October 22, 2013

Finding Nemo (2003)
Grade: 53/100

Director: Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
Stars: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould

What it's about. This Pixar animated classic is set primarily in the ocean. Marlin (Albert Brooks) is an overly cautious clownfish and the father of young Nemo (Alexander Gould). One day, Marlin witnesses Nemo kidnapped by a human diver. Marlin is determined to find Nemo and return home with him. The only clue is the diver's goggles, which conveniently have his Sydney, Australia home address written on them. This being a fantasy, Marlin's newfound fish companion, the addlepated Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), can read the writing on the goggles.

The inseparable Marlin and Dory are off to Sydney to find Nemo. They encounter sharks that don't eat fish (how do they survive?), a hungry deepwater denizen, sea turtles, a whale, pelicans, and seagulls.

Meanwhile, our titular clownfish is in a tank in a dentist's office with other species of fish, including ringleader Gill (Willem Dafoe). Nemo must escape the tank soon, or he will become the present of the dentist's bratty fish-killing niece.

How others will see it. The success of Finding Nemo is nothing short of spectacular. In the U.S. alone, it achieved more than $400,000,000 at the box office. It also became the biggest selling DVD release. At imdb.com, it has more than 400K user votes.

Critical success was nearly as impressive. Winning Best Animated Feature at the Oscars was an achievement, but less so than securing a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. At imdb.com, the user rating of 8.1 is extremely high, enough to place the film within the website's Top 250. The user ratings are also highly consistent across demographics. Those who like the movie (and certainly constitute the majority) are charmed by the animation, characters, voice talent, and its ultimately feel-good story.

Naysayers exist for any movie, and many who dislike it do so out of concern for children: parts of the film may be traumatic. This reason is irrelevant for our purposes, since we are evaluating it as a film, and not as a family film.

How I felt about it. I generally dislike Finding Nemo, even though the same folks behind it also made the Toy Story trio, which I adore. Comparing the two franchises (Finding Nemo has a sequel in the works, Finding Dory, which brings up the question, why bother?) leads to several reasons why.

The voice talent is an obvious difference. Albert Brooks is whiny, Ellen DeGeneris is dippy, and both are annoying. I also dislike the use of Robbie Williams' generic note-for-note copy of Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" when the latter's sublime version is vastly superior.

More to the point is the implausible story. It is a trillion to one shot that Marlin and Nemo will be reunited and return home safely. Marlin would be better off mating with another clownfish and producing another 400 Nemos from the eggs.

It's hard to decide which events are the most preposterous: Marlin and Dory kidnapped by vegetarian sharks, a net's worth of tuna breaking the beam of a fishing vessel, pelicans conspiring to save the lives of Marlin and Nemo, or a flushed fish making it alive into the ocean through chlorinated and waste treated water.

Some of the scenes are practically nauseating. At film's end, Nemo leaves the school to give Marlin a final hug. Let's hear it for the cartoon fish: Awwwwww!

The portion of the film that works best is set in the dentist's tank. A diverse group of characters placed together in close quarters, and a credible situation as well. Unfortunately, the tank scenes constitute a minority of the movie. And the escape from the tank is dubious. We are to believe that fish in water-filled ziplock bags can swim their way from the windowsill across a busy street and into the ocean?