Finding Nemo was originally released in 2003, but is being brought back to theatres this upcoming weekend for a short while, converted to stereoscopic 3D. This gives me the rare opportunity to write a review that’s topical without actually having to go to the theatre. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t want to go — I suspect Pixar’s works are always best viewed on the big screen — but somehow circumstances have always conspired to keep me out of the cinema when Pixar has released their pictures, and this is looking to be no exception. But, borrowed DVD in hand, I can still take a look at the film itself.
It may have taken me the better part of a decade to get around to seeing it, but I’m glad I finally did. This is a visually impressive film, and the storyline is solid, with great characters and a good sense of humor mixed in with several other emotions. And Pixar doesn’t waste any time before drawing in the audience and making them care about the main characters.
Pixar also wastes no time before traumatizing any children in the audience.
The main characters of the film are Marlin and Nemo (voiced by Albert Brooks and Alexander Gould, respectively), a father-and-son pair of clown fish living in the sea around Australia. Nemo is young and adventurous, eagerly awaiting his first day of school. Marlin is an overprotective neurotic mess due to the event which left him a widower with only one child. Naturally this conflict of personalities leads Nemo to take a heedless risk on his school field trip, and just as naturally this leads to his endangerment, being captured by a well-meaning-but-oblivious diver. Marlin, who has hardly dared leave his home since losing his wife, must now travel all the way to Sydney in order to rescue his only son. The dangers he encounters along the way, and the lessons he picks up regaining his own adventurous spirit, form an odyssey that is exciting to watch. When Nigel, a pelican voiced by Geoffrey Rush, recounts Marlin’s quest to Nemo towards the end of the film, Marlin has become a legend among the creatures of the sea, and his adventure comes across as something akin to the classic epics. Despite the audience having just seen those events, the short recounting is tremendously effective; we seldom think about how much the hero has to go through in their journey until after we’re done with a film, and having the reminder here drives home just how determined Marlin is to look after his son.
Of course, if he and the teacher had paid just a wee bit more attention, this could all have been avoided. But then we wouldn’t have a movie.
Fortunately for Marlin, he’s not alone in his quest. He soon acquires a friend and traveling companion in Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. Dory is earnest and eager, but suffers from short-term memory loss, and her addle-pated nature makes her both a good foil for the dour Marlin and a constant source of comic relief. But in a lot of ways, it’s the side characters who stand out. Even though some of them are only on the screen for a few minutes, there are several which are treated as major characters in the promotional material. It’s not hard to see why; they may not be in the movie for very long, but they steal every scene they’re in. Particular highlights include the gang in the fish tank that Nemo finds himself in, led by the grizzled Gill (Willem Dafoe); Bruce the shark, voiced by Barry Humphries (better known as Dame Edna Everidge); and Mister Ray, the singing school teacher who can never get his class to sing along with him (Bob Peterson). And, of course, there’s Crush, the stereotypical surfer dude sea turtle, who seems to have been something of a breakout character for the film. Crush is voiced by Andrew Stanton, for whom this picture was obviously a labor of love — he proposed the film, wrote the script, and directed it, along with Lee Unkrich.
The mellowest character in the movie, and the hardest working man on the film.
But in a way, the star of the movie is the movie itself. Pixar has always tried to push their limits with each film, and Finding Nemo is jaw-droppingly beautiful. There are some things in computer animation that, even when you have software and hardware for the task, still require a great deal of care and precision in order to make them look believable to the human eye. These include reflections, optical refraction, and fluid motion — which is to say, everything that makes water look like water is a tricky task. And here’s an entire movie set in the ocean… and it looks perfect at every step of the way. Then, on top of that, they have great cartoon-style character designs, brightly colored scenery everywhere, and numerous lighting effects. The visual quality of this film is enough to elevate it by one star rating all by itself.
As a certain crustacean might say, the graphics are better down where it’s wetter.
Because I’m watching it at home, I can’t evaluate the 3D quality of the release that’s hitting this Friday. But I can hazard an educated guess. If the conversion is being done post-process, the existing calculated shadows and light effects will probably lead to the film translating reasonably well as far as looking like it’s coming out of the screen. However, post-process conversion does tend to dampen the color, and that would be a shame with such a colorful film. But since this is a film which was computer generated, Pixar may have had the foresight to keep the work files for the film. If this is the case, then it’s possible to do a pre-process conversion by shifting the virtual camera a few inches and re-rendering — in which case, the 3D release will look as bright and sharp as any other pre-process conversion. Hopefully Pixar took the time to do that, as Finding Nemo would look better in that format than perhaps any film to date.
But regardless of how you watch it, Finding Nemo is a beautiful film, with a great story and great characters. It’s no wonder at all that it is regarded as one of Pixar’s best.