I’d seen Finding Nemo only once before, when it was originally released, in the spring of 2003. Children were just a gleam in my eye, as they say, and at the time I enjoyed the film simply as a highly entertaining romp, with stunning visuals and a thoroughly engaging storyline. The film went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature and was second in grosses only to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. According to Wikipedia it’s also the best-selling DVD of all time and was the highest grossing G-rated film ever, until it was eclipsed by Toy Story 3, another Pixar triumph.
That’s a good place to start this review, because like Finding Nemo, the Toy Story films were also conceived, written and directed by Andrew Stanton, and like Toy Story 3, Finding Nemo is a story kids immediately adore, while being completely unaware of the incredibly poignancy and emotional power it has for the parents sitting next to them. But of course I didn’t understand that back then, being callow and young.
I enjoyed Marlin, Nemo’s father, as a fine comedic character, but my appreciation went only fin deep. I didn’t understand how amazingly inspired Albert Brooks is in the role, how his comedy—being from the very beginning of his career always driven by pathos and humiliation and self-awareness and self-delusion and conflicting impulses—encapsulates the complexity and fallibility in every moment of parenting.
Back then I actually even mistook the story as being Nemo’s—his adventure in the deep. What did I know? But of course the title, Finding Nemo, tells us that the story is from the parental point of view. It’s the epic quest of a parent overcoming himself to save his child. In other words, the story of every overprotective, worrywart parent who googles childhood diseases and learning disabilities and “how to help your daughter make friends in school” and “hidden dangers lurking in your kids’ lunchbox.” It is the story of every parent who changed diapers at 3:00 a.m. and called the pediatrician at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and rushed at 5:45 p.m. to pick up the kids from daycare, and struggles to answer difficult questions, from the mysteries of long division to dealing with playground bullies to where babies come from.
Watching it this time, I was every bit as enthralled, enraptured, terrified (that grinning hungry shark feels 2 inches away in 3D) and dazzled as my kids. This movie was stunning back in 2003, with gorgeously drawn visuals and incredible detail and sweep, but in 3D, it’s more breathtaking than ever. Oh besides being beautiful, it’s a very fun and funny film. The characters are extremely likable and expressive, and even minor ones, such as Gill the schoolteacher and Bruce the shark and Nigel the pelican, instantly memorable and perfectly voiced, making every scene so much fun to watch. But I was also, the whole time, choked up. Because Pixar has managed to express the joys and thrills and impossibilities of parenting and parental love, as well as every parent’s greatest fear—in a fish story, no less.
Take your kids, take your parents, take your friends. You should buy the DVD if you don’t have it already, but you owe it to yourself to see Finding Nemo in 3D and on the big screen.