Parents be warned: While most of the adults I’ve spoken with were immediately enchanted by Finding Nemo, the latest wonder from the folks at Pixar (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2 and Monsters Inc.), your little ones may take a few minutes longer. Several parents have told me that their kids were a bit fidgety until the scene where Dory the fish tries to talk to a whale. From that moment on, they were as enraptured as the grown-ups. Needless to say, this will not be a problem a few months from now, when they watch the DVD over and over and over.
Finding Nemo is a triumph, with a different, richer feel than any previous Pixar film. Aided by a smart, evocative score by Thomas Newman, the story is funny, moving and completely engrossing. The ambitious computer animation is stunning, the best the studio has ever done. The underwater setting is brilliantly realized — look at the play of light through the water.
Though the film is fast-paced and packed with adventure, it has a soothing feel, largely from the movement of the waters, I suspect. But the heart of the saga comes from the inspired teaming of Albert Brooks as a frantic father searching for his son and Ellen DeGeneres as a sweet, memory-impaired soul who helps him on his way. Together they are magic, the Tracy and Hepburn of the Mrs. Paul’s set.
Clown-fish Marlin and Coral (Brooks and Elizabeth Perkins) are newcomers to the Great Barrier Reef, having just secured a scenic place for their 400 hatchlings to be born. Then tragedy strikes in the form of a hungry predator and Marlin finds himself a widower with only one surviving child, Nemo (Alexander Gould), an energetic kid with one fin considerably shorter than the other. Just as with any youth, Nemo is an explorer, but Marlin, severely traumatized by his loss (no kidding!) has become an extremely overprotective father.
During a spat on the opening day of school, Nemo tears away from his father, only to be snatched from the sea by a diver in search of exotic fish for his aquarium. Marlin frantically searches for his son, finding a piece of the diver’s gear with identifying marks. Unfortunately, Marlin can’t read human languages, and remains lost. That is, until he meets Dory (DeGeneres), a plucky, charming, blue tang proficient in languages. Dory, however, has problems with her short-term memory — she virtually has none. Marlin reluctantly teams up with her and the pair sets off in search of the address Dory read on the piece of equipment. Allow me to reiterate: Brooks and DeGeneres are extraordinary together.
Meanwhile, Nemo is getting acclimated to life in an aquarium. His new residence is in a dentist’s office just off the harbor in Sydney, Australia. Leader of the tank is Gill (Willem Dafoe), a scarred, brooding Moorish idol with an escape plan in mind. The plan must be enacted soon, as the dentist’s ferocious niece (LuLu Eberling), a notorious fish-mishandler, is coming to visit in just a few days. Alas, the plan has its own dangers — if improperly played out, it could cost Nemo his young life.
The film cuts between the respective adventures, with new wonders unveiled every few seconds. Part of the fun of animated films is picking out the celebrity voices, so keep your ears peeled and listen for Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) as Bloat, Allison Janney (The West Wing) as Peach, Stephen Root (NewsRadio) as Bubbles, Vicki Lewis (NewsRadio) as Deb and Flo, Geoffrey Rush (Shine) as Nigel, Eric Bana (The Hulk) as Anchor and John Ratzenberger (Cheers) as the Fish School. Oh, and Crush, the stoner turtle? That’s director Andrew Stanton, in a performance that would make Jeff Spicoli proud.