While the folks at Pixar have never made a film that was remotely bad-looking, Finding Nemo provides visual wonders beyond Toy Story, A Bug's Life and Monsters, Inc. Sea creatures, from dainty tropical fish to full-blown great white sharks, are provided with a unique combination of aquatic realism and that slight human touch that allows a fish to look a little like Ellen DeGeneres.
Albert Brooks and DeGeneres provide first-rate vocals for the characters of Marlin the clownfish and Dory the angelfish-typed thing. They join forces to search for Nemo, Marlin's young son who has been kidnapped by a scuba-diving dentist.
Pixar hasn't lost its ability to provide emotionally stirring animation. The search for Nemo is engaging, frightening and uplifting. For a completely computer-animated film to achieve any sort of emotional punch is quite the achievement, one that Pixar has no problem pulling off.
With a nice, sly touch, the film takes a look at all the problems that could plague the life of a fish. Going beyond the perils of the ocean, such as carnivorous peers and fishing nets, the film also looks into the potential fish horrors of aquarium life when Nemo winds up in a fish tank. A fun sequence has Nemo and his fish friends attempting to jam their tank's filtration system as part of an elaborate escape plan.
This part of the movie will have many staring suspiciously into their home aquariums the next time their pets start moving gravel around.
The best of the perils along the way is an encounter with three sharks struggling to become vegetarians ("Fish are friends, not food!"). The leader of the sharks is an endlessly teethed Great White named Bruce, a funny homage to the mechanical shark Steven Spielberg dubbed Bruce during the making of Jaws. A chase with the sharks through a sunken submarine is one of the film's action highlights.
Another impressive set piece has Marlin and Dory racing through a sea of jellyfish that reminds one of the Millennium Falcon navigating an asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back. A nice ode to Pinocchio is played out as our protagonists spend some time in the belly of a whale.
Humans continue to be a true pain in the ass in the Pixar universe. Scuba divers have never appeared more menacing. The same can be said for little pig-tailed girls with braces, one of which is labeled a fish killer because she shakes them too hard when they're in plastic bags.
Right on the heels of his performance in The In-Laws, Brooks' frantic voice provides the needed sense of urgency to the paranoid Marlin. DeGeneres' playful vocals help to create an endearing Dory, a fish afflicted with a short-term memory problem reminiscent of the one Guy Pearce struggled with in Memento.
Other recognizable voices include that of Elizabeth Perkins as Marlin's ill-fated wife, Willem DaFoe as a grouchy longtime aquarium prisoner, Geoffrey Rush as a helpful pelican and the omnipresent John Ratzenberger as a voice in a school of fish.
With their record of fine films, Pixar boasts one of the best consistency records in the business. Finding Nemo represents another step forward for this incredible production company, a division of computer geniuses who have never made a bad film--and have me wondering if they ever will.