The artists at Pixar have created a remarkable empire over the course of several features, each boasting progressively more amazing animation than the last. "Finding Nemo", the latest feature from "Monsters, Inc." director Andrew Stanton, finds the animators at the height of their powers. The underwater world they've built from scratch for this feature is superbly realized, with colors that leap off the screen and an absolutely stunning amount of fine detail. The character animations are absolutely wonderful, conveying a fantastic amount of personality and life. The story here has a greater scope than any of the prior Pixar movies, with more characters, more adventure and the sharpest humor since the company's "Toy Story" films.
The film focuses on Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks), who loses his son Nemo when some fishermen on a dive invade the dropoff near their underwater "community". Marlin's only clue to the location of his son is a pair of dropped goggles with an address, while his only aide is Dory (voiced by Ellen Degeneres), a Blue Tang who happens to have a short-term memory loss problem. Although Dorie's short-term memory loss sounds gimmicky, Dengeres and the writers turn it into something amusing and even a bit touching. Dengeneres and Albert Brooks play off each other quite wonderfully, too - they make a superb pairing.
There are quite a few characters that the main fish run into, including a trio of sharks that have a surprise reveal for Dory and Marlin, a surfer-dude Turtle with equally surfer children, a swarm of jellyfish (one of the film's most visually dazzling sequences), helpful pelicans and others. Nemo runs into a similarly well-defined group of characters in the tank, including the leader, Gill (Willem Dafoe, in a brilliant performance). The fact that Nemo is set to leave the tank soon with the dentist's none-too-careful niece adds tension to the rescue story.
The story is, of course, a set of obstacles that both the son and father must overcome to not only understand each other better, but to mature and get past their fears. While the course of the story may remain obvious, director Stanton and others present the character arcs perfectly, while also crafting some stellar (and often unexpected) gags, including several hysterical minor bits - a school of silver fish mimic Marlin, then turn into a blinking sign pointing him in the right direction. Although I've seen an ad or two that've already spoiled the bit, the shark "club" that Dorie and Nemo find themselves in is also an amusing surprise. The gulls in the harbor that await potential food are also memorable, even if their vocabulary only consists of one word.
"Nemo"'s animation is, as I noted before, absolutely astonishing. The quality, personality and detail of the imagery is enough to warrant a second viewing simply to admire the craftsmanship. The story, while familiar at the core, is another fine work from Pixar, with jokes that are even funnier than usual because they occur so naturally from the situations and characters. There's great gags here large-and-small, but also some very, very funny bits of dialogue.
Notes: Before the show, there's a very amusing Pixar short called "Knick Knack". Although "Nemo" is rated G, a couple of moments may scare the youngest viewers.