animation. The future is very bright indeed.
Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich (director) / Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds (screenplay)
CAST: Albert Brooks …. Marlin
Ellen DeGeneres …. Dory
Alexander Gould …. Nemo
Willem Dafoe …. Gill
Brad Garrett …. Bloat
Allison Janney …. Peach