THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Pixar certainly seems to have the magic touch. In the last eight years, the company – specializing in computer-animated feature films – has turned out two Toy Story movies, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc. and now Finding Nemo. That’s a pretty phenomenal lineup. This latest venture is yet another family masterpiece that is certain to delight audiences for years to come.

The story begins with two clownfish celebrating their move to a new part of the ocean. Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and wife Coral have just hatched hundreds of eggs and look forward to becoming parents. Then a shark comes along, eating Coral and all but one of the eggs. Marlin names his only remaining child Nemo and raises him in a manner that can only be described as “overprotective.”

When Nemo gets old enough to attend school (one of the movie’s best jokes – a school of fish), he also seeks to prove to his father that he can handle life’s challenges. In doing so, Nemo swims off into open waters and is captured by a diver. That diver is an Australian dentist who plans to give the little clownfish to his bratty little niece. Nemo spends a few days in a fish tank with other captives, including starfish Peach (Allison Janney), blowfish Bloat (Brad Garrett), and the leader of the tank, Gill (Willem Dafoe). Together, they formulate a plan to help Nemo escape.

Meanwhile, Marlin must confront his own fears about the ocean so he can find his son. Along the way, he meets another fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who suffers from short-term memory loss. (Another great joke – the movie is at times like an underwater version of Memento.) Dory thinks she might know where Nemo is, although the details frequently elude her.

Finding Nemo works on so many levels. One thing I like is that the folks at Pixar keep it simple. More and more often, studios are trying to beef up their animated films by turning them into woefully complex extravaganzas that kids could care less about. This fate most recently befell the Walt Disney company with their overwrought and unsatisfying Treasure Planet. Pixar avoids all that, preferring to deal with things kids naturally find interesting: toys, monsters, bugs, fish. It gets no more complicated than that. Doing so allows them to focus on telling a good story. Finding Nemo works as an undersea adventure, but it also works as a tale of a father and a son developing a bond. There’s real heart in this movie without needing lots of superficial whiz-bang stuff.

There’s also a lot of humor. For example, Marlin and Dory stumble across a support group for sharks who are trying not to eat fish. There’s a running gag about how everyone expects Marlin to be funny because he’s a clownfish, when in reality he can’t even tell a simple joke. And everybody in the audience laughs when Dory attempts to “speak whale,” which mostly consists of bellowing everything she says.

I love the characters in this movie. Nemo and Marlin fit squarely in the tradition of Disney heroes, and Dory is just plain hilarious. Even the minor characters shine with great personalities. My favorite is Crush, a sea turtle who helps Marlin find his way around. If Jeff Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High had been a sea turtle, he would have been Crush. There’s also a wacky pelican (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) and a group of food-obsessed seagulls who greet every edible thing with the word “mine?”

Coincidentally, just last week I saw an IMAX film called Coral Reef Adventure. It was breathtaking to see underwater coral on such a big screen. Because I saw that, I was able to fully appreciate how beautiful the animation is in Finding Nemo. The scenes on the reef are just as colorful and vibrant as they seemed in that IMAX movie. Every time I review a Pixar film, I comment on how realistic everything looks. And each time they put out a new project, I am stunned by how much more advanced their technology is. This is really a beautiful film to look at. There’s also some imagination at play, as in the scene set on a whale’s tongue. It’s a nice blend of reality and fantasy.

I recently complained to a friend that here we were – almost six months into the year – and there had not been one single solitary movie to earn four stars from me. That just changed. Finding Nemo is a wondrous movie for all ages, filled with plenty of joy, humor, and warmth. I loved it from start to finish.

( out of four)

Finding Nemo is rated G. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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