USA 2003 : Andrew STANTON (co-director Lee UNKRICH) : 100 mins
Finding Nemo presents a tough task for any reviewer, and film critics may feel like seagulls pecking at a particularly stubborn limpet: the damn thing is so well made as to be air-tight. This is the sixth computer-generated animated feature made by production company Pixar for studio Disney, and they key behind-the-scenes personnel are now expert veterans – their wisecracking brand of humour may perhaps be getting a touch over-familiar, but it’s very hard to find fault with the entertaining, inventive, energetic movie they’ve made.
The story (credited to director Stanton) revisits once again the subject that has been the pre-eminent American cinematic theme since Star Wars: the father in search of the son, and the son in search of the father. But the script (on which Stanton worked with Bob Peterson and David Reynolds) manages an original spin on this most well-worn of subjects: the father and son this time are fish, and their quest to find each other is basic and refreshingly literal.
When over-protective clown-fish Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) sees his only child Nemo (Alexander Gould) spirited away by divers on the offspring’s first day of school, he sets off on an epic journey from the Great Barrier Reef to distant Sydney, where Nemo languishes in a dentist’s fish-tank. While Nemo and his fellow captives schemes to escape, Marlin – along with an absent-minded blue ‘tang’ fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) – encounters the full range of the ocean’s inhabitants, wonders and dangers.
At 100 minutes Finding Nemo is rather long for a cartoon, but the pace never drags: alternating between Marlin and Dory’s high-seas adventures and Nemo’s fishtank escapades, the scriptwriters structure the film as a series of vivid episodes, usually culminating in a cliffhanger. Each of these mini-sections introduces another character or set of characters, but the sheer variety of undersea life means that it’s always easy to remember exactly who’s who.
Standouts among the vocal performers include Willem Dafoe (as Gill, a streetwise veteran of the fishtank), Allison Janney (as Peach, a watchful starfish) and director/co-writer Stanton as Crush, a surfer-dude sea-turtle. Geoffrey Rush is also top value as helpful pelican Nigel – although ostensibly a film about fish, sea-birds play an increasingly prominent role in the action, and feature in the film’s neatest, briefest gag (“Nice.”)
Cute and touching but never over-sentimental, restrained but unmistakeable in its ecological subtext, Finding Nemo has everything required of a mainstream Hollywood production – and, this being an animated feature containing multitudes of anthropomorphised creatures, there’s also one especially commendable and noteworthy omission: no songs to interrupt the action.
The only warbling comes from Robbie Williams, who contributes a passable (if sub-Connick) version of the standard ‘Beyond the Sea’ over the closing credits. Though lengthy, these end-titles are worth sticking with as they offer all the main finny characters the equivalent of a curtain call each, culminating in a neat little visual gag involving an angler-fish. The credits feature the film’s one icky touch – a list of the ‘production babes’, presumably infants born to cast and crew over the project’s long gestation. But this is really a very minor lapse, likely only to be spotted by eagle-eyed critics in desperate search of something to get their teeth into.
7th September, 2003
(seen same day : UCI Filmworks, Manchester)
by Neil Young