Skip to main content

I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Squishy.

Finding Nemo
(2003)

(SPOILERS) As the Pixar brand goes, Finding Nemo is perhaps their most formulaic movie. It should therefore, by rights, also be their most tired and repetitive in retrospect, particularly as it’s their most overt example of studio hands (co-directors Andrew Stanton, who also gets sole screenplay credit, and Lee Unkrich) working through the tribulations of parentage, at least until Inside Out came along. There is a cumulative feeling at times that the studio is too honed, too precise and meticulous in hitting all its carefully calculated beats, such that, no matter how individuated the subject matter, the emotional content tends to be unvaried and identikit (the most obvious fall out of this being The Good Dinosaur). That’s probably partly because other studios are less inclined to foreground such content, more equivocal about wearing their hearts on their sleeves. It’s also because the John Lasseter command desk is so hawk-like in its oversight, even Jeffrey Katzenberg might blanche. But Finding Nemo rides this wave of stock-in-trades so well, and with such accompanying zest, while simultaneously providing a breathlessly non-stop rollercoaster ride, it’s impossible to resist.


Nemo wouldn’t quite sit at the top of my Pixar pile (the trio of WALL-E, The Incredibles and Ratatouille can be found there) but it’s near enough, thanks to a screenplay that is not only wall-to-wall with inimitable supporting characters, but also ensures the central ones are engaging and well-matched. Okay, Nemo himself is pretty much your classic unreconstituted cute Disney muffin, the baby elephant from The Jungle Book given his own movie, but even he isn’t too cute to bear. And Marlin’s over-protective father schtick might be just a little too over-exerted, if not for being voiced by Albert Brooks, who manages to be effortlessly sarcastic and earnestly diligent within the space of a breath. The picture, like many a Disney classic, opens dramatically with high tragedy, so providing an effective grounding for Marlin’s angst. And, over-earnest as he is, he’s proven right to be concerned, but as is always the way, the journey is about his (re-) opening up to life rather than his son learning caution.


It’s to the credit of Stanton and Unkrich that they don’t pause long enough for the sentiments to be worked over. I suspect they would indulge themselves, were the picture made now (Finding Dory, certainly, is more indulgent in that sphere). There’s a winning desire to make this a rousing adventure first and underpinned by a genuinely-felt story second (or rather, it is understood that the genuinely-felt story is the bedrock, and once established the makers get to be as frivolous as they like), and I suspect that’s why it remained top of the Pixar roost for such a long time. For me, the sincerity of Toy Story can get a bit ripe at times (I think that’s mostly the stomach-churning Randy Newman factor, to be honest), whereas Nemo rarely congratulates itself over its own well-meaning.


Much of the picture’s success is down to the perfectly batty vocal performance of Ellen DeGeneres, whose Dory has an inspired, stream-of-consciousness looseness, aided and abetted by perfect odd-couple pairing with Brooks; one is utterly guileless, the other hopelessly guarded and highly-strung. It’s a classic double-act. And, if the picture follows the quest format more doggedly and overtly than most, it does so with such acumen for each new incident it’s impossible not to be swept along.


At times too, Nemo offers genuinely outstanding moments straddling tension and humour unequalled in the Pixar canon, from the onset of a sea of jellyfish to the encounter with an angler, and a sperm whale (“Wow, I wish I could speak whale”), or the beautifully sustained tension/hilarity with a shark self-help group abstaining from eating fish. Voiced by Barry Humphries, Bruce is a magnificently gregarious creation, even when fighting bloodthirsty urges.


If there’s occasionally a note of too-easy familiarity (the Stanton-voiced stoner turtle Crush), there’s also giddy inspiration: the beady eyed seagulls out of an Aardman production, all repeating “Mine!” ad infinitum (and given a The Birds-style gathering effect; not the only Hitchcock reference, see below), Nigel (Geoffrey Rush), the pelican who continually finds his way into the dentist’s surgery (my favourite sequence may be the pandemonium he causes there, fully unleashed, the dentist at a loss as to explain what is going on) and the Mission: Impossible poignant presence of Willem Dafoe as the tank-bound Gill, desperate to escape but having to remind himself there are limits. The reliance on Antipodean accents is also very welcome, providing a splash of colour and distinctive streak of humour.


Stanton even seems conscious that he may be over-doing his cathartic parental outpouring, hence the antidote to the harmless, lovable offspring in hideous nightmare child Darla, the would-be recipient of Nemo, introduced with Psycho strings as the kind of kid you absolutely do not trust with a pet (the kind whose idea of stroking a cat is to see how far it will stretch before breaking).


And, as if it needs saying, the animation is absolutely gorgeous. It may be 13 years since this came out, but to my eye it hasn’t aged a day (which can’t be said for Toy Story, showing how far the studio came in only eight years, and how advances since then have been subtler). Did Finding Nemo need a sequel? Absolutely not, but on the other hand it’s not one you think instantly think would be spoil by revisiting. That said, its inarguable that, say, the run of substandard Shrek sequels negatively impacted what was a highly accomplished original. Coming Finding Fishy Four, everyone may have concluded Pixar should have left well alone. 


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you ripped the fronts off houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) (SPOILERS) I’m not sure you could really classify Shadow of a Doubt as underrated, as some have. Not when it’s widely reported as Hitchcock’s favourite of his films. Underseen might be a more apt sobriquet, since it rarely trips off the lips in the manner of his best-known pictures. Regardless of the best way to categorise it, it’s very easy to see why the director should have been so quick to recognise Shadow of a Doubt 's qualities, even if some of those qualities are somewhat atypical.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

Sir, I’m the Leonardo of Montana.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013) (SPOILERS) The title of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s second English language film and second adaptation announces a fundamentally quirky beast. It is, therefore, right up its director’s oeuvre. His films – even Alien Resurrection , though not so much A Very Long Engagement – are infused with quirk. He has a style and sensibility that is either far too much – all tics and affectations and asides – or delightfully offbeat and distinctive, depending on one’s inclinations. I tend to the latter, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the trailers for The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet ; if there’s one thing I would bank on bringing out the worst in Jeunet, it’s a story focussing on an ultra-precocious child. Yet for the most part the film won me over. Spivet is definitely a minor distraction, but one that marries an eccentric bearing with a sense of heart that veers to the affecting rather than the chokingly sentimental. Appreciation for