There are 3.7 trillion fish in the ocean.
A lot of films came out during the summer of 2003. A lot of very big films. Franchise films, with words like "Terminator" and "Matrix" in the titles, invaded the multiplexes like the 6,000-ton behemoths they are. But they were all of them defeated in terms of success, profits, staying power, and appeal by some very small fish weighing next to nothing.
Facts of the Case
When unexpected tragedy strikes, a clownfish named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks, The In-Laws, My First Mister) vows to protect his son Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould, They) from letting anything ever happen to him. With Nemo's "lucky fin" holding him back, Marlin is perhaps too over-protective in his diligence in watching over his son, but that all becomes moot when a diver in the Great Barrier Reef captures Nemo. Disregarding his fear of the ocean, Marlin furtively chases after his son aboard the racing boat overhead and quickly loses track of him. Descending quickly into despair, he meets a blue tang fish named Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen) with a questionable memory who helps Marlin in his search for his son. Meanwhile, Nemo adapts to his new home in the aquarium tank at the office of the Dentist (voiced by Bill Hunter, Kangaroo Jack) who caught him. Resigning himself to never seeing the ocean again, Nemo's other tank-mates devise a plan to escape the tank before the Dentist's evil fish-killing niece arrives and receives Nemo as a birthday present. It is a race against time for Nemo, and against the largest body of water on the planet for Marlin, and neither know if they'll ever see one another ever again.
Pixar has consistently produced some of the best animation in the world, and Finding Nemo is no exception. Continuing off their success of Monsters, Inc., the creative team dived under the water for their next foray of storytelling. Every Pixar project has contained at least one major technical breakthrough in terms of the presentation of the computer animation, and Finding Nemo's contribution is truly awe-inspiring. In Toy Story 2, it was the development of realistic human skin for the toy dealer. In Monsters, Inc. it was the fur and hair simulation. In Finding Nemo, it is the breathtaking realistic presentation of the ocean environment. So convincingly did the technical artists, lighters, and animators create the environment, that for many scenes I forgot that what I was looking at was completely computer generated and I only saw it for what it depicted. Even after repeated viewings of the film, I'll still see new things in the background that I missed before, for so much detail went into the creation of every shot that it's impossible to take it all in on a single go.
The story is much simpler than previous Pixar films, continuing the trend of making Pixar's storylines more in tone with Disney's general story requirements of kid-oriented complexity. (This may change when Pixar's contract with Disney expires after their next film, The Incredibles, but we'll have to wait and see.) The complexity of Toy Story 2 gave way to the semi-straight-forwardness of Monsters, Inc. which in turn now leads us to the simple tale of Finding Nemo: a father trying to reunite with his lost son. Normally, this type of film follows the lost child, overcoming many obstacles and learning life lessons on his way to being reunited with his family, but Finding Nemo delightfully turns that tired story on its head, making it the father this time who is searching and learning the life lessons along the way. This alone makes this the best movie to watch with your father on Father's Day and finally gives fathers something to enjoy with the family aside from listening to "Cat's in the Cradle" on the radio.
I was skeptical at first when I heard Ellen DeGeneres would be one of the voice talents, but her performance as the fish Dory is perfect. I could not think of a better fit for the character after seeing what she does with the part. Albert Brooks as the father Marlin conveys all the emotion and fear perfectly in his frantic search for his son, and everything feels genuine without any overacting or histrionics. The rest of the voice talent is equally impressive, with inclusions of Willem DaFoe (Spider-Man), Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond). and perennial Pixar favorite John Ratzenberger (Cheers) as the shape-changing school of fish.
Nemo, which essentially is a handicapped child, is dealt with in a respectful and tasteful manner, easing past what could have been a sore spot if handled with a heavier hand. But instead, his "lucky fin" is used as both a plot device and social commentary on the value of an individual's worth and abilities.
The video presentation for the film is flawless. Taken directly from the digital source, the picture quality is as perfect as you can get it. The breathtaking visuals are all bright and crisp, free of dirt and artifacts, plus available either as the theatrical 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, or a full frame version that has its own merits. Instead of the film being cropped and zoomed to fill the screen, the artists at Pixar have instead filled the black bars with the missing scenery, adding even more visual goodness. Purists may decry it, but any version that shows more of that beautiful imagery is okay in my book.
The sound quality is every bit as impressive as the visual counterpart. The widescreen disc only contains an English track, whereas the full frame disc contains English, Spanish, and French versions of the film. All the tracks are in Dolby Digital 5.1, with excellent mixes all around. From the subtle swishes of the small currents formed from the flapping of fins, to the tremendous roar of the oceanic currents of the EAC, all six speakers get a workout with tremendous directional effects and enveloping environmental ambient sound that recreates the underwater experience.
Extra content is so numerous I've divided it up into each disc.
Extra Features, Disc One
The opening menu has some funny dialogue between Marlin and Dory discussing the DVD and moviemaking in general. Apparently, the only wrong thing to do is to do nothing and listen to them. I disagree, but let's heed their advice and move on.
Introduction—A short one-minute welcome by director Andrew Stanton and co-director Lee Unkrich. They enthusiastically recommend how you should view the DVD, but aside from that, I'd refer to this review for actual recommendations.
Documentary: Making Nemo—25:35 of good informative filmmaking material. The joking aside, well not all the joking aside, here's the serious look at what it took to produce Finding Nemo. For the first time, Pixar had a professional documentary team follow the entire film through production, so a wealth of footage was available to create this feature. Highly informative and enjoyable to watch, this feature is not to be missed.
Visual Commentary—A wonderful commentary track with the directors and writers of the film. Hidden within this menu option are all the deleted scenes from the film. You can either watch the film with the commentary, and these side scenes will pop up from time to time, or you can view them individually here. Thirty-one minutes of unused material can be found, some of which was not brought to its final form and so remains unanimated. When you consider that your typical feature length animation costs about $1 million per minute to produce, here's $31 million dollars worth of unused material. A very good feature indeed.
Design Galleries—Four sections showcasing pre-production artwork.
Art Review—Viewable with commentary from the art directors or with a musical accompaniment, this eight-minute segment highlights most of what is in the following three sections. In the commentary, they talk about the direction they took in designing the different characters, the problems they encountered, and interesting tidbits you might never notice without the fore-knowledge that went into their creation. If you prefer your galleries voice-free, the musical version is equally as pleasant to view. The visual presentation is the same, but the music really evokes the feeling of the film. This is probably the best place to start for the design galleries, and if you were to only watch one, this would be it. The rest of the galleries further explore what is presented here, and if you are really inquisitive about the art work, I'd suggest checking out the book The Art of Finding Nemo, which contains all of the images in all these sequences, plus a whole lot more.
Characters—Almost all of the characters of the film are showcased as they were first created out of clay. These models are created from the sketches and used as study references. From these models, character designs are refined until finalized, then used as the basis for the computer artists to model the characters on the computer. The rotations of each character are accompanied by some of their more memorable quotes and any theme music associated with them. The notable characters that were omitted for some reason are Coral (Nemo's mom), Mr. Ray the School Teacher, Peach the Starfish, and the timid little fish that is very nervous at the shark social gathering. Of note is how different Marlin and Nemo look without their distinctive stripe coloring, which stands out blatantly in their matte grey clay models.
Environments—Besides the characters requiring intensive studying to procure the look and feel of them, the locations necessitated the same treatment. The major locations are explored through a series of sketches, and you can spot what was used and what was dropped from the final film.
Color Script—300 of the beautifully rendered pastel scenes showing the colors for each major scene in the film. Essentially just another art gallery, the tremendous forethought and effort to create the feel of the film can be viewed in detail here. The only drawback is the linear nature of the presentation, for there aren't any quick navigational tools to jump further into the film, so you are stuck pressing "next" to get where you want to go.
Virtual Aquarium—A small icon of a fish in a TV propagate most menu screens. Clicking on it removes the on-screen text allowing you to see the background animation unhindered. The locations you can view in an unending cycle on the first disc are: Reef, Plate Coral, School of Fish, Drop-Off, Anemone, Jellyfish, and Sandy Reef. A handy feature for trendy nightclubs or while throwing a party, or just to have on in the background while you are reading a book. Soothing, but with a low replay value to the other features. Plus, be careful of screen rot if left on too long.
Extra Features, Disc Two
Introduction—Directors Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich give a short rundown of the features on this disc, just like before. Of note is that Disc Two contains the full screen version of the film, and that instead of zooming in from the widescreen print to fill the screen, they actually added the missing sections that the black bars would have taken. So amazingly, there is more of the beautiful scenery to be seen in the full frame version of the film.
Sneak Peeks—Trailers for upcoming Disney and Pixar movies and DVD releases. Included are Pixar's The Incredibles and the following Disney films: Home on the Range, The Lion King 1 1/2, Santa Clause 2, Spy Kids 3D: Game Over, and news of special editions of Pocahontas, Alice in Wonderland, and the long awaited-almost-never-was Lilo and Stitch.
Exploring the Reef—Seven minutes, a short documentary staring Jean-Mitchel Cousteau. The photography is beautiful, but Dory butts in to hog the spotlight, preventing Cousteau from talking about what he wants to explain. It's not as serious as you'd like, with more jokes than information, but kids of all ages should enjoy it. (Just to warn you now, Disc Two's extra features are primarily kid-oriented, whereas Disc One is adult oriented.)
Knick Knack—Four minutes, with or without commentary. An old animation from 1989 made after they finished Tin Toy (which can be scene on Toy Story). Only eight animators were at Pixar at the time, but you can still see the creative influences that would define their later feature films.
Mr. Ray's Encyclopedia—Mr. Ray, the schoolteacher, gives a short fact about various sea creatures, before trailing off into a joke or another fishy anecdote. Not as informative for adults, but for kids they may remember the one fact given for each creature. A "play all" button certainly helps this otherwise lacking extra.
Fisharades—Hosted by Crush the turtle, this game for one or two players tests your ability to identify what shape the school of fish are forming. Not as simple as it first looks, since some of the options look very close, you may have to wait almost until time runs out until you are certain what the shape is. Fun once, maybe twice, but better than some of the other games on previous Pixar DVDs like Monsters, Inc.
Storytime—I was in Barnes and Nobles the other day and saw a children's book based on Finding Nemo. The illustrations were stylized from the animation's actual look and feel, and the story was simply an adaptation from the movie's, dealing with what Nemo learned in school one day. Storytime is exactly the same thing, but with the option of having it read aloud or not. The animation is similar to Flash animations, and kids under age six will probably enjoy it the most.
Behind the Scenes—Your traditional promotional material can be found here, from the trailers to the print campaign. Also though is a short two-minute interview with Marlin, Dora, and Nemo with a hyper talking head. The animation of the fish is top notch, but the animation of the talking head is too in-your-face and childish. Probably because the talking head is a living human is why it doesn't fit as well with the interview. Also in this section is a five-minute studio tour of Pixar led by Alexander Gould, who voiced Nemo. Gould wanders around the studio visiting all the departments, which of course are all goofing off and not doing work. It's funny certainly, with some interesting information, but it is definitely geared towards children. If you are new to the animation industry and how a computer-animated feature is made, this is a good place to find out how it's done.
Virtual Aquarium—Same as the first disc, but with these locales: Volcano Day, Volcano Night, Shipwreck Day, and the Tikis.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is very little to object to in Finding Nemo or its DVD presentation. Story wise, the film is a little weak, but that is hardly an excuse to deride the film with so many other virtues. The extra features are more kid-oriented than I would have preferred, but that's only because I'm a professional computer animator myself so naturally I'd want more depth than what is available here.
The animation is stunning, the emotions are genuine and heartfelt, and there are few films that came out during the past year that left me with as good a feeling when the credits stopped rolling. Simply put, Finding Nemo was one of the very best films of 2003, and an equally good DVD package. You would be remiss not to include this DVD into your own collection.
As usual, Pixar and Finding Nemo are found not guilty of all charges, and this Judge orders everyone else to sea it again.
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