Finding Nemo, Pixar’s fifth feature film, is a movie with a central theme that a lot of people didn’t understand. One of the movie’s major themes is that it portrays the use of fish as pets negatively. Yet shortly after the movie’s release, the demand for clown fish for saltwater aquariums skyrocketed. It actually led to an environmental devastation for the clownfish. At the same time, some people who saw the movie released their pet fish into the ocean, but didn’t release them into their proper habitat, causing problems for the indigenous species.
But that can’t be blamed on the movie itself. I just thought I’d surprise you with a bit of a dark introduction for what is easily Pixar’s most dramatic movie we’ve looked at so far in this blogathon. It’s a story about Marlin, a clownfish, who is separated from his only surviving son, Nemo. It’s about his journey to find his son, and during his journey, learning that he’s overprotective and kind of joyless. His son, Nemo, also learns that he’s stronger than he thinks. The third major character is Dory, a blue fish with a severe case of short term memory loss, but she’s mostly there to lighten the otherwise depressing mood and to help Marlin on his journey.
The inspiration for Finding Nemo sprang from multiple experiences, going back to director Andrew Stanton’s childhood. He added elements of going to the dentist and seeing the fish tank there, where he’d imagine the fish wanted to go back to the ocean. Shortly after his son was born, he traveled to Marine World with his family (now called Six Flags Discovery Kingdom), and after seeing the shark tanks, he figured that the underwater environment could be created beautifully with CGI animation. And then he realized one day while walking in the park that he was being overprotective, and that robbed him of a great father/son moment.
Standon previously had a bunch of writing credits on his resume, including every Pixar movie released up to that point. Although he previously co-directed A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo would become his lead directorial debut. He started writing the basic story in 1997, when A Bug’s Life began its post-production. Because he wrote the story so early, Finding Nemo entered full production with a full screenplay, which is a rarity in the animation world. It’s also worth noting that Standon also has experience working in voice acting. For example, he voiced Emperor Zurg in Toy Story 2, one of the bug zapper flies in A Bug’s Life, and Crush, the sea turtle, in both Finding Nemo and its sequel, Finding Dory. Talk about multi-talented.
To help make their animation as accurate as possible, the animation team took a crash course in fish biology and oceanography. They visited aquariums, went diving in Hawaii and received in-house lectures from experts. And the result is clear. This is a beautifully animated movie. The fish swim smoothly and in a way that feels real. Because it looks so smooth, it’s easier to think of them as characters instead of the fake looking animations they could have been. The movie also does a great job with bubbles, reduced visibility underwater and other animation techniques that help make the environment feel real. It’s easy to think that this wasn’t an impressive technical achievement when so many of the backgrounds are just blue, but if anything, this movie revolutionized how water is animated.
And that’s all I’m going to say about this movie’s production cycle. Unlike the other early Pixar features, this one went fairly smooth, as if they were really figuring out how to run the studio by this point.
Finding Nemo was a massive success when it released in May of 2003, overtaking The Lion King as then the most profitable animated movie of all-time. It earned $867 million on a $94 million budget in its initial release. The 3D re-release in in 2012 bumped up its total to $940 million. The only movie that made more money in 2003 was The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, which became the second movie ever to earn over $1 billion. Finding Nemo also received universal acclaim, with a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an average rating of 8.7/10. Roger Ebert gave it a perfect 4/4, calling it “one of those rare movies where I wanted to sit in the front row and let the images wash out to the edges of my field of vision.” Nathan Lane, who voiced Timon in The Lion King, called it his favourite animated film.
Finding Nemo won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, in fact it became the first Disney released movie to do so. It also received nominations for Best Original Score, Sound Editing and Best Original Screenplay. It won 8 awards at the Annie Awards, and received too many other awards and nominations to list here. The DVD release also won several awards for its menu design, on-disc games and deleted scenes/outtakes/bloopers.
Honestly, I don’t remember what I originally thought of this movie. I know the first time I saw any of it was at my uncle’s place, and it was the very end of the movie. When I did get around to seeing it, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Whatever doubt I had in Pixar’s movies because of trying to grow up too fast disappeared that day. I cared about Marlin’s search for his son, and actor Albert Brooks performs his wide range of emotions brilliantly. I cared about Nemo’s attempts to escape the Australian dentist’s fish tank. I felt a bit sorry for Dory’s memory loss when her character got more dramatic. Ellen DeGeneres is brilliant in the role, capturing Dory’s excitement, confusion and playful nature convincingly. I also enjoyed all of the humour.
Now, I don’t enjoy the movie quite as much, but it’s still a really good movie. This is the most dramatic movie in Pixar’s catalogue up to this point, and all of the drama works very well. The opening scene takes itself very seriously, giving us a moment that’s very tragic and almost horrific by kid’s movie standards, setting the tone for the rest of the movie perfectly. You really feel Marlin’s frustration when his search doesn’t seem to be going well. When he seems to lose hope, you almost want to give him a hug. And when he gets really determined, it’s kind of glorious. He may be overprotective at first, and there are times when his frustration leads to unnecessary outbursts, but you fully understand why in both cases.
Although this movie’s a lot lighter on humour than most Pixar movies, a lot of the humour works very well too. The Seagulls who can only say “mine” are entertaining. The dentist being kind of an idiot never gets old. All the strange personalities in the dentist’s fish tank lead to some good laughs. And of course there are the sea turtles. I won’t spoil them in case you’ve never seen this movie, but somehow their personalities feel both wrong and right at the same time. I mean that in the best way possible. That said, while she’s nowhere close to annoying, I don’t find Dory as amusing as I used to. That could be why I haven’t seen Finding Dory yet, even though I want to.
Anyone who’s a parent, or at least has taken care of kids, will likely really appreciate Marlin’s personal journey. Nemo’s own journey about his slightly rebellious nature and building up his confidence is also a great story in itself. It also has a beautiful soundtrack that matches the movie’s tone and visuals very well. In short, this movie is an easy recommendation.
Next up is The Incredibles, which might be the closest thing we’ll ever get to a good Fantastic Four movie. After that, it’s cars, followed by Ratatouille. Two more movies after that and we’ll be at the exact half-way point of this 19 movie catalogue. Well, at least until Incredibles 2 releases this June.