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Toon Talk: Finding Nemo
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
Starting with Toy Story in 1995, and with each subsequent new release, Pixar has proved to have an enviable knack for tapping into our collective unconsciousness, mining our childhood fascinations (toys, bugs, monsters) to create a quartet of immensely entertaining, heartfelt films that transcend genres as easily as they transcend age-groups.
Providing equally well-earned amounts of laughter and tears, joy and thrills (not to mention box office revenue), Pixar's four previous films to date (Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc.) have proven to appeal to the masses, across the board, from critics and animation buffs to the average Joe movie-goers and their families.
After the toys, bugs and monsters, this time Pixar goes underwater for its latest tale (two more childhood favorites, superheroes and cars, will be the basis for the next two Pixar features, The Incredibles and Cars; Disney itself beat them to the punch with their digital Dinosaur ... imagine if Pixar ever tackled that subject).
Finding Nemo, now in theaters, is a delightful and delight-filled comedy-adventure fluidly animated with all the state-of-the art technology now available, but firmly anchored with the four hallmarks of any strong animated feature, whether penciled or pixilated: story, character, imagination and, most of all, heart. (No other animation studio has had such artistic success with its first five films since Disney, with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi in the late-30s/early-40s - a fact that is hopefully not lost when it comes time for Disney to renegotiate their deal with Pixar.)
Beginning in the depths of the Great Barrier Reef somewhere off the coast of Sydney, Australia, we find Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould), a precocious young Clown Fish saddled with a fussy father named Marlin (Albert Brooks). Marlin, as we see in a typically traumatic Disney prologue, has reason for fearing the big blue, the dangers of which thrust him in to unexpected single fatherhood in the first place. But, as anyone with kids knows all to well, Nemo soon rebels against his over-protective parent during a school outing, and gets himself scooped up by a scuba diver and taken away...
... In this one fleeting moment of panic, not only are the ‘lives' of these two cartoon fish forever altered, but we the audience become totally invested in their story, just as it splits in two to follow Marlin's journey to save his son, as well as Nemo's quest to return home.
Desperation quickly setting in, and not quite totally mindless to the perils that lie ahead (especially for a nervous nelly like himself), Marlin swims off into the deep. He is joined by the ditzy, electric blue Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who's unwavering enthusiasm makes up for her unfortunate problem with short term memory loss (unfortunate for Marlin, yet hilarious for the viewer, I might add. DeGeneres inhabits her role with an inspired verve and committed wackiness, easily the best performance to date from this talented comedienne. Her Dory is arguably the most fully realized match of voice performance to animation acting since Joan Cusack's Jessie in Toy Story 2).
Throughout their journey, this unlikely couple encounters such terrors of the deep as a trio of twelve-stepping sharks, a pack of stinging jellyfish, and one of those luminescent, prehistoric nastys usually found at the bottom of the ocean or on The Discovery Channel. But not all the creatures they meet are out to eat them; they do receive help during their journey, most notably via an aquatic variation of the 101 Dalmatians' ‘twilight bark'.
Meanwhile, Nemo has found himself in the seemingly innocent and most unlikely of places: a dentist's office aquarium. But all is not as safe and serene as one would hope for our little hero, as he learns from the cracked-under-the-pressures-of-captivity denizens of this over-sized fish bowl: he will soon become the pet of a brace-faced little girl who's rough play has sent many a fish down the toilet (she must be related to Toy Story's Sid). A daring escape plan to free them all is hatched by Gil (Willem Dafoe), the self-proclaimed leader of the tank. And the clock starts ticking ...