Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Discovering 'Nemo'

For the umpteen-millionth time; no, I'd never seen Finding Nemo before this past weekend. An early Pixar entry, Nemo was released well before my forays into animated movies. That's what makes Disney's recent trend of translating their animated titles to 3D for big screen release such a nice opportunity. They have already released The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast in 3D, and now that they're focusing on the more advanced animated pictures, I'll have the chance to not only see movies like Nemo that people are now constantly telling me are good, but also to see them on the big screen, the medium for which they were designed. I've already seen Monsters Inc in the theater, so I think I'll skip that particular conversion, but I'd love to go to the movies to see Ratatouille for the first time, and I'd gladly watch Wall-E, The Incredibles, and Up again were they to get the same treatment.

For those like me who have yet to see this, Finding Nemo follows young Nemo (Alexander Gould) and his overprotective father Marlin (Albert Brooks), two clownfish living in the great oceans. When Nemo is captured by humans and taken far away, Marlin searches the ocean for this son, helped by an absent-minded Pacific Blue Regal Tang named Dory (Ellen Degeneres) and a whole ocean of unique life. Meanwhile, Nemo finds himself in a dentist's office fish tank, alongside a number of other domesticated fish, and joins their leader Gil (Willem Dafoe) in their attempts to escape back into the ocean.

There's a whole ocean of life to explore.
I'm not sure what impresses me more; Finding Nemo's wonderful father/son story, or the fact that Pixar's method of mature storytelling has remained especially potent after all this time. Pixar tends not to treat the children who watch their movies like idiots, a saving grace when you consider how much Dreamworks tends to dumb down their content for mass consumption. In allowing mature themes (like the death of a spouse or the kidnapping of a child) to be the backbone of their animated features, Pixar makes their films so that both children and adults can appreciate. It really feels as though the studio puts as much effort into telling a film's story as it does making sure the animation is the absolute best, and that makes all the difference in the world. And their stories are so timeless that, should I have children of my own some day, I would gladly raise them on Pixar's animated movies.

The animation studio has created a world undersea that feels absolutely ALIVE, and the creatures that inhabit it have a wide range of characteristics that play extremely well. Working with a wide variety of sources, director Andrew Stanton and his crew took pains to make sure every detail of the species they were committing to the big screen was accurate, while still making their characters unique and indistinguishable from one another. My personal favorites were the trio of sharks who had sworn off of eating their fellow sea creatures ("Fish are friends, not food"), but there are no weak characters for the entirety of the film. The voice cast finishes up by providing their usual excellence, with a cast that includes Brooks, DaFoe, Geoffrey Rush, Allison Janney and even Stanton himself in key roles. Degeneres however is a stand-out that really makes your heart tug. As an actress, she manages to take what could have been a one-note annoyance in Dory and make her performance absolutely heart-felt and essential to the story. There's a reason Degeneres became the first and only performer to win a Saturn award for a voice-only job, and seeing this I'm surprised she hasn't been approached for more roles in animated features.

"Stick with me, kid and you'll go places. Out the window, if you're lucky."

Of course, sometimes I have to remind myself that this movie DID come out in 2003, when computer-animated films were practically still in their infancy. While Stanton and his artists did a wonderful job animating the dozens of different animals that inhabit the world in and around the ocean, this was still a time when human animations were not quite at the same level. Additionally, one scene at the beginning that features a speeding boat at a distance feels extremely inferior to the otherwise-excellent animation. On the 3D side, it's actually surprising how little you notice the 3D elements once the film gets underway. There are some instances where you specifically notice pop, but more often the technology simply allows the viewer to melt into the oceanic landscape, rather than marvel at things coming out of the screen. That's a success, in my book, and well worth the extra ticket price to see it at the theater.

You'd better hope fish remain friends...
While it might not be quite as perfect as many of Pixar's more recent offerings, Finding Nemo manages tell a lively story, and sets it in a place as alien to many of its viewers as the vast reaches of space. And yet the animators still managed to make the whole thing feel absolutely human, exploring the father/son relationship in a way that is smart, heartbreaking, and oftentimes quite funny. It's easy to see how Pixar could go from this to some of their more recent creations. I still have a number of animated films from the last year on which to catch up, but I'm very, VERY happy I saw this on the big screen. If you have also successfully avoided seeing this before now, I encourage you to get out there and take the opportunity to see it in 3D while you can. I can't wait to see what Pixar does next, whether it be something brand new or a rehashing of the old. At this point, they can do little wrong by me.

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