Dir: Andrew Stanton. US. 2003. 100mins.
Pixar Animation Studios has made some of the best American features during the last decade in the two Toy Story films and Monsters Inc; Finding Nemo, which is released in the US on May 30, the first time a Pixar feature has been released in the summer, maintains that exceptionally high standard. Deliriously inventive and soaked in a warm and generous wit, Finding Nemo sets a high artistic benchmark for other animated films to strive towards. However, its very sophistication and the use of distinctive comic voice talents Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres might limit its box office appeal as compared to the $500m slamdunk scored by Monsters Inc. Its worldwide gross is likely to be more in the $375m region of A Bug's Life.
Set for the most part underwater, Finding Nemo is one of the most visually striking films yet produced using CGI technology. Its sumptuous design could easily have overwhelmed its two tiny protagonists, but the team at Pixar, led by writer/director Andrew Stanton, who co-wrote all four of the previous features, ensure that the characterisation comes first.
The film is the story of the fish Marlin (voiced by Brooks) who brings up his son Nemo (Gould) on Australia's Great Barrier Reef with an unusual level of caution ever since Nemo's mother and siblings were eaten by a shark. But when Nemo is unexpectedly lost on a school outing and thrust into a fish tank in a dentist's office overlooking Sydney Harbour, Merlin sets out on a dangerous journey to find him.
He teams up with a friendly fish named Dory (DeGeneres) and sets off to Sydney, encountering along the way a host of obstacles from three sharks who are determined to stop eating fish (Humphries, Bana and Bruce Spence), a forest of dangerous jellyfish and a fleet of surfer dude turtles. Meanwhile Nemo himself is plotting to get out of the fishtank and back into the ocean with the help of his tank-mates - voiced by Dafoe, Janney, Garrett, Root, Lewis, Pendleton and Ranft. A friendly pelican (Rush) helps the father and son reunite.
Brooks, as his own movies have demonstrated, is an acquired taste as the whining Marlin and his very particular persona might prove a turn-off to some. Likewise Dory, aka DeGeneres, although she is deliciously memorable as the fish with no short-term memory and has the film's best lines.
Pixar's skills are as much in the writing as they are in the technologically ground-breaking animation. The film is endearing without being cloying and touching without resorting to sentimentality. The level of invention and comedy is so high that adults will revel in its pleasures as much as kids. Therein lies the magic of Pixar's timeless brand. No wonder Disney - for whom Finding Nemo is its main animated summer release - is anxious to renew its deal with this extraordinary talent pool. The films it generates have a commercial life that resonates long after they have finished their lucrative theatrical runs.
Prod cos: Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Worldwide dist: Buena Vista/BVI
Exec prod: John Lasseter
Prod: Graham Walters
Co-dir: Lee Unkrich
Scr: Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson & Bob Reynolds, from a story by Andrew Stanton
Cinematography: Sharon Calahan, Jeremy Lasky
Prod des: Ralph Eggleston
Ed: David Ian Salter
Music: Thomas Newman
Main voice cast: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush, Allison Janney, Barry Humphries, Alexander Gould, Austin Pendleton, Brad Garrett, Stephen Root, Vicki Lewis, Joe Ranft, John Ratzenberger, Eric Bana