"The sea monkey has my money."
(movie review written 5/03)
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 new co-writing/directorial effort from "Monsters, Inc." writer 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.
VIDEO: "Finding Nemo" is presented on this 2-DVD set in both 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame. Each edition is on its own disc. This is a direct-from-digital transfer and, as with the prior Pixar titles, the anamorphic widescreen presentation is an outstanding effort. Actually, I found the DVD presentation slightly more enjoyable then when I saw the film theatrically, as the DVD presentation seemed to offer greater detail into the backgrounds than the theatrical presentations, which seemed slightly fuzzy.
Given the fact that this presentation is taken direct from the digital files, there are no print flaws. No instances of edge enhancement were visible, no shimmering was seen and no compression artifacts were spotted. Essentially, this offering seemed problem-free. The film's color palette looked amazing on this DVD transfer, with the wide variety of colors appearing rich and well-saturated. Overall, this was an exceptional transfer that easily ranks as demonstration material.
SOUND: "Finding Nemo" is presented here in Dolby Digital 5.1-EX. The film's sound design was done by Gary Rydstrom, the Oscar winner ("Titanic", "Saving Private Ryan", "Jurassic Park", "T2") who has done the sound design on all of the previous Pixar efforts. Once again, Rydstrom has taken on the difficult task of creating a sound world from scratch for an animated feature and has done a truly remarkable job.
A quite aggressive offering, "Nemo" puts the surrounds to near-constant use for fish swimming through the scene, underwater ambience and other sound effects. The back surround is also put to good use to create stronger sense of envelopment. Audio quality is excellent, as sound effects remained crisp and clear, while dialogue remained clean and natural-sounding. There's also a few instances of hefty low bass. This is definitely another outstanding effort from Rydstrom and the rest of the sound design crew.
Introduction: This is a brief introduction from directors Lee Unkrich and Andrew Stanton, along with some background work from "Toy Story" director John Lasseter. While the two "Nemo" directors talk about what you'll find on both discs, you'll be able to spot Lassetter goofing off in the background.
Visual Commentary: directors Lee Unkrich and Andrew Stanton, along with co-writer Bob Petersen provide a commentary. During the commentary, occasionally viewers will be transported to featurettes on the making of the film (and even some recording footage and deleted scenes), then taken back to the film. As a result, the commentary runs about 20 minutes longer than the film itself.
Very funny and rather wacky, the three manage to walk the line between silliness and straightforward information about the characters, look (more specifically, technical issues such as lighting), casting and overall production. The featurettes are a very interesting mix of character work, design and technical exploration.
Documentary: Making Nemo: This is a very enjoyable 25-minute piece that follows the development of "Nemo", from the early steps of testing and scuba-related field trips to the final film. This is an excellent piece that manages to outline the production process, introduce us to some of the production staff and describe their roles and present some of the technical challenges in a way that's easy for everyone to understand - all in a relatively small amount of time.
Also on Disc 1: An enormous design/stills gallery and "virtual aquarium" (the backgrounds loop).
Short: Knick Knack: This short (which played before "Nemo" in theaters) is one of the first features to be found on the second disc. It can be played with or without commentary. Gary Rydstrom also did the sound design work on this short.
Featurette: Exploring the Reef: This 7-minute short is a "serious" featurette hosted by Jean-Michel Costeau, who is consistently interrupted by characters from the movie. It's very, very - very funny.
Trailers: The film's teaser trailer, three theatrical trailers and three "character promos". Disc 2 also has "Sneak Peek" trailers for "The Incredibles", "Home On The Range", "Lion King 1 1/2", "Santa Clause 2" and "Spy Kids 3D: Game Over".
Also: Interactive game, poster gallery, character interviews and another goofy studio tour (the Pixar people should replace the current "Saturday Night Live" cast, or at least get their own sitcom) similar to what's been seen on prior Pixar DVD releases, although this one is even funnier.
Final Thoughts: Once of the best films of 2003, "Finding Nemo" offers the usual Pixar brand of intelligent, witty humor along with great characters and an adventure that's bigger and - I think - more involving than their prior, wonderful efforts. Disney's DVD edition boasts outstanding audio/video quality and great supplements. Highly recommended.