Skip to main content

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.    


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…