Welcome to the Pixar Rewind! Over the next couple weeks, we at Rotoscopers are analyzing every Pixar film ever, and what makes each one so great. At the end of the series, and after the release of ‘Inside Out,’ we will have a fan vote to determine which is the best of them all!
At the beginning of 2003, Pixar was not quite the household name that we know it as today. Sure, its first four movies, Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, and Monsters Inc., made a lot of money and were very well received by critics, but the company had still not been able to break through the seemingly impenetrable wall that Disney Animation created. However, in May 2003, something big happened and the landscape for Pixar and its cultural ubiquity changed forever. That’s right, Finding Nemo was released.
To be completely honest, Finding Nemo is not my favorite Pixar movie. Heck, I don’t even think it cracks my Top 5, but when I saw that the movie was still available to write about, I jumped at the chance. The success and influence of this movie was immense. Not only was it a total critical darling (it was the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and was placed on the American Film Institute’s list of best animated features), but it was also a huge box office smash! Finding Nemo grossed over 930 million dollars at the box office, which was, for an animated movie at the time, completely insane. But really, Finding Nemo isn’t remembered so fondly by so many people because of the amount of money it made or the amount of critical praise heaped upon it at the time of its release; it’s remembered because of its simple yet poignant story and hilariously memorable characters.
Finding Nemo follows the story of a father and son, Marlin and Nemo, two clownfish who experienced tragedy not so long ago when a barracuda killed Marlin’s wife and all Nemo’s unborn siblings. Fortunately for Marlin, Nemo was not eaten. But, the side of his egg capsule was scratched, which resulted in the little fish being born with a small, handicapped fin. Flash-forward a few years and Nemo becomes a seemingly normal boy, filled with life and curiosity, while Marlin is a paranoid, neurotic, and over-protective mess of a parent. So, when the time comes for Nemo to start grade school (something the little fish is incredibly excited for… I wonder why?), Marlin’s craziness gets the better of him and ruins little Nemo’s first day. In his first true act of defiance to his father, Nemo swims out far into the sea in order to touch the “butt” (read as ‘boat’), something that all his friends were too afraid to do. While he is successful, Nemo is captured by some fishermen and taken far, far away from his father and his friends. His worst nightmares realized, Marlin must now brave the huge, frightening sea to find the fish most important to him in his life: his son.
As I already stated, Finding Nemo has a simple story, but it is quite effective. Apparently, the idea for Finding Nemo came to director Andrew Stanton via two experiences. Firstly, Stanton’s love for everything about aquatic life and his multiple visits to aquariums as a child had a huge influence on the production of this film. However, the biggest influence on the themes of the films may have come from when Stanton took his son on an ordinary trip to the park. Stanton reports that – instead of taking the time to enjoy the day and activities with his son that day – he was too busy over-protecting him, which resulted in the father and son’s loss of an entire day of familial bonding. There is an obvious parallel to this in the film.
As a child, I remember being aware of the relationship between Marlin and Nemo, but not thinking that much into it. Of course, I was far more interested in the adventure that Marlin was going on and the fun times being had with Nemo and the tank gang. Those parts of the film were more than enough to keep me entertained throughout the movie and to create positive feelings toward the film as a whole. But, like most animated movies SHOULD do, Finding Nemo has a lot to offer parents and older viewers as well. While I am not a parent, I imagine one of the hardest things to do is to find the healthy balance between knowing when to step into your child’s life and knowing when to step back and let them make their own mistakes. Really, this is Marlin’s central conflict in the movie and I am sure it rings more than true for the many, many parents who watch Finding Nemo and enjoy it as much as their children. Like so many stories that center around a journey, it is not the destination that changes Marlin and his attitude, it is the adventure and all the friends that he meets that really open his eyes to his mistakes and change him for the better.
Nemo is a character who was unfortunately hurt by his father’s actions. While it is never said out loud, nor do the filmmakers outright blame Marlin, a lot of Nemo’s naivety and lack of self-confidence seem to stem from Marlin’s parenting. So, like Marlin, it was necessary for the film to remove Nemo from his home and place him in a totally new environment with fish that have totally different personalities from his father. Like Marlin, Nemo’s adventures in the tank and with the ‘tank gang’ are what propel his evolution from total child into a more mature, responsible…..fish (well, as mature and responsible as a kid can be).
Speaking of the ‘tank gang’, it would be a huge disservice to ignore the incredible supporting cast present in Finding Nemo. There really are too many to describe completely, but some of the most memorable are the members of the ‘tank gang.’ These characters include: Gill, a Moorish idol with deep scars, both physically and mentally; Bloat, a puffer fish; Bubbles, a yellow tang obsessed with, well, bubbles; Peach, a starfish who acts more or less like the mother of the tank; Jacques, a cleaning shrimp that tries to keep the tank spick and span; Gurgle, a royal gamma afraid of seemingly everything; and Deb, a crazy black tailed humbug who thinks that her reflection is actually her twin sister. I was originally worried that this group of fishies would actually bring down the movie and be nothing more than a distraction from the story of Marlin, but I was dead wrong. Not only is the ‘tank gang’ hilarious, but they are lifelong friends for Nemo and help him get over his fears and earn his place in the… tank.
Along with the ‘tank gang,’ there are Bruce, Anchor, and Chum, a group of sharks dedicated to becoming friends with fish and not eating them; Nigel, a pelican who gossips with the ‘tank gang’ and tries to help Nemo and Marlin reconnect; and Crush, a wise, old (but young at heart) sea turtle that opens Marlin’s eyes to the beauty of the ocean and some of the joys of parenting! While there are certainly more characters to talk about, this article is already going on long enough, and I have already covered all of the major characters, so let’s move on… Just kidding. You didn’t really think I’d forget about Dory, did you?
If Marlin and Nemo represent the thematic ties of the story, Dory represents the heart and the soul. A regal tang who’s cursed with an awful memory, Dory accompanies Marlin throughout his entire journey. Is Dory a hilarious character who transforms a possibly boring journey into an unforgettable one? Absolutely, but her importance does not stop there. Marlin initially treats Dory just like he treated Nemo. He is over protective and, well, insane, but it is Dory’s actions and her incredible zest for life that eventually show that neurotic clownfish the error of his ways and all of the love and affection he has been unintentionally withholding from his son. To put a long story short, Dory is awesome.
To say that this movie was – and still is – popular may be a bit of an understatement. Finding Nemo permeated different cultures around the world like no Pixar movie did before. While Ellen Degeneres was a well known comedian and beginning talk show host with the older crowd before the release of this movie, it was her unforgettable performance as Dory that really brought her front and center to be adored by viewers of all ages. If it wasn’t for Finding Nemo, I am not sure if Ellen would be as much of a household name as she currently is. Additionally, there are quite a few Finding Nemo quotes that still float around today and act as proof of this movie’s enduring legacy. Some of these quotable moments include:
Lastly, it is because of Finding Nemo that so many more people became aware of the environment in the ocean and all of the possible dangers that the creatures and ocean itself face. Are all the facts about the ocean from Finding Nemo accurate? Definitely not, but more awareness is always a good thing.
Finding Nemo is a magnificent film. Every aspect of this movie, like the story, themes, characters and animation (oh, have I not mentioned the animation? Well, it is drop dead beautiful in every aspect), were polished and perfected before it was released to the public and this definitely shows. Pixar has released many, many great films, but it is easy to see why so many people place Finding Nemo as their #1. The popularity and importance of this movie will never completely go away and, in my opinion, this is rightly so. I mean, how can anyone take issue with a film that’s core message is for its audience to never give up. So, my dear readers, why don’t we say it together: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”
Is Finding Nemo your favorite Pixar movie? Let us know in the comments!
More in the Pixar Rewind series:
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes