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Empire Magazine Greatest Movies List - #413: Finding Nemo

Dive beneath the ocean with the geniuses from Pixar. “Finding Nemo” is a great movie because it has the best the studio has to offer: state-of-the-art animation, engaging characters, funny gags, strong dialogue, and a solid story. Directed by Andrew Stanton, the movie was one of the hits of 2003 and was the fifth success for Pixar after “Toy Story” in 1995. Children love this movie for the story and adults can enjoy it for the smart humour.

I first saw “Finding Nemo” in theatres with my brother in 2003. It was a busy summer: my parents and I had just moved back to Quebec City after an 8 year stay in South America. When we were not busy unpacking and painting the walls of our new home, I would ask for a break to go to the movies. The movie was dubbed in French, which I hate, but it’s different with animated movies. The stories told are usually universal, and the jokes can be translated in any language. Seeing a great white shark called Bruce say “Fish are friend, not food” is probably just as funny in Swahili as it is in the original script.

Set in the Australian Great Barrier Reef, the story focuses on the relationship between a father and his only son. Years ago clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his wife Coral (Elizabeth Perkins) had hundreds of eggs ready to hatch. In a tragedy worthy of “Bambi,” a barracuda eats Cora and all the eggs save one. Marlin vows to protect his surviving child at all times, turning him into the most overprotective dad in the entire ocean. When his son Nemo (Elliot Gould) is ready for his first day of school Marlin’s constant pestering about safety embarrasses him in front of his new friends.

In an act of defiance Nemo swims towards a fishing boat to touch it with his fin. For fishes, this must be the equivalent of knocking on the door of the haunted house in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, the boat’s owner, who is wearing a menacing scuba diving gear, snatches Nemo. Marlin gives chase, but he cannot swim faster than the boat. In his haste he runs into Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) a friendly Pacific Regal Blue Tang who has seen where the boat is going. That is if she can remember where it went. Dory suffers from short-term memory loss, making her somewhat unreliable when it comes to direction. During their quest, the tow of them will run into vegetarian sharks, jellyfish, surfer dude turtles, and in a scene reminiscent of “Pinocchio,” a whale will swallow them whole. 

Meanwhile, we learn what happened to Nemo after he was captured. He is now in an aquarium in a dental office with a view of Sydney harbour. The aquarium is the home of a variety of other fish who wish to escape this confined space. Their leader is Gill (Willem Dafoe) whose voice gives him a certain wisdom and world-weariness. Gill has apparently been a prisoner for a long time, which has allowed him time to plan an escape worthy of “Mission: Impossible.”

While these two plot lines are heading towards an inevitable collision, the writers keep the laughs coming. Who wouldn’t laugh at a meeting of “sharks anonymous” where three sharks who have sworn off eating their fellow fish recite their pledge? It even gets a little dirty for a children’s movie at one point. When the fish in the dental office manage to block the aquarium’s filter as part of their escape plan, it quickly fills up with grime. One of them screams, “Don’t you realize we are swimming in our own shi…?”, only to be interrupted by a loud burp.

The animation is top-notch throughout. Water, I have heard, is one of the most difficult elements to animate. Yet the hard-working crew at Pixar created an ocean that is both colourful and convincing. As night falls on Sydney harbour, the sun’s reflection on the ocean is simply gorgeous. When fishes jump out of the water, we can still water on the surface of their skin. A lot of effort went into this movie.

“Finding Nemo” won the Oscar for Best Animated movie, but it is not just a great-animated movie. At the heart of it all it is the story of a dad who needs to let go of his son if wants him to actually grow up. Yes, life is full of dangers, but you cannot live in fear when there is such a big world (and ocean) out there.    


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