Finding Nemo

From its dazzling opening scene to its last, “Finding Nemo” is the crown jewel in Pixar’s 8-year association with Disney. Ever since “Toy Story” in 1995, Pixar has consistently pushed the boundries of digital animation while managing to tell clever, inventive stories, and “Nemo” is their most sublime balancing act yet. Coral reefs and marine life of every size and stripe burst forth with startling vibrancy, their textures and movements so vivid and lifelike that it seems Pixar has raised the CGI bar to spectacular new heights.

On the storytelling front, writer-director Andrew Stanton breathes fresh life into a familiar genre—the Quest Film—with a brisk and spirited script. What makes Pixar’s productions a cut above the rest—and “Nemo” is several notches above that—is not just that they take their cue from the fears and fascinations of childhood, but that they do so with such a genuine sense of awe and wonder. It’s what nourishes their stories and makes them consistently involving, even for those of us made jaded and cynical by adulthood.

Marlin, a hapless, overprotective clown fish, voiced with neurotic gusto by Albert Brooks, loses his son, Nemo, to a scuba diving dentist, eager to stock up his office fish tank. What follows are Marlin’s anxious, frenetic efforts to track down his son. Along the way, he’s joined by addle-brained Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), herself a bit of a lost soul, and, together, they brave various undersea perils in a journey that takes them from their coral home in the Great Barrier Reef to the Sydney waterfront. Meanwhile, having befriended his motley bunch of fish tank inmates, Nemo plucks up his nerve and schemes with them for a way to foil their white-coated overseer and escape back to sea.

Stanton mines the tropes of the episodic adventure yarn and comes up with memorable sequences and characters at every turn. A fish tank has never felt so oppressive till seen through Nemo’s eyes, and it’s certainly never been the setpiece for a daring jailbreak till its hatched by the cunning, resourceful Gill (Willem Dafoe). Likewise, Marlin and Dory’s run-in with a trio of sharks at a Fish-eaters Anonymous meeting, their precipitous jam inside a whale’s mouth, and their encounter with a colony of sea turtles migrating through a winding, twisting oceanic current are among the delights that keep us rooting.

“Finding Nemo” is a flat-out visual marvel and an inspired summertime entertainment. Best of all, it secures Pixar’s place as perhaps the greatest and most ambitious animation studio since it mouse-eared distributor was in its heyday.

Grade: A

Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, David Reynolds
Cast: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Geoffrey Rush, Andrew Stanton, Eric Bana

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