Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop.
Maxine, my 11-year-old daughter, hates Finding Nemo. Hates it, and she’s never really given me a reason why. Frequently, when I watch something more attuned to kids, I invite my kids to watch with me, but I knew that it wouldn’t be worth asking this time. I don’t get her objection. This isn’t one I would rank among Pixar’s greatest achievements—it’s no Toy Story or The Incredibles, but it’s got all of the elements of really good family film. There’s humor, adventure, and a nice message at the end. Kids, right?
Anyway, my guess is that pretty much everyone reading this has seen Finding Nemo at least once, and anyone with kids between two and 18 has seen it a couple of dozen times (unless your kids hate it like mine does). We start with the classic Disney trope when we’re introduced to Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Coral (Elizabeth Perkins), a pair of clownfish living in an anemone somewhere in the ocean. They are expecting their first clutch of 400 or so eggs to hatch any day, but their marital and impending bliss is interrupted by a wandering barracuda. Marlin tries to fight it off but is knocked unconscious. When he wakes, Coral is gone, along with all of the eggs but one, which hatches into Nemo (Alexander Gould). So, we have a traditional Disney one-parent family.
With that background, Marlin becomes an overly-protective father, unable to let Nemo do anything but stay at home, an attitude given strength by Nemo’s physical limitation: he has an underdeveloped fin. Eventually, Nemo goes off to school under the tutelage of a manta ray, but on the first day, he and several other kids wander off to the drop off, a place where the shallows of the coral reef descend into deep water. Marlin hasn’t gone too far away and catches the kids daring each other to swim out over the deep water. Naturally, he freaks out, and embarrassed, Nemo swims out to a boat in the distance. Having made his point, Nemo starts to swim back, but is bagged by a scuba diver, thus setting up the film. With his son captured, Marlin begins a frantic quest across the ocean to rescue Nemo and bring him home. Like I said, you’ve probably seen this a few times already.
It had been awhile since I’d watched this, again, because this is never a film that my kids pick on a given night. I hadn’t forgotten the main story here, but I did forget the collection of characters that are here. Pixar has a lot of great characters in its stable. Finding Nemo is most noteworthy for the creation of Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) a blue tang with memory issues. Dory is wildly comic, but like most really good characters in movies for kids, has a great heart. But in addition to Dory, we get Crush the turtle (director Andrew Stanton), Bruce the vegetarian shark (Barry Humphries), and Nigel the friendly pelican (Geoffrey Rush).
What also works here is the ping-ponging back and forth between the two stories. The main story is the search for Nemo across the ocean by Marlin and Dory, but a great deal of the film takes place in a salt water aquarium in the office of the dentist who captured Nemo. In the tank with him are a variety of fish, most notably Gill (Willem Dafoe), a scarred veteran of a number of escape attempts. The time in the aquarium is spent enforcing two ideas for the viewers. First, there is a deadline on getting Nemo out of the tank—he is intended as a gift for the dentist’s niece, a noted fish killer. Second, since Nemo is integral to the escape planned by Gill, and since this escape is potentially dangerous, the aquarium is all about Nemo learning to deal with his physical limitation.
Of course, the main story is about Marlin’s overprotectiveness and his coming to grips with the fact that his son is growing up and will eventually be able to get along without him. The pivotal moments happen near the end. The first comes when Dory and Marlin are swallowed by a whale. Convinced that this is going to be the end, Marlin refuses to let go of the whale’s tongue when told, but eventually does, only to be blown out of the whale’s spout into the harbor near where his son is. Later, once Nemo is back in the ocean and Dory is captured by a fishing boat, Marlin is forced to allow Nemo to risk himself to save Dory.
What makes Finding Nemo a good film is that it works on two very different levels in terms of the story. For kids, this is a pure adventure film that happens to have fish as the main characters. It’s fun, it’s mildly scary, there are funny characters and some great jokes, and it all ends happily. For parents, though, this is very much a film about what happens when your kids grow up. It’s not about them letting go; it’s about us letting go. It’s about realizing that even though the world is a dangerous place, we can’t always keep them safe. It’s about knowing that the dangers that are out there are real, but so is the joy and the fun, and the whole world.
I liked this more than I remembered, because that’s exactly where I am. My older daughter Gail is 16 and has a driver’s license. She’s taking classes at two colleges and has spent part of her last five summers away from home. In the last two years, she’s been gone for more than a month at a stretch. She’s growing up and having her own life now. When I first saw Finding Nemo, I missed that part of the story. Today, I get exactly what Marlin is going through.
Why to watch Finding Nemo: This is how you do a movie with animal main characters.
Why not to watch: The message is applied without much subtlety.
Fantastic movie. I've always been under the impression that it's one of the most highly regarded Pixar films.ReplyDelete
One of the strengths of The Lego Movie is that many of the characters have their own growth arcs, something that many, many live action movies don't accomplish. Finding Nemo has the same strength. Marlin, Nemo, Dory, and Gill are all going through something profound in their lives and they all grow in their own ways. The interactions of these characters is what gives the film its depth. Should be storytelling 101 but way too often Hollywood doesn't get it. Pixar almost always does.
This is also an absolutely beautiful film with a wonderful score that supports but never intrudes.
And if reincarnation were a thing, I'd want to be a tortoise riding the EAC.
I love the turtles. It's Crush the Turtle who really teaches Marlin how to let his kids grow up, that life happens and it can be an adventure if you let it be one.Delete
For me, Finding Nemo probably fits top of the middle Pixar tier. Admittedly, Pixar's top tier is roughly Everest height and the middle tier is about K2 height, but if I were to write out Pixar films in order, Finding Nemo is high-middle. That's not a knock on it, but a realization that Pixar has made a lot of really great films.
Any way you can get Maxine to write her review? I can't figure out what her objection could be and I'm curious how a child can react so differently than others , both kids and adults. Maybe she finds Dory and the Turtle annoying, there is a little bit of hippie zone out to each of them. Do you think it could be that it is a father son story and she doesn't relate? I don't mean to pry, this is just the one thing about your review that I could not understand.ReplyDelete
Honestly, it's the one part of this review that I don't understand, either. Mack has never come forth with exactly why she doesn't like Finding Nemo. It's gotten to the point now that asking her makes her angry.Delete
We'll all likely never know, but believe me, I want to know far more than you do.
Maybe because I am not at that life-stage yet, but I had never thought about how Marlin's arc would probably go over a lot of younger children's head, but would be very poignant for adults. Thanks for pointing that out!ReplyDelete
I love the underwater movement of the reef, very hypnotic, and even love the scenes when they go into the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean. I am fascinated by that stuff anyway, so I liked that they used it for major plot points in the film. They were subtly telling children that the ocean isn't all beautiful reefs and seabeds, but humans have certainly left their mark down there!
It went over my head until, well, I had a kid that was preparing to leave the nest. It's likely that a year from today, my older daughter will be literally living on her own, and that's as terrifying a prospect for me as it is exciting for her.Delete
Good point about the human element. The destroyed submarine and the sea mines certainly bring that element into the film without it being hammered in.
My new tablet apparently ruined my comment for this one... Any wanted to mention that I think this one belongs in the top tier of Pixar's production and that is quite an achievement. The main reason is the storyline whichis quite unusual and although the coming of age them is not the telling of this story did not follow the usual templates. I cannot help thinking there are a few connections to the old Captains Courageous with the aquarium being the fishing vessel.ReplyDelete
I never thought of the Captains Courageous connection, but in retrospect, I can see it. It's not a bad connection.Delete
I liked this film quite a bit. I'd probably put it a little higher in the Pixar pantheon than you.- probably fifth after Toy Story 3, Toy Story 2, Up, and The Incredibles.ReplyDelete
Just a pop psychology guess - your daughter may have been teased at school for some reason connected to this film.
I don't think that's it. My kids frequently dislike movies for bizarre reasons.Delete
I think for me, this would fall after the movies you've listed, plus Monsters, Inc. and possibly the original Toy Story.