Written by: Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds
Starring: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe
No manual or educational course teaches the secrets of parenting or how to prepare for the trials and tribulations it will cause. It all arrives with experience and not many come as traumatic as the one faced by a particular clownfish in Finding Nemo. A touching portrait of a father-son relationship that will work the heartstrings but also take place in a larger universe of wonderful characters.
Resident clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) isn’t particularly ready to send his only son, Nemo (Alexander Gould), off to school considering his lame right fin. Marlin’s overprotective nature causes Nemo to act out and rebel in a way that gets him captured by a human to be domesticated as a pet. Marlin must now try to find a way to bring back his son traveling through the ocean.
I will never forgive how Pixar can make me feel such deep emotions following the journey of fish but they manage to accomplish this brilliantly in Finding Nemo. I’m not even a parent at the writing of this review, but the film really hits at some truths that come with this specific experience in life. Marlin’s personal progression comes from simply allowing his son to be, grow, and fail, which remains a healthy practice as it’s the only way for them to fully develop. It becomes difficult to fully blame Marlin for his fright considering the opening of the feature punching you right in the gut emotionally. A scene put together impeccably to set up not only the relationship Marlin will have with his only son but also the extreme danger every day can be for fish in the ocean.
Size matters tremendously in the ocean and the animation works wonders in displaying the disparity and how it leaves fish like Marlin, Nemo, and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) at a major disadvantage to survive. Comparatively, if you’ve seen a clownfish you know how small they are as compared to a shark or sea turtle but the way the size difference gets displayed in this feature works wonders. The first major instance occurs with the appearance of Bruce (Bary Humphries) the shark. With Nemo being taken away, Marlin and Dory become the focal point of the story within the ocean and the camera sizes them up as such. They become the comparison in size for everything else and the moment where they turn and see the giant shark smiling at them with its enormous teeth, which are bigger than them alone, it causes quite the fright. I’ve seen this movie so many times over the course of my life, but on a recent rewatch, the pure scaling of these character sizes truly left an impression.
Having this size disparity displays the danger of everyday life for these fish and gives further credence to the fears Marlin has of letting Nemo just grow up and make decisions for himself. At any moment any host of natural predators can swoop in and eat these fish, which must be a horrifying existence for Marlin to live with every day only made worse when he’s responsible for the well-being of his only child. The rest of the narrative journey simultaneously justifies and questions Marlin’s decisions as a parent in a truly meaningful manner, which should come to no surprise with this being one of Pixar’s finest.
Filled to the brim with fun characters as Marlin tries to reunite with his son, the largest supporting role comes from Dory, who suffers from short-term memory loss. They join together in the quest to bring back Nemo and she quickly becomes such a strong side character because she exposes yet another of Marlin’s tendencies, which includes not hearing out others. On several occasions, the feature shows Marlin discounting Dory’s opinion because he does not believe her to be smart enough to make them, which continually bites him in the fin. You could not find a more different duo in personality than these two and it makes the ride all the more fun. Through the ocean, they meet a bevy of other characters and explore the deep depths of danger these fish must encounter. As mentioned before, Bruce and his group of sharks commit to never eating fish again, and vow to see them as friends make for a hilarious and riveting scene. It plays against all forms of expectations of what type of animals embody this ecosystem.
Other characters like Crush (Andrew Stanton) the sea turtle, the collection of aquarium fish with Nemo, Nigel (Geoffrey Rush) the pelican, and many more leave an indelible mark in the feature creating a full tapestry of players in the circle of life. It fosters a level of richness of how you can get emotionally invested into all of these characters and their individual journeys all surrounding Marlin’s pursuit to find Nemo. In the end, these are all animals but the level of emotional development they experience surpasses what most humans are willing to endure.
With it being a Pixar film, the animation surely stands out from other Disney fare and even with Finding Nemo being in the early 2000s, it still holds up wonderfully. From the texture of the fish in the moments they topside onto the land and the way the ocean gets captured displays astute attention to detail by the animators. Nothing about this ocean proves to be bland as it shows murkiness, the pitch black of the deep, and how the sun can have an impact on what can be seen by these fish. Nothing ever remains static because the ocean contains an ecosystem of constant movement displayed beautifully for the emotional story to play out.
Looking forward to life as a father eventually, I just know Finding Nemo will only hit me harder seeing as several moments make me teary-eyed even today. It speaks to the power of storytelling as Pixar has proven to do time after time with creatures and characters one would least expect it from. This film takes the audience on such an epic journey encompassing so many aspects of ocean life to display the beauty of these aquatic animals. Even if we can’t see them without scuba diving, these ecosystems run in their own way and have done so since the inception of existence.