|Finding Nemo (2-Disc Collector’s Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 04 November 2003|
When Nemo tries to defy Marlin’s loving but stifling control, the young fish is scooped up by a well-intentioned diver and winds up in a decorative saltwater aquarium in a dentist’s waiting room. The distraught Marlin sets off to rescue Nemo, although he’s got only the vaguest notion of where his son might be. Along the way, Marlin encounters foes and friends. Foremost among the latter is Dori (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), a chatty blue tang with severe short-term memory loss. Meanwhile, Nemo’s new mates in the fishtank try to help him plan an escape to the open ocean before he can be carried away by the dentist’s awful fish-killing niece.
As is pointed out in the commentary, “Finding Nemo” demonstrates breakthroughs in the CGI depiction of water, giving the interaction between the characters and their environments a literally tangible quality that is neither present nor required in stories that take place on dry land. The storyline is charming, though a little less overtly humorous than that of other Pixar offerings, since a parent seeking a lost child (even when that parent is a nervous-wreck clownfish) tends to play as serious business.
There’s also a rather unusual and unremarked-upon but prominent theme of dealing with disabilities. Nemo is born with one front fin shorter than the other and Dori seems mildly mentally handicapped – her confusion is largely played for laughs, but it also has behavioral earmarks that will be familiar to anyone who has dealt with humans who have similar problems. We wind up empathizing with both Marlin’s frustration with Dori and his guilt about that frustration, issues that don’t customarily come up in quite this way in animated tales.
The notion of setting most of the story in and around Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is inspired, making it natural for Marlin to encounter such a wondrous array of sea creatures. There’s a lot of vocal firepower in the cast – Brooks of course is perfectly utilized as a champion fretter and DeGeneres excels at conveying Dori’s dogged if slightly spacey optimism. There are other effective turns from Willem Dafoe as a Moorish idol angelfish, Geoffrey Rush as a helpful pelican, and Barry Humphries, Eric Bana and Bruce Spence as a trio of sharks who have formed their own idiosyncratic version of a 12-step program for deep-sea carnivores. Director Andrew Stanton amusingly and appealingly contributes the voice of a mellow sea turtle who’s surfing the East Australian current, and his co-writer Bob Peterson (the third writer on the project is David Reynolds, with Stanton receiving sole story credit) vocally plays a manta ray school teacher with a working-class U.S. East Coast growl.
Picture and sound on the discs are gorgeous. As the introduction on Disc Two points out (each disc comes with its own introduction), the full-screen version, instead of chopping off the sides of the frame from the theatrical version, instead fills up the top and bottom of the screen with new animation. “Nemo” addicts will have a great time tracking down all the new stuff – both prints are as pristine as can be imagined. In sequences where light is coming down powerfully through the water, the fish have an almost glowing, translucent quality (a goal discussed by the animators on the commentary). The water itself has unobtrusive but potent life throughout, both visually and sonically – the rears ever-so-gently remind us we’re in the ocean, which has weight and texture onscreen. Remember, folks, the water is CGI, not real, yet it looks so authentic that we never really think about the work that went into it (until we hear it discussed in the commentary).
Chapter 3 is a wonderful riot of bright colors as the various fish of the reef are introduced, darting in and out of the likewise vivid coral. Chapter 6 has a simply fantastic jump scare, though it should be said that the CGI humans never come close to looking as realistic as the fish. There’s also a great sound effect as a boat propeller creates a backwash that kicks into the rears. Chapter 8, in which Marlin and Dori encounter the sharks, who hang on in an undersea minefield, has some wonderfully dimensional, resonant explosions, along with very solid and hefty clangs as one of the sharks bangs into big metal pipes. Chapter 9 provides an immediate and impressive contrast, going from the full-bodied oceanic action to soft Muzak (“The Girl From Ipanema,” to be specific) heard distantly through the glass wall of a fishtank. In Chapter 24, we feel as though we’re on the deck as a flock of birds flaps by overhead, front to rears, and Chapter 25 has some apocalyptically loud, fish-ear’s perspective on a fish hitting aquarium glass. Thomas Newman’s, more gentle and haunting than is often the case with animated work, is reminiscent of his likewise fluid (okay, pun intended) and moving work on “Oscar and Lucinda.”
The bonus content on widescreen Disc One is geared more toward adult viewers (though kids will enjoy it), while Disc Two has material more likely to appeal to youngsters (though grownups will like it, too). Disc Two has Spanish and French dialogue tracks along with the original English-language version, while Disc One is in English only. The commentary track is on Disc One. Billed as a “video commentary,” it is rather like a New Line Infinifilm disc, with the agreeable (for those who like watching DVDs with their hands free) difference that the disc automatically switches out of the main film to relevant video clips without the viewer having to do anything. Director Stanton, co-director Lee Unkrich and co-writer Peterson take us through an uncommonly well-structured set of making-of sequences, which include everything from showing a vigorous pitch session of the story for “Finding Nemo” before an industry audience at the El Capitan Theatre in 2000 to a set of contrasts showing how the faces of the Tiki gods in the fish tank are actually patterned after specific Pixar employees. There’s a startlingly touching tribute to late Pixar animator Glenn McQueen, and an extolling of the virtues of both the audio mix on “Finding Nemo” and having a good home sound system, things dear to the heart of AudioRevolution.com readers. The commentary ends with a sweet comparison between Marlin’s reluctance to let Nemo go and the filmmakers’ feelings about putting their baby – that is, the film itself – out into the world. The disc also has the option of playing all of the video commentary, either as a full entity or in selected chapters, without the film.
Disc One also has an intelligent making-of documentary, a “color script” which has lovely conceptual art for all of the main sequences – and a set of “video aquariums” that are either waiting to be brought to life by an Easter Egg this reviewer couldn’t find or pretty but very dull, uninhabited CGI seascapes.
Disc Two has an “Exploring the Reef” feature that incorporates the CGI characters with footage of real fish – and shows off superstar oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau as a true good sport as he plays opposite the voices of Brooks, DeGeneres and Gould, all interrupting him at every turn. Playful feel aside, Cousteau gets to make some points about the ecosystem and conservation, put in terms that even children will understand. “Mr. Ray’s Encyclopedia” has nice clips of various sea creatures (we meet their CGI versions in the film) and brief tidbits about their habits. Young actor Gould hosts a kid-friendly tour of Pixar, there’s a nice comprehension/reflexes-testing game for youngsters, a storytime feature and more video aquariums that, this time, feature CGI fish.
“Finding Nemo” is physically beautiful, aurally impressive and emotionally moving. It’s not quite as funny as the promos suggest, but this is in keeping with the film’s premise – it’s not necessary to be safe or to do what’s expected in order to be fulfilled and fulfilling.