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FINDING NEMO

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Albert Brookes, Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush, Alexander Gould
Director:  Andrew Stanton
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Disney/Pixar
Features:  See Review
Length:  100 Minutes
Release Date:  November 4, 2003

"You've got SERIOUS thrill issues, dude."

Film ****

Hard to believe it was less than ten years ago that Pixar Animation Studios first burst into the mainstream with their daring concept for the first full length computer animated feature, Toy Story.  It was a success, but more than a novelty.  As the studio continued onto bigger and better projects, from Toy Story 2 to the Oscar nominated Monsters Inc., it was as though a page were being turned before our very eyes.

Pixar's partnership with Disney seemed a logical one.  The Walt Disney Studios, after all, are seminal animation pioneers in their own right...who better to take the next step in creative technology?  But over the past decade, that next step became a gigantic leap.  Computer animation has not only flourished, it's just about taken over the medium.  Consider how the aforementioned Pixar films, along with other studios' digital offerings like Shrek or Jimmy Neutron have racked up big dollars at the box office.  Meanwhile, many of Disney's own traditional animated offerings from the same time period, including Atlantis, Treasure Planet, The Emperor's New Groove and others, have barely rippled the waters.

Now, Finding Nemo has arrived from Pixar and Disney like a gigantic exclamation point on the phenomenon.  This is a visually spectacular, wondrously imaginative adventure that takes us into incredible little-seen worlds the way only animation could, while making them as vivid and dimensional as only a computer realization can.

Not only does it simulate underwater experiences like no standard ink and paper renderings could, but it tells a terrific story of love, courage and hope, while foraging through with delightful unbridled comedy.  Each time I think Pixar will never be able to top themselves, they prove me wrong.

This is the tale of a clownfish named Marlin (Brooks), left alone with his only son Nemo (Gould) at the beginning of the film after a tragedy claims the rest of their family.  Marlin is nervously loving and overprotective of his small offspring, who in turn is easily excited and adventurous, despite his malformed fin that makes swimming difficult.

One day, little Nemo swims too far into the open sea and gets netted by a diver.  Now Marlin, who has never ventured far from his sea anemone home, faces the impossible task of trying to get his son back.  It's a big ocean out there, but fortunately (maybe), he finds companionship in Dory (DeGeneres), a sweet, enthusiastic fish with a poor memory.

While Marlin and Dory find adventure in the forms of sharks engaged in some kind of twelve step program, a trip to the dark bottom of the sea, a frantic rip current and a belly-of-the-whale sequence, little Nemo ends up in a dentist office aquarium in Sydney, Australia.  He makes new friends there, but it may not be enough, once he learns he's to be given as a gift to the doctor's horrific little niece, in whose care fish never survive (the theme from Psycho actually plays when she appears...great stuff)!

Can father and son actually find each other against such odds?  You can probably guess the answer, but no matter...getting there isn't half the fun, it's ALL the fun.  As mentioned, this is a film of never ending visual wonders, and the skilled artists at Pixar really capture the way the world looks underwater, including how menacing shapes can suddenly seem to materialize out of the murkiness.  But over and above that, their undersea world is a full realized three dimensional arena filled with colors, action, danger, and of course, comedy.  One of the aspects of the movie that may amuse adults is how scientifically accurate it usually is...granted, fish don't talk or have expressive eyes, but the portrayal of jellyfish, sea anemones, starfish and seagulls are quite dead on.  Frankly, if gulls could talk, what would they say apart from "Mine!"?

The voiceover actors are all superb choices.  Albert Brooks brings the right amount of humor and emotional resonance to Marlin, while Ellen DeGeneres is a rib tickling delight as Dora.  Also featured are the likes of Geoffrey Rush and Willem Dafoe in memorable smaller roles.  Every voice lends an aura of real personality to the characters, and that in turn makes the story more engrossing.

Computer animation has taken the art form in new and exciting directions, and much as in the early days of traditionally drawn features, the possibilities seem limitless.  As I said, one can only wonder if we're seeing the end of one kind of art form giving way to something newer and fresher.  The box office dollars are a big indicator that might be so.  Finding Nemo was a huge success like the Pixar films before it.  No longer a novelty, computer animation is becoming the norm.

Video ****

With a digital-to-digital direct transfer, Finding Nemo is a breathtakingly glorious viewing experience on DVD.  This is a bright, vivid, colorful and incredibly detailed presentation where not one iota of information gets lost or distorted.  Absolutely flawless...nothing more to say, except opt for the anamorphic widescreen presentation over the full frame one for fullest visual pleasure.

Audio ****

The 5.1 listening experience is just about as good, with plenty of action, ambient underwater sounds, and music to keep your surround system humming.  Dynamic range is plenty strong, while spoken words are clean and clear.  Crossover action is frequent and smooth as signals flow one to another effortlessly for maximum realism.  Big action scenes pump up the volume and get the subwoofer cranking.  Expertly done.

Features ****

Two discs' worth of bonuses are included, with material to please both young and old alike.

Disc One contains the widescreen version of the film, plus a unique filmmakers' visual commentary.  While they talk about the movie, it will occasionally cut away for extra behind-the-scenes info, such as computer tests, sketches, deleted scenes, recording sessions and more, before returning to the feature.  It takes a little longer to watch the movie this way, of course, but any cutaway can be skipped over with one click of the remote.  But it's worth going through in it's entirety at least once because there are plenty of treasure to be found in it.  There is also a documentary on Making Nemo, art galleries narrated by the artists themselves.

Disc Two has the movie's full frame presentation, along with the remaining extras.  Jean-Michel Cousteau and the Nemo friends explore the real coral reefs with you, while "Mr. Ray's Encyclopedia" will give you trivia and real video footage of the fish the characters were modeled after.  An interactive "Fisherades" game will entertain the kiddies, while everyone will enjoy the classic Pixar short "Knick Knack" and a sneak peek at the next Disney/Pixar feature The Incredibles.  A storytime session will let kids hear a story or read it themselves.  There is also a tour of the Pixar studios, along with four trailers and four "fish facts" interstitials.

Both discs feature ‘virtual aquariums' that will turn your TV into a computer animated fish tank of your own choosing.  There are also introductions to the movie on both discs, and some Easter eggs to hunt for (nothing significant, but mostly fun).  Animated menu screens with character voices are a nice final touch.

Summary:

Finding Nemo is one of the year's best films, animated or no, and makes for perfect family entertainment that will delight the parents as well as the kids.  With a spectacular DVD package to elevate the fun level even higher, this is a must-own.

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