Finding Nemo is one of my favorite movies and does a lot of things right, but there is one specific thing that I think it does better than any other movie in cinema history: Use CGI to impart the massive size of things. The scuba divers who capture Nemo; the sharks that chase down Marlin and Dory; the blue whale that swallows them… all of these are huge and terrifying creations.
It’s just one aspect of the movie’s visual genius, but it is, I think, a microcosm of the constant creativity and vision in this film. This is one of CGI’s first masterpieces, and still one of its greatest. Nearly twenty years have passed, the rendering technology improved exponentially, but Finding Nemo has endured.
The opening of Finding Nemo might be the most effective in animation history — and, yes, I’ve seen Up. The visceral gut punch of seeing Marlin lose his wife and family to a barracuda attack, only to be left with just one child who bears a physical disability that’s a constant reminder of that loss, puts us in the mindset of the overbearing father more than the restless youngster — an unusual position in the lineage of overprotective parent stories.
The subsequent separation story is full of a sense of danger rare in kids films. Every obstacle that Marlin encounters feels genuinely life-threatening, while the prospect of Nemo getting adopted from his new tank by a murderous child is daunting.
The plot is highly episodic, which is typically a turn-off for me. Yet Finding Nemo never feels like it’s resetting between any of its scenes; the film’s narrative momentum builds and builds as father and son overcome obstacle after obstacle on their way to reuniting.
The script has a quirky sense of humor to it, but not in a way that results in a bunch of punchlines. Instead, the comedy comes from peculiar turns of phrase and character-driven dialogue. It fits the tone well — there to make the kids laugh, but amusing for adults, too.
The voice cast is perhaps Pixar’s best ever: Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres bring palpable neuroticism and whimsy, respectively, as leads. Willem Dafoe taps in as a grizzled tank fish. A whole host of comedians and character actors have short but memorable appearances (Allison Janney, Brad Garrett, Eric Bana, etc).
A success in every aspect of its craft, memorable and dangerous and full of heart, Finding Nemo is unmissable classic.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100
Masterpiece: Tour De Good (8/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.