This movie turns twenty this year. Holy crap, we are so OLD. I still remember watching this religiously when I was a kid. However, I haven’t actually watched it since my teen years. This seems like the perfect time to re-experience one of Pixar’s most enduring classics!
In Finding Nemo, we have the classic case of one Disney parent dying, and the survivor becoming unrealistically overprotective of the kid. In this instance, a clownfish named Marlin manages to save one of his deceased wife’s eggs: Nemo. He’s worried that Nemo’s first day of school will end in a gruesome death, but in his defense, Nemo gets pretty close. As a result of his own hubris, Nemo accepts a triple dog dare from his classmates and tries to touch a butt, only to be kidnapped by a human and taken to Australia. Marlin’s only hope is to—well—find Nemo, and with the help of a reckless, forgetful female named Dory.
First off, how the hell does the movie still look so good? Sure, I watched it in HD, but seriously, it’s beautiful. I religiously watched the behind-the-scenes of Finding Nemo, and I recall an interview where someone said that they actually dialed down the photorealism; it would’ve been too scary to keep it. That was a great call, and it’s probably why this movie aged so well twenty years later (a lesson that The Polar Express people failed to learn).
Second off, FINDING NEMO GOES FOR THE THROAT! Sure, Disney parents always die, but it has never been alongside HUNDREDS OF UNBORN CHILDREN. Marlin is rightfully traumatized, but more on his complex hero’s journey later, because I need to really iterate how visceral this thing is. Where to even begin?! The barracuda and the fishnapping are the tip of the iceberg. Marlin survives a minefield explosion, a nightmarish angler fish encounter, eating thousands of volts of electricity from jellyfish, being thrown through a rip current, getting eaten alive… and that’s just what happens to Marlin. Nemo almost gets ripped to shreds by a fan in a claustrophobic space, has his body shaken violently, gets flushed down a toilet, and almost gets fished with a bunch of other losers we don’t care about. How the hell did any of us watch this thing all the way through as kids?!
Otherwise, it’s a standard Pixar movie. I remembered WAY more dialogue than I thought, despite it being over a decade since my last watch, and that just shows how rock solid the dialogue is. It’s not too tryhard, but still has that great Pixar charm. From vegan sharks to covetous seagulls that only speak the word “mine”, Finding Nemo still oozes personality to this day. Sidebar: one of the lines I just noticed as an adult was when one of the sharks says “humans think they own everything” and the hammerhead remarks “probably American.” How apropos.
The characters are pretty simple for the most part, but Marlin is probably one of the most nuanced Pixar characters, and I only just realized it as an adult. His trauma is real, and his devotion as a dad is truly tested. However, it’s his Freudian slip late in the movie, when he accidentally calls Dory Nemo, that really says a lot about him. It shows that, despite how much he dunked on her, that he really cared about her and saw his own son in her. It’s pretty obvious to pick up on this, but as a kid, I was like “Herpaderp are they gonna find Nemo yet I gotta go poopy now.” The scene when other fish talk about Marlin’s exploits is one of my favorites for some reason. I dunno… it just really shows how far Marlin goes to be a dad.
Also… uh… how do I discuss Dory? Is her voice actor still a controversial figure? Well, regardless, her role as Dory is—to this day—a stellar performance. Dory is a spaz, with some of the most memorable lines in Pixar, and her memory issues are actually pretty thoughtfully used instead of making it a shock value thing. Of course, her legacy will be immortalized in the iconic, nonsensical whale song she sings. It’s better than most of today’s pop songs, that’s for sure.
Nemo is… well, kind of a brat. I mean, the situation was kind of both their faults… look, I’m just trying to have a witty sense of dry humor in this thing. Anyway, he is raised with the idea that he can’t do anything to save his life, and—lo and behold—turns out that Marlin was wrong in that regard. Of course, they reconcile, and it makes you wanna play the chorus of ‘Cats in the Cradle’ (yes, I know that song is about a son who ultimately abandons his father but it’s still the definitive anthem of dads).
The supporting cast mostly consists of the fish in the tank that Nemo ends up with. Gill is the only plot-relevant one, being the guy who actually comes up with the convoluted plan to get them all out. However, the real charm comes from everyone else, with unique, quirky personalities. Also, Robert from Everybody Loves Raymond voice acts as one of them; what’s not to love?
Of course, our favorite supporting character is none other than Crush, a sea turtle going strong even at one-fifty. He’s basically the guy who teaches Marlin his lesson regarding when his metaphorical bird is old enough to leave the metaphorical nest. It’s also a brilliant move to make the character who teaches Marlin this lesson a sea turtle; the species known to abandon their offspring at birth. Crush’s easy-going personality and Californian accent makes him a righteous dude. Also, the A.I. that has gotten closest to reaching sentience is built in his image, so there’s that. Hopefully it doesn’t get any more advanced.
After All These Years: 9.7/10
As much as I love the show-stopping spectacle and ingenuity of many foreign animated features that only exist to be stepped on at the Oscars, I still love Disney and Pixar. Finding Nemo remains one of the all-around best films by this team of visionaries. It’s not existential like Soul, or action-packed and deceptively complex like The Incredibles, but it does what it needs to do without being half-baked nor excessive. It goes without saying that every dad must watch this movie… and listen to ‘Cats in the Cradle’ one more time.