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'Finding Nemo'

The makers of 'Toy Story' find humor at the bottom of the sea

Friday, May 30, 2003

By Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette Weekend Editor

What might have happened at the Pixar brainstorming session:

A peek behind the scenes shows the voiceover talent for 'Finding Nemo' includes some familiar faces. (Disney/Pixar)

'Finding Nemo'
CRITIC'S CALL:

RATING: G
STARRING: Voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres.
DIRECTOR: Andrew Stanton.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: disney.go.com/disneypictures/
findingnemo/index.html


Let's see, we've done toys -- twice. We did bugs and stuffed animals. What else can we bring to life?

How 'bout plants?

Talking trees? Sounds like the school play. Plus, boys will never go for talking daisies.

Yeah, right. What about cars?

Nah, wasn't there one in 'Inspector Gadget'? Don't wanna be confused with that wreck.

Dinosaurs?

Been done.

Babies!

Rugrats.

I guess a donkey and an ogre would be out.

Pretty much.

Fish!

Tropical or marine?

Marine, of course.

Hmm, fish. Fish could be good. Ocean, lots of possibilities there. Kids love sharks... SpongeBob. As long as there's no mermaid. OK, fish it is!

Actually, with Pixar's track record it doesn't make that much difference. Everything works. And that's because the studio that gave us "Toy Story," "A Bug's Life" and "Monsters Inc." excels not only in the animation, but the story, dialogue and voiceover talent.

They've done it again with "Finding Nemo," a movie that plunges us into the colorful depths with the same sense of humor and wonder.

Albert Brooks is the voice of Marlin, a fretful clown fish who loses his family early on in one of those stunningly heartbreaking scenes we've come to expect by now from kid movies. He's left with one son, Nemo, whom he won't let out of his sight.

Although he's got a bum fin, Nemo is a spunky thing and on his first day of fish school, he wanders off with an assortment of mischievous sea life and ends up in a net.

The rest of the movie is ... finding Nemo.

Doesn't sound like much of a plot, and it isn't (compared with, say, the brilliant abstraction of "Monsters Inc."), but Pixar uses the ocean to its fullest, along with a fish tank in a dentist's office in Sydney, Australia.

It wouldn't be giving away too much to say that's where Nemo is. It's the getting there and getting out that's all the fun.

Along the way, Marlin hooks up with Dory, played by Ellen DeGeneres in her loopiest and finest performance to date. Dory is a blue tang who suffers from short-term memory loss and forgets things immediately. Not the best trait in a partner on a search-and-rescue mission, but she possesses all the courage and exuberance that Marlin lacks. They meet up with a gang of sharks trying to go veggie, a prickly huddle of jellyfish and a pack of sea turtles who must have seen "Dude, Where's My Car?"

As for Nemo, he's in a tank full of characters that rival the "Toy Story" gang for laughs. One is fascinated with the bubbles, another is a high-strung blowfish played with bluster by Brad Garrett of "Everybody Loves Raymond." The fish pass the time debating techniques of dentistry (a brilliant touch) and plotting their escape, before the dentist's wicked niece, Darla, can get her paws on them.

With more bang for the byte, it wouldn't be a reach to say that "Finding Nemo" -- written and directed by Andrew Stanton ("A Bug's Life") -- is the most colorful and visually dazzling of Pixar's adventures. It's just like being in the Great Barrier Reef, only funnier, and you don't get wet.

Does "Nemo" match the perfection of the "Toy Story" movies? Not quite, partly because at 101 minutes, it's about one adventure too long, particularly for the wee ones, and it lacks that defining musical moment that we usually get from Pixar (was Randy Newman busy or what?).

Parents will be glad to know that the themes float nicely to the surface, though. It's about the love of a father for a son. It's about overcoming your worst fears. It's about the universal quest for freedom. Last and probably least, it's about trusting a fish with short-term memory loss.


Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.

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