Finding Nemo As A Compelling And Authentic Drama Or A Diverse Audience

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Fish leaves home. Fish’s dad goes looking for him. That’s the set-up of this latest venture from Pixar Animation Studios. Pixar is well-known for continuously defining the cutting edge of computer animation, and that certainly is the case here. However, their lesser-known talent of crafting engaging stories about the simplest things gives the film an authentically analog heart on the digital screen.

The film was directed by Andrew Stanton (dir. A Bug’s Life, writ. Toy Story) and Lee Unkrich (Monsters Inc., Toy Story 2) from a script by Stanton, Bob Peterson, and David Reynolds, and draws on the legacy of Jon Lasseter’s groundbreaking Toy Story by making the relationship between two people the center of the film. It’s not about a fantastic plot, or dazzling special effects, but instead about an over-protective father and the importance of letting go. The scenery is still gorgeous; it’s simply in the background. Nemo’s father, Marlin, is voiced by Albert Brooks, giving mainstream audiences a glimpse of his endearing comic acting ability. Like Woody Allen in Antz, Brooks brings an extensive legacy of reflexive character-based humor to a film that, at first, might be brushed away as kid’s play.

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Finding Nemo does sometimes focus a bit too much on being cute as opposed to being creative, in anthropomorphizing the fish. For example, sequences on the coral reef seem to be very closely modeled on suburban life. Although suburbia has been brilliantly parodied in films like Edward Scissorhands, these scenes in Finding Nemo are included apparently as throwaway humor for children. It seems like a missed opportunity to create a brilliantly alien undersea world, as opposed to simply mapping roles directly to the patter of modern children and parents. However, this lull is balanced by sharply comic turns from Ellen DeGeneres as a fish with short-term memory loss, Willem Dafoe as a battle-hardened fish, and Geoffrey Rush as a gregarious pelican.

The lavish portrayal of the beauty of the reef and the ocean, along with the fact that the title character is named Nemo, connects the film thematically to Disney’s film version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. However, the teeming communities of life in Finding Nemo go further, drawing on glass-bottom boat adventuring and those repeating Discovery channel documentaries, to paint a beautiful celebration of the ocean environment. The effect is similar to Winged Migration, in provoking an awe-inspiring respect for the natural world. This backdrop is as emotionally resonant as the warm story it frames.

As an ongoing tradition among Pixar films, there’s something to keep adults smiling too. Psychological terms and the Alcoholics Anonymous methodology infuse the film with a fairly sophisticated level of dialogue, as opposed to the kids-only dramatics of more conventional fare. Another familiar Pixar feature is the series of inside jokes and asides to earlier film work in the same genre. As the Monster’s Inc. characters dined at Harryhausen’s, a reference to special effects genius Ray Harryhausen, Finding Nemo names its big burly shark Bruce, the name affectionately given to the mechanical shark on the set of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Finding Nemo also gives winks to The Shining, Psycho, and Braveheart — although it has very little violence or anger.

Finding Nemo, unlike many films distributed by Disney, provides compelling and authentic drama and humor for a diverse audience. While most films in this genre sonorously hammer out lessons for children, this one offers a pointed suggestion for fathers too. For its clever and entertaining story, topped off with a stunning view of the ocean world, Finding Nemo gets a rating of GE (great entertainment).


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