With the release of Finding Dory, I take another look at Pixar’s first summer blockbuster, when a little clownfish went searching for his son with a forgetful regal tang.
This might be a controversial statement: I’m a huge fan of Pixar. But for someone of my age, Pixar isn’t a childhood institution I grew up with. I was a teenager when I saw Toy Story for the first time, and I was already an adult (chronologically if not emotionally!) when Finding Nemo came out. The early output with John Lasseter in the driving seat is just hit after hit, but I was never part of the true target audience. As much as I appreciate the old film references and some Billy Crystal schtick, the real test of these films is how they connect with the family audiences. And while Up or Wall-E are pretty much masterpieces, Finding Nemo was the film that became a worldwide hit, so with its sequel about to be released in the UK (and Dave stealing my Re-View gimmick for Ghostbusters and The Bourne Identity!) I thought it was as good a time as ever to give it a rewatch.
Memorably, Finding Nemo opens with a happy couple (of clownfish) Marlin and Coral, moving into a new house/sea anemone, complete with desirable ocean view, good schools, and lots of room for their new family. They are about to become parents to 400 kids, with Marlin (Albert Brooks) agreeing to name one of them Nemo, with the rest either Marlin Jr or Coral Jr. Then in a truly heartbreaking moment reminiscent of Bambi, the reef is attached by a barracuda, and Marlin is knocked out protecting his wife and eggs. Tragically, when he awakes, all that is left is one small egg.
We then skip forward to young Nemo’s first day of school. His dad is understandably very protective, telling him the ocean is a deeply scary place, and having a very special routine for leaving the house. After reluctantly dropping Nemo (Alexander Gould) off for school, Marlin starts to panic when he hears that they are going on a trip to the drop-off, and decides that Nemo isn’t ready to be out in the ocean especially with his small “lucky” fin. He finds Nemo and group of kids daring each other to swim towards a boat across the deep drop-off, and after being embarrassed by his Dad’s over-protectiveness, Nemo swims further than all of them. When swimming back though he is caught by a snorkeler (“probably an American”) and taken away in the boat. A panic-striken Marlin follows after the boat, getting help from a blue regal tang called Dory (Ellen Degeneres) who saw which way the boat went.
Within a few minutes though, Dory’s short term memory loss becomes apparent and they lose track of the boat. They do find the diver’s snorkel however, and because Dory can read the address, they set out together to find P. Sherman of 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, where Nemo has been taken. On their way Marlin and Dory must survive encounters with sharks, anglerfish, and sea turtles (among many other entertaining characters) as Nemo meets tries to escape before his captor’s niece arrives for her birthday present. Will the father and son be reunited? And what lessons with they learn along the way?
Undoubtedly, one of the reasons for Finding Nemo’s financial success (it made over $900 million at the box office, only Toy Story 3 has taken more, and is also the biggest selling DVD of all time) is the fact that it was he first Pixar film to make the jump to a summer release, opening up a much bigger audience by claiming a place in the blockbuster season. The other reason is that this is a true family film. Marlin and Dory form a strong genuine friendship, and its message of the importance of team work, overcoming your fears, and perseverance (“just keep swimming”) makes it the type of film parents will happily show their kids over and over. A simple message well told will always win out. Also, the action that takes place in the dentist office keeps it from being a simple rescue tale.
But, there is more to Finding Nemo. Marlin is an over-protective parent, but like “grumpy old man” Carl in Up, it is more than justified! The simple comedy elements – the turtles as surfers, Marlin’s clownfish reputation, the pigeons – are actually more sophisticated than first look. The vocal performances from Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres are truly fantastic as well, with great support throughout, especially the Tank Gang.
For a long time, I always dismissed Finding Nemo as Pixar’s easy money family film. But it is much more than that. Sometimes Brave or The Good Dinosaur feel like slightly lesser Pixar flms. Finding Nemo really isn’t. Roll on the sequel.
And with fronds like these, who needs anemones?
Until next time, stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
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