The Enchanted Sea 

Pixar scores yet again with Finding Nemo, perfectly blending character, adventure and setting

Pixar scores yet again with Finding Nemo, perfectly blending character, adventure and setting

Finding Nemo

Dirs.: Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich

G, 101 min.

Now showing at area theaters

Cinephiles haven’t rooted for a movie studio to succeed since the heyday of the MGM musicals. They regard the modern studio as a collection of useless suits who prevent artists from achieving their visions, preside over the miscasting of talented actors and buy hot foreign properties only to butcher them, remake them or kill them with stupid marketing. Yet when a Pixar film hits the screens, our cynicism disappears in a wave of hope for critical raves and boffo box office. It’s the studio we love to love.

The Pixar folks haven’t disappointed us yet. Their latest, Finding Nemo, shows that the studio still has a whole deck of aces up its sleeve. Written and co-directed by Andrew Stanton, whose gift for the pathos of neurosis made A Bug’s Life the best Pixar film so far, Nemo demonstrates two new secret weapons: a rapid-fire, Abbot-and-Costello pace in the gag-filled comic portions, and a thrilling sense of space and import in the adventure scenes, the true heart of the film.

It’s adventure that builds character, you see, and Pixar has always given us character in abundance. In this latest film, Marlin the clownfish sets off to rescue his son Nemo from a dentist’s fish tank; in one gorgeous montage, his tale becomes an oceanic legend, passing from species to awed species. Accompanied by Dory, a regal blue tang with a small short-term-memory problem, Marlin must overcome a fear of the open sea to save his only child, a sweet boy suffocating under his father’s overprotective ways.

Most current Hollywood films try to build interest in their characters by loading them up with quirks, catchphrases and attitude. (For an example of this trend at its worst, see the execrable trailer for Dreamworks’ upcoming Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas.) Stanton gives his characters personalities that are plenty likable and interesting, but he matches those personalities against a grand quest full of formidable obstacles. We root for Marlin as much because of what he’s after as because of who he is—and more, perhaps, because of who we want him to become. The same goes for Dory, who has more at stake than the usual sidekick: She’s happy living in the constantly disappearing present until an experience comes along that’s worth holding on to.

If these concerns seem too heavy for a fun family cartoon, rest easy; there are plenty of belly laughs here too, expertly provided by Albert Brooks (as the voice of Marlin), Ellen Degeneres (as Dory) and a host of other surprising stars. Degeneres, especially, is a comic delight with her wide-eyed, joyful take on a character that, in lesser hands, would have become a one-note recurring gag. Stanton and Degeneres seem to know exactly how far to take Dory’s memory lapses; the joke disappears for a quarter-hour, only to pop up and escalate at the precise moment it will be funniest.

The real test for an adventure film, however, is whether it makes you forget about everything but the adventure—and Finding Nemo does just that. So great is the audience’s concern for Nemo’s plight and Marlin’s quest, they will barely register Pixar’s grandest achievement to date: the creation of not one, but myriad fully realized environments, from a supercharged underwater river to murky Sydney Harbor to a hobbyist’s tropical tank. Emerging from a truly original imagination, Stanton’s films show that Pixar can do much more than “what if childhood fantasies were real” buddy pictures. Even when diving into uncharted waters, the studio simply moves from strength to newfound strength.

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