My son, on his 18th birthday this last December decided to celebrate this first step into adulthood by inviting a couple of his friends to our home to watch Finding Nemo while eating homemade Portal Cake (recipe changed from the original). This was a marvelous idea and a great opportunity for me to reevaluate one of my favorite movies of all time.
When I first watched Finding Nemo, my reaction was much like a comment made about this film, “A talking animals movie—how unique!” The story was simple, and while Dorry is hilarious, overall the impression it left me was “meh”. After watching it with my children more times than I can count, my appreciation for this film knows no bounds. This is a deep film, a touching film, a truly human film that has to be told in the sea, for only the sea has the complexity of human society. Yeah, it’s played for laughs—a lot of wonderful, freeing, joyous laughs—but it isn’t just a funny film. It’s a film about love and relationships.
Technical—5/5—Amazing. This is one of the peaks of Pixar’s art. Every plant, every tentacle, every fin is perfectly realized. The characters are completely fish and completely human, much in the way Disney has done at their best. This is a marvel of computer animation.
Interest—5/5—How can I turn away from this film? Every second is interesting. It’s funny, then tense, then touching, then funny again.
Tension—5/5—This is the first film I remember Mercy and I watching together. We saw it in the theatre, she was three, and was scared to death. The sharks, the lantern fish, the whale… it was all too intense for her (she still gets nervous about too much tension). She wanted to leave, but I just held her in my lap and told her to shut her eyes if it was too much. By the end of the movie she loved it, but it was touch and go for a bit. Sure, it’s not really scary for adults, but the lantern fish still creeps me out a bit and the jellyfish scene still makes me tense.
Emotional—5/5—Yeah. When the Pelican tells Nemo the story of his dad braving all of the dangers of the ocean to find his son, I get tears in my eyes. Heck, they are there right now, just thinking about it.
Characters—5/5—This is the best. Rarely is character better shown through plot than in this film. The prologue which establishes the reason for Marlin’s fears, but especially the time taken for Marlin’s attempt at humor. He can’t tell the joke because he needs to over explain everything, and that tells us everything we need to know, and we can see from the beginning how this damages his relationship with his son. And instead of Dory and Nemo just being “the funny one” and “the object of desire”, they are given character arcs as well, where all three of them learn to trust. Marlin learns to trust his son, Dory learns to trust a family and Nemo learns to trust himself. Brilliant.
Theme—5/5—There’s a lot going on in the film, as it is a quest movie. Most quest stories rely on the next thing coming to keep the interest, as does FN. But this is the most human of quest stories, because it is about relationships and how trust is essential. It isn’t just that the father needs to give the son more freedom (like the shallow Little Mermaid), but that they all needed to trust each other, and to trust the love that they have for each other. And the way to develop trust is to see each other (and oneself) in crisis. After the worst has happened and every acted heroically, there is no more need for fear. This is simple, a child could get it. But there’s enough in the telling of it that a psychologist or ethicist to spend hours on it, understanding how it works.
Ethics—5/5—Fear leads to overprotection, trust—even dangerous trust—builds love. That’s powerful.
Personal—5/5—Despite it’s depth, its hilarity, its ethical nature… Finding Nemo is a story about parenting. We all have a tendency to overprotect as parents (unless we are so wigged out on addiction we don’t notice our children). It is interesting that a significant part of the story is Nemo learning from Gil what Marlin couldn’t teach him. It isn’t that Marlin didn’t get Nemo back, but Gil is just as important to Nemo’s growth as Marlin was. Letting go, in parenting, often means letting others teach what you cannot. That is real trust. It is hard to let our children go, and necessary. These are all lessons I am still learning.
Okay, yeah. It still belongs in my top 5.