Confession: I’ve never been a huge fan of Finding Nemo.
And I’ve always felt a little guilty about that. This marked the first occasion where I left a Pixar screening with a lukewarm feeling, rather than being WOW!-ed.
Don’t get me wrong: I do like this movie. In fact, I have liked every Pixar feature film I’ve ever seen in some capacity (though I avoided The Good Dinosaur and all of the Cars sequels and spinoffs). I’m just not moved by Finding Nemo. I don’t relate to it personally. Given the choice, I would pick several others from Pixar’s collection to watch first.
Viewing it again for this series, I went in with the sincere hope that it would resonate with me differently as an adult, as it happened with A Bug’s Life and Monsters, Inc. (both of which I already loved, have watched repeatedly over the years, and I often think about). However, Nemo struck me about the same as before. I can now articulate more clearly the aspects of it that I enjoy and I realize that there are more things I like, while also identifying the specifics of why this movie has never struck a chord with me.
Among the things I do like about this film are:
- No romantic subplot. They could very easily have shoehorned in a romantic undertone to Marlin and Dory’s characters but either chose not to or the idea never even occurred to them. It’s so, unbelievably refreshing. I love a good love story, but I have already noticed that Pixar tends to be very adept at keeping romance to a minimum. While the romance between Mike and Celia in Monsters, Inc. is cute and certainly doesn’t hurt the story, it could have been removed entirely and I would have felt no loss whatsoever. Here, the friendship that forms between Marlin and Dory is just that – friendship. It’s so well done that Dory can even deliver a speech about how much of an impact he has on her, and how important and special he has become to her, and yet it doesn’t come off as romance.
Please don’t go away. Please? No one’s ever stuck with me for so long before, and if you leave . . . I remember things better with you. I do! Look: P. Sherman, 42 . . . I remember it, I do, it’s there. I know it is, because when I look at you, I can feel it. And I look at you and I . . . I’m home. Please. I don’t want that to go away. I don’t want to forget.
A lot of that is owed to the writing; while the speech is largely about Marlin, it’s also a declaration of Dory’s own identity, struggles, and how she wants to live her life. This is also a testament to the performance given by Ellen DeGeneres. Her voice is so delightfully recognizable, but I find that every time I watch Finding Nemo, DeGeneres disappears and all I can see and hear is Dory, which is fantastic.
- Crush. Just, all the things about Crush are amazing. It’s hard to say whether I wish he had more screen time, or whether this is a demonstration of “less is more,” and that any additional scenes would have become “too much of a good thing.” Either way, Crush has always been and easily will always will be, one of the best parts of this movie.
But what exactly are my qualms? What are the elements about the film that break the fourth wall, that leave me neutral, rather than starry-eyed like the previous four?
Probably the biggest reason is that my perspective is a bit skewed when it comes to this theme. I did not have overprotective parents, nor did I ever really go through much of a “rebellious” phase. My parents and I have always gotten along and I’ve always been very much a homebody. I’m not especially adventurous by nature, and my family took more of Crush’s approach to parenting. So, by it’s very nature, the theme doesn’t resonate with me.
The pacing; there’s something very rushed about this film. In spite of being mostly character driven, there’s not much time devoted to us getting to know the characters. We barely meet Marlin and Coral before she and their kids are killed off-screen. Though that sequence should be upsetting, it’s never reached me. When Marlin discovers the sole survivor of the attack and names him Nemo, this is essentially the inciting incident, yet it’s at the very top of the movie – preceding the title card – before I’ve barely had a chance to get my bearings. We dive in fast, rather than taking a chance to soak in the atmosphere, as the previous four films do. I get the sense that the creative team wanted to try something new; throw the audience into the world and deliberately not take [much] time to explain who’s who and what’s what, but, for me, I think that comes at a cost.
The worldbuilding is much stronger in Monsters, Inc., which I might not have been able to articulate, had we not just watched it last week. The strongest worldbuilding in this movie appears late, once we meet the quirky ensemble in the fish tank. The brief commentary during the dental exams is some of the best stuff in the movie, in my opinion.
The film is episodic, and the transitions, like the opening, come hard and fast. At their best, these jumps between Marlin and Nemo’s stories result in swift matches (or deliberate contrasts) in tone; at their worst, they feel abrasive and throw off the balance. I would have loved more time with Nemo and Marlin before Nemo gets taken. We have seen the overprotective parent, rebellious child dynamic repeatedly across several mediums; literature, television, cinema, comics, you name it. This isn’t unusual for Pixar; the premise of the first four movies aren’t overly original, either, except that, as I address in those previous reviews, those themes are – perhaps – a little less common than the what’s offered here. To reiterate, though: this theme doesn’t resonate with me on a personal level.
Ultimately, I’m left feeling that Finding Nemo is a perfectly competent, perfectly pleasant film. At release, it was technically the best looking of Pixar’s productions thus far. I could definitely see the leap in animation between Nemo and Monsters, which makes sense, given the chronological progression. At the same time, though, the ocean, the Reef, is a very real place. There is ample visual reference to make such a landscape come to life.
And there, I think is the crux of my dilemma. I read and watch fantasy, sci-fi, historical and speculative fiction; as such, the Pixar films that jive most keenly with me are the more imaginative ones that exist in a faraway place, a landscape I’ve never seen before, or a familiar setting that adds a hidden door, which we’re allowed to walk through and discover an extended, magical vista beyond (i.e. the caves beneath Ant Island and the entire existence of Monstropolis). In Nemo, there’s no twist, no added, hidden space that was created for this story. That is by no means a diss, but between the more realistic setting and my not being able to personally relate to the overall theme, it creates a pretty broad distance.
I’ve spent over ten years waffling and wringing my hands over all this . . . but maybe it’s actually okay? I wish I liked Finding Nemo more, but the fact is, there are almost twenty feature films in Pixar’s collection, of varying styles, tones, and themes. And perhaps that’s what makes Pixar so brilliant. There’s a kind of film for every viewer. I may not love Nemo, but I can still admire it and appreciate the way it has positively affected so many others.
Meanwhile, I can enjoy the films that do speak to me, including the film that would come next: Pixar takes on Superheroes!
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