A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 159 – Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo – August 6th, 2010

Um. Oops. We ran out of shark movies. Poor planning on our part. We’d meant to go grab Jaws II and Deep Blue Sea some time this week and never got around to it. So, this evening, finding we had no more cheesy shark movies at hand, we poked through our list in hopes of finding something that would do. We have so damn many movies still, there was bound to be something. And there was! I hadn’t seen this before, but I knew from the ads there was at least one scene with sharks. And it turns out one of the sharks is named Bruce, after the lumbering mechanical shark in Jaws, so we’ve sort of come full circle, in a way. So in it went!

It’s a mostly cute movie that I’m extremely late in seeing. If you’ve read some of my other reviews you might be able to guess why. At this point I think it’s not even so much overhype about specific movies as it is about Pixar in general. I know they make brilliant, funny, touching, clever, beautiful movies. I’m well aware. I saw Toy Story and A Bug’s Life when they came out on video and I enjoyed them. I’m not in any way suggesting that they don’t deserve heaps of praise for making the movies they make. But there comes a point where I don’t need to hear more praise. Saying Pixar makes good movies is like saying Martha Stewart makes good centerpieces. It’s a given. Proselytizing just makes me weary, and that’s what it feels like. And good as Pixar is, its movies aren’t turning water into wine or parting the red sea, okay?

Sorry. I have my grumpy pants on today (polyester/wool blend, perfect for August in New England). Sure, this movie didn’t perform miracles, but it is sweet. Clownfish Marlin, a widower whose wife was killed by a barracuda, is a single father trying to raise his disabled son, Nemo, in what he believes to be a deadly environment: The ocean. Chafing against Marlin’s overprotectiveness, Nemo rushes out into open water, away from the relative safety of the reef they live in. He’s promptly scooped up by a diver and swept off to an aquarium in a dentist’s office. Paranoid and panicked, Marlin then engages in a desperate search for his son. This is sort of like Spring Break Shark Attack except it’s all humans, and it’s from the father’s point of view and it’s Pixar and there are no blood fountains. Anyhow. Moving on.

What makes this a nice little change of pace is that it is largely from Marlin’s point of view. Yes, we get to see Nemo gaining friends and confidence in the aquarium. He and the other aquarium residents have to figure out a way to save him from the dentist’s niece, who has a habit of killing her fish through overenthusiasm and whom I suspect is a cousin to Toy Story’s Sid. But the vast majority of the movie, the heart of it, is Marlin’s journey from the reef to Sydney. He meets up with Dory, a regal tang who’s a bit like the dude from Memento but without the polaroids or revenge obsession. Together they meet up with three sharks who definitely do not want to eat them, what I think was a hatchetfish or something similar, a bunch of stinging jellyfish, some kindly surfer bum sea turtles, and finally a huge whale. And along the way Marlin’s story gets spread throughout the ocean, becoming epic in scale. A big fish tale, if you will.

Of course Marlin and Nemo are reunited. Pixar does like to tug at the heartstrings, but when it comes to a parent separated from his or her child? Yeah, they’re getting back together by the end. It’s as sure a thing as there only being one parent (a common trope in both Pixar films and traditional folk and fairy tales). There’s some dramatic tension after the fact, and then the usual “Look how great everything turned out!” ending. It was fun and all, but the most surprising part of it was that Marlin was the main focus. And even there, he’s got Dory to play the innocent childlike role.

The whole thrust of the movie is about growing up and letting go, and it’s pretty much a sledgehammer about that in places, in one instance flat out saying “It’s time to let go.” But I’ll forgive that for the most part. It’s not so egregious as to ruin the movie or anything, it’s just a little more blunt an instrument than I’d prefer. Then again, Marlin’s fears about the dangers of the ocean are never shown to be without cause. It’s not as if we’re expected to think he’s worried over nothing. There are several instances where Marlin and Dory are in true peril and only luck and desperation save them. I actually like this. It hearkens back to traditional folktales where the world is a dangerous place. And while there is the whole theme of Nemo finding out what he’s capable of and learning to face some dangers head on, his story happens in an aquarium tank. It’s danger with training wheels. So, not a subtle theme overall, but crafted well.

The other big pluses this movie has going for it are things that I think are par for the course for Pixar. The animation is absolutely gorgeous. The characters’ movements are so very expressive that even the ones who don’t speak have personalities. The water effects are lovely and being as fond of the ocean as I am, I really did enjoy seeing all the scenery in general. And then there’s the voice acting, which was perfectly in tune with the animation. It’s nice to hear some big name actors playing fish and birds and whatnot, but it’s also nice to hear some Pixar regulars get to do what they do best. I was also pleased to hear Bill Hunter as the dentist, and am amused that I can now identify him by voice alone. All in all, it was just what I expected: A fun, sweet, pretty movie.

August 6, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Finding Nemo

August 6, 2010

Finding Nemo

Shark week is winding down here for A and A. We’ve watched all the movies we had purchased specifically to review this week. We had a couple other movie ideas, but never got around to buying them. (Certainly by this time next year we’ll have another seven shark movies ready.) So we went through our collection and decided that since it features sharks (amongst the many other examples of aquatic life) it fulfilled the spirit of Shark Week.

I haven’t watched Finding Nemo in about six years. Since my days managing a Suncoast Video. I remember putting it in to play on the monitors in the store and, over the course of several days, watching it in bits and starts. Having a movie playing repeatedly in the background while you work can be a very strange way to take in a film. I’d look up from time to time and watch some of the action, but I’d always be distracted by chores or customers, so I had to sort of assemble the movie in my head from these clips and snippets. A film like this one is particularly suited to constantly interrupted viewing, what with its episodic nature. I did finally buy the movie and watch it through from start to end, of course, and was quite pleased with myself that I pretty much understood how everything fit together.

Finding Nemo is an odyssey story. That is to say – it is a tale of a great journey and of the many trials our hero must overcome before he can reach his goal. In general such stories are thin on plot, but they make for a great way to explore a character in detail and allow the hero to experience some realization about themselves. (I’m making parallels in my mind right now with the Wizard of Oz, which we do not own.) This quest is of the exceptionally nervous Marlin, a clown fish voiced by Albert Brooks at his most neurotic, who’s son Nemo is abducted by divers on his home reef. So Marlin sets out to cross the ocean in search of his son. Along the way he meets Dory, a hopelessly optimistic fish with no short-term memory. Naturally the pairing of a perpetually naive fool with a dour and broken pessimist works quite well to bring a lot of fun to their adventures together. They encounter sharks, mines, jellyfish, sea-turtles, a whale… just a huge series of trials.

At the same time we have Nemo in a fish tank being befriended by a fun crew of oddballs in what turns out to be a kind of Great Escape type heist film. The two stories are nicely inter-cut so that we see both of them simultaneously. My only complaint, and I think this might have been deliberate, is that because Nemo and Marlin look pretty much identical I was often confused during scene changes as to which fish I was looking at.

What makes this movie special to me, and what I was amazed by all over again as I watched it for the first time in six or seven years, is what an incredibly lush and colorful movie this is. In my opinion this movie marks a turning point for Pixar. It was at about this point in the studio’s evolution that they proved that they effectively no longer had any technical restrictions on their vision. Anything that they could dream up they could now bring to the screen. This movie is filled with astonishing vistas right from the very start. It starts with a fish-eye view of a coral reef, and it’s so alive, so full of color and activity, and so brightly colored that it brings joy to me just to watch it.

There is some truly brilliant animation in this film too. Watch the way that Bruce, the reformed shark, is animated. He has this fantastic snagletoothed mouth full of teeth, but he also has a lot of flesh around it, and the way the animators make his body almost flow around his mouth is very cool. Then there’s the hilarious animation when Dory is speaking “whale” later in the film. They take Ellen DeGeneres’ line delivery (which is funny enough to start with) and get some of the best laughs in the film as the character distorts her face in all kinds of great ways.

This movie has all those things that make Pixar films so great. It’s not just the fantastic design, the great animation and the careful attention to detail. It’s the gentle humor, the honest heart, the adventure and joy. It boggles my mind that year after year these people continue to crank out such stellar films. I don’t know how they continue to do it, but I begin to suspect that some form of mind control is involved. I can’t help loving any film that has Luxo Jr. in the opening.

August 6, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , | Leave a comment