Real reviewers get into free screenings with sterno-warmed plates of salmon and free White Zin! I got to drive to the Orange County Register to finagle free tickets, and got only a hastily printed sign that stated all free tickets were gone. Ordinarily I would be under my desk crying, but actually this worked out for the best because I got to watch this movie with my daughter on Father's Day, and the timing couldn't have been better because this really was a perfect Father's Day movie! So my review isn't the self-same weekend like I shoot for in most cases... I have free passes to The Hulk and that ought to make up for this.
I scarcely think that seeing this film earlier could have made it even better, because much like just about everything else that Pixar had put on the screen since they migrated from shorts to features under Disney's umbrella, Finding Nemo is excellent... and possibly the best all around film so far this year! Better than The Matrix Reloaded? Better than X2? Well, not really the same Genre, but yeah... all around this is pretty much incredible!
I wasn't really sure what to think of this film when it was being advertised (originally as "Little Nemo" astute readers will confirm). I mean, sure Pixar could pull it off... but would it be interesting being about... fishies? The answer is Yep! Albert Brooks is often accused of playing the same part in every film he's in, and that may be the case, but his is an immediately recognizable personality after over twenty years! Marlin, Brooks' clown fish character, is Brooks through and through, as much as Ant Z from ANTZ was undeniably Woody Allen! Marlin, however, is neurotic, but not annoying in any real obnoxious sense! The thing is that he's endured a horrifying experience that makes him remarkably overprotective of his son Nemo the title character as voiced by Alexander Gould! When Marlin's overprotective nature causes Nemo to push his limits, naturally (to make a full length movie necessary) Nemo gets snagged and is taken away from Marlin, like star systems slipping through Grand Moff Tarkin's Grip-Tightening fingers (geek moment intended)! I don't know about every parent, but it's my worst nightmare, and Marlin's desire to fight through borderline sharks, needle fish, Jellyfish, Ellen DeGeneres' personality, and even surfer-dude turtles makes him immediately easy to relate to (especially on Father's Day)!
When things seem their bleakest, Marlin can only rely on his newest friend, the forgetful Dory (DeGeneres) who makes Memento's Leonard Shelby seem like a guy with an excellent short term memory! The thing is that Dory means well and really is pretty much the only one who sticks by Marlin through thick, thin, and creepy! Dory can be annoying (intentionally) quite often, but never loses the audience's sympathy as she parades through the film just barely forgetting what just happened (creating more than a few Laugh out Loud moments)!
Other shining parts of this film are in the Fish Tank that Nemo finds himself in. He ends up in a brotherhood of friendly yet disaffected characters ranging from a shrimp to a starfish to a Puffer Fish. All of them are excellent and quite hilarious in their prison escape plans. Specifically Willem Defoe as the sad yet brilliant Gill is great to watch and laugh with. In the Salt Water tank as well as in the ocean on the "road to Sydney" style romp there are down moments and times of sorrow and worry... however they are offset by more laughs than Hyena night at the Improv, so one is left fulfilled in the end!
A great thing about this film is that the fish characters take so much personality from the actors who voice them. The majority of the actors used have distinctive recognition in voice and expression, so the animators (wisely) used that to their advantage when creating their animated alter-egos. So often there is a facial expression or a quirky tic that immediately makes one think Yep, that's Ellen for you! The Animation is universally incredible, and colorful. The flow of the water and its affect on such things as anemones and the like is fabulous... however directors Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich feel no need to dwell on this as if it were a lab experiment. Unkrich and Stanton set up a scene and insist that that which is background (perfect as it may be) remains background, not a pat on the back to the animators. There also appeared to be some live photography merged with the animation for above water work. The credits suggest this is so, but the transitions are so seamless it's hard to say where this might be.
While this film is just about perfect there are a couple of things I want to mention. No, let's not get into implausibility here... I mean, seriously, folks... if we're talking about fish who talk, traverse the ocean, go to 12 step meetings, read, and make pop culture references, should we even consider this outside the realm of fantasy? Come on, if you want that, read my review of Identity. One thing, however, is that there are some very scary moments one in the first five minutes and sporadic frights here and there throughout. No, it's not Poltergeist but some of the little ones might jump (I did). Also, the trend of putting name-stars in voice roles is fun, but is it necessary? I contradict the earlier praise here I know... and the voice cast was universally excellent, but I remember when it didn't take a Mel Gibson or a Robin Williams to make an animated film. The voices are wonderful, but I wonder if there are a Banana boat-load of voice actors with tin cups and "Will Voiceover for Food!" signs crouched at intersections all over North Hollywood! It would be certifiably insane to criticize the animation... how could I? Its incredible, and beautiful! But, I will say that compared to such films as The Final Flight of the Osiris and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Pixar's lack of Photorealism looks... well... like a cartoon... in that this is a cartoon, this shouldn't even qualify as a criticism! Yep! Had to dig pretty deep to find anything imperfect about this film. We're talking deep sea trench deep! The movie rocks!
Taken for all with all this is a rare Five Star Movie... good for the kids, good for the parents, and good for fish! Try to eat Seafood after this film! You might want to see it if you have a brain in your head! There's something for just about everyone! It's a well cast, well animated, well written and well balanced exciting ride! Highly recommended! Now, if you'll excuse me... I want to go buy Albert Brooks' Mother for my wife as a Belated Mommy's Day present! Gang way!