It wouldn’t be the slightest bit of a stretch to call Finding Nemo a modern classic. When it was released in 2003, Finding Nemo became a worldwide cultural phenomenon. For a time, it was the highest-grossing animated film in the world, and I think it’s safe to say it was probably the most popular animated film ever released up until Frozen hit theaters over a decade later. Pixar had made a name for themselves with the Toy Story films, Monsters, Inc. and A Bug’s Life beforehand, but Finding Nemo was the film that put them at the top of the mountain of animated films, where they have more or less remained ever since. The success of Finding Nemo certainly isn’t undeserved, as it remains an absolutely charming and heartfelt feature.
Finding Nemo tells the story of Marlin the clownfish (Albert Brooks), and his son Nemo (Alexader Gould). The film opens in tragedy. Marlin and his wife Coral are expecting parents, with hundreds of eggs ready to hatch, when a barracuda emerges and knocks Marlin unconscious. When he awakes, Marlin discovers his wife is gone, along with all but one of their eggs. He names the remaining child Nemo, and promises to never let anything happen to him.
It’s quite a shocking opener, to be honest, but an effective one, as it immediately sets the tone for the film in motion, as well as making Marlin an appropriately sympathetic hero. Disney films often feature overprotective parents, but rarely show audiences their perspective of things. What director Andrew Stanton did here was give Marlin an entirely justifiable means for both the character’s motivations and his flaws. You can’t help but feel for Marlin, even during the times when he’s in the wrong.
The main plot kicks in a few years later, as Nemo is preparing for his first day of school. An argument with Marlin upsets Nemo, who tries to spite his father by doing something reckless, which ends with the young clownfish getting nabbed by a scuba diver and taken away. Marlin panics and gives chase, but quickly loses sight of his son onboard the speeding boat.
Marlin then makes it his mission to find his son and fulfill his promise, even if it takes him across the entire ocean. Marlin ends up being accompanied on his adventure by Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a regal blue tang who suffers from a severe case of short-term memory loss, and one of Pixar’s greatest creations. Meanwhile, Nemo ends up in the fish tank of a dentist’s office in Australia, where he teams up with a gang of aquatic misfits – lead by a moorish idol named Gill (Willen Dafoe) – to hatch an escape plan.
The story is filled to the brim with heart and humor, with some of Pixar’s best writing up to that point. Just about every character, from the main heroes to those with smaller roles whom Marlin comes across on his journey (including a surfer dude sea turtle named Crush, voiced by director Andrew Stanton himself), leaves a lasting impression.
Another highlight of the film is the animation itself. Water-based stories and animation have a history of going together like peanut butter and jelly, and Finding Nemo remains sound proof that it’s a combination made in heaven. The imagery still looks stunning, and each character shows the effort and dedication that went into giving all of these aquatic animals personalities. It’s a beautiful film to look at from the first frame to the last.
On the musical side of things, Finding Nemo also boasts one of Pixar’s best soundtracks, with musical themes that beautifully capture the serenity and ambiance of the ocean, along with more – *ahem* – bubbly tracks to go with them.
To put it simply, Finding Nemo is simply a great movie for audiences of any age. It’s cute, fun and relatable to children, while also being equally so for the adult crowd. Much like Monsters, Inc., the only real downside may be that Pixar has since bettered it. Pixar followed up Nemo with the strikingly sophisticated The Incredibles a little over a year later, and director Andrew Stanton would eventually create Wall-E, which would use a similar sophistication to magnify the feelings Nemo started. But if simply falling a little short of some of its creators’ other works is its only real drawback, then Finding Nemo has certainly done well for itself. It holds up – *ahem* – swimmingly.
If you’re looking for a great film to bring a smile to your face, and perhaps a tear or two to your eyes, you can never go wrong with Finding Nemo, no matter your age, and no matter how many times you’ve seen it.