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When Marlin the clownfish’s (Albert Brooks) fish-wife, Coral (Elizabeth Perkins), and the majority of his brood are eaten by a barracuda, his world is shattered and he devotes his entire life to raising his single surviving child, Nemo (Alexander Gould). Years (or months, I don’t know how quickly fish age) later, Nemo is ready for his first day of fish school and Marlin is a nervous wreck. He proceeds to embarrass his son in front of his new friends with his doting nature, which leads to Nemo’s fish-napping. While chasing the fish-napper’s boat, Marlin runs into an optimistic fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who suffers from short-term memory loss. Dory refuses to leave Marlin’s side and joins him on his journey across the sea to find Nemo.

Finding Nemo 2D
With minor comparative exceptions ( Cars 2) every Pixar movie has connected with audiences on a deeper level than even the Pixar staff expected, but Andrew Stanton’s Finding Nemo drove some audiences to near madness with their overwhelming love. In fact, up until Toy Story 3 surpassed expectations and the one billion dollar mark (assisted by the boost of a 3D ticket inflation, a fact people really need to take into consideration when compiling such data), Finding Nemo made more money than any other animated or G-rated film (not adjusted for inflation). It became a phenomenon amongst a train of other phenomena and would go on to be the studio’s defining film alongside Toy Story (which surpasses its place in the zeitgeist simply through the virtue of being first and being followed by good sequels). The film is such a massive success that it’s difficult to separate its pop-culture immortality from the risks Stanton and his co-writers Bob Peterson and David Reynolds took with the film’s narrative. Besides infusing deep human drama into a generally comedic story about anthropomorphic fish, Finding Nemo thematically tackles some really heavy subject matter. The subject of impending death, or rather, the terror of immortality versus the possibilities of death were already dealt with by John Lasseter in Toy Story 2, but Finding Nemo’s parables are almost shocking in their maturity and elegance. In fact, the film is arguably made specifically for parents, who sometimes need to be reminded that allowing children the chance to fail, maybe even fatally, is part of their duty as guardian.

Finding Nemo also belongs in discussion alongside the strongest live-action feature directorial debuts – movies like Repo Man, Breathless, Evil Dead, Reservoir Dogs, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and yes, even Citizen Kane. Finding Nemo doesn’t equate these films on subjective value levels (it wasn’t ‘ground breaking’ and it didn’t define/re-define a genre), but it’s enormously assured and strong filmmaking from a front helm first-timer. The comparison is also a little unfair, since Stanton worked as his way through the Pixar system, including an assistant director gig on John Lasseter’s Bug’s Life, but I do honestly believe Finding Nemo represents just as valid a personal vision as Lasseter’s first three films, Pete Docter’s Monsters Inc., or any of Brad Bird’s work. Stanton’s style became more lucid with his second film, WALL-E, and he solidified his vision with the unfairly hated, mostly live-action John Carter, though I’d hesitate to compare him to a true ‘auteur’ filmmaker, like Bird. It’s genuinely sad that the box-office failure (it’s not a great film, but it has great moments) of John Carter has chased him into supposedly making an unnecessary sequel to his first success and I fear public opinion will keep him from taking Nemo and WALL-E sized chances with his material for a while.

Finding Nemo 2D
Nearly a decade after its release, it’s also easy to forget exactly how good Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres are as Marlin and Dory, respectively. Outstanding performances are another thing we’ve come to expect from Pixar since Toy Story blew everyone’s mind, but I believe Finding Nemo was the first time Disney pressed for an Academy Award for acting in one of their animated films. Perhaps spurred by New Line/Warner Bros’ push to get Andy Serkis an Oscar, Disney briefly lobbied to get DeGeneres a supporting actor nomination. In the end, the Academy insisted that they couldn’t give the award to a computer-assisted performance (much to the chagrin of Lord of the Rings fans the world over), but I’d take Dory the short-term memory Pacific regal blue tang above Renée Zellweger’s corny Cold Mountain performance any day. Finding Nemo had to settle for a Best Original Screenplay nomination and a Best Animated Feature statuette. Brooks, on the other hand, wasn’t pushed for any major awards, but is the backbone of the entire film. The moment he absent-mindedly shouts ‘You think you can do these things, but you just can’t, Nemo!’ at Dory squeezes every ounce of the film’s theme into a single, perfect moment that made the theatrical audience gasp aloud when I saw the film in 2003.

Finding Nemo 2D

Video


Until now, Finding Nemo was the only Pixar feature not available on Blu-ray disc. Disney has slowly doled out the studio’s backlog alongside the new releases ( Ratatouille being the first Pixar movie released to Blu-ray and DVD at the same time) with quite a bit of fanfare, but Nemo never even had a tease of a release date until pretty recently. Obviously, the long-planned 3D theatrical re-release played a role in holding this particular movie back, but I also assumed that both studios knew that this was going to be the most celebrated of all Pixar’s films on HD release, 3D or not. This review pertains to the 2D-only release and let me assure everyone (as if I needed to) that the wait was worth it – this 1.78:1, 1080p transfer is super-duper-gorgeous. There was little wrong with the original DVD release, but the HD upgrade wonderfully recreates the original and unique theatrical experience. Despite having seen the film in theaters, I almost immediately started noticing minor details I’d missed during every previous viewing. Nemo’s egg has a minor crack, Nemo and Marlin have scale texture in both their white and orange stripes, and, my God, the sand grains! So many sand grains. Once again, it’s the wide angle details that make the transfer, rather than the fine details, and, in the case of Finding Nemo, the interaction of vastly different scales is very well-served by the clarity of 1080p. The only time this detail increase becomes a burden are rare images of human characters in wider shots where the limitations of their design make them look as if they aren’t really a part of the otherwise highly textured and realistic environments. The colour quality is more vibrant all around, which is most breathtaking during early shots of the reef, but the more impressive upgrade comes during darker, more desaturated sequences where Marlin’s orange and Dory’s blue pop against the duller backgrounds. Besides the lack of compression noise, the Blu-ray also overcomes the DVD’s issues with banding across the background blends.

Finding Nemo 2D

Audio


So, apparently Pixar releases are presented in Dolby TrueHD now, even though every previous Pixar release up to Brave was fitted with a DTS-HD Master Audio codec (not to mention that every non-Pixar Disney release I’ve received this year has also featured a DTS-HD MA track). I suppose this isn’t a problem, it’s just kind of strange. It was looking like DTS-HD MA was about to become the industry standard for a while, but someone made a deal. This particular Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is, like the 1080p video, another no-brainer in terms of its audio qualities. If the old DVD sounded good, it’s only natural to expect ‘more, but better’ from an uncompressed and remastered version of the same track. Right off the bat, we’re engulfed in the enticing and frightening sounds of the ocean and, because the location rarely changes, the sound design is continuously immersive and wonderfully flecked with directional enhancements. The obvious exceptions are sequences that take place in the dentist’s office. These scenes feature a subtly different underwater soundscape that has a crushed quality to signify the smaller scope of the tank. The chase sequences are the stand-outs, especially the brief shark chase that culminates in a massive, LFE-shattering boom of underwater mines exploding. The dialogue tracks are clean and clear with more directional movement than I remember from the DVD’s track, though the dynamic treatment does make for some weird volume level issues – deeper-voiced actors are given a bit too much LFE enhancement and over-power the other actors.

I had a problem with Randy Newman’s serviceable, but ultimately conventional scores throughout the earliest Pixar history ( Toy Story through Monsters Inc.). Though he didn’t quite cut loose with the unusual stuff like he did with WALL-E, Randy’s brother Thomas Newman’s Finding Nemo score is the first I’d mark as a favourite in the Pixar canon. The first real sign of Thomas’ skill comes during his scare cue when Nemo is first fish-napped. The desolate piano keys as Marlin chases the speed boat in vain (which is repeated during the climax) is enough to set this score apart from Randy’s work. The sudden inflection of French accordion during some of the dentist’s office sequences (brought about by the presence of Jacques the French shrimp) is another remarkable addition.

Finding Nemo 2D

Extras


As I recall, the original DVD release of Finding Nemo featured the first ‘visual commentary’ I’d ever seen, which included seamless branching to deleted scenes and recording sessions. This disc starts with a Cine-Explore option which recreates and expands upon that experience with pop-up behind the scenes photos, production art, animation tests, and video interviews with the filmmakers (which are now PiP pop-ups, rather than cut-aways). The commentary side of the option includes Stanton, co-director Lee Unkrich, and co-writer Bob Peterson as the main attraction, with animators Kim White, David Eisenman, and Justin Ritter popping up for technical speak every once and a while. The key players do their best talking when sticking to their story writing process, which we all know is the real magic behind Pixar’s movies, but they don’t bore with the technical bits and praise their cast without sounding like over-excited fanboys. I admit that Unkrich’s (who was lead director on Toy Story 3) input kind of shoots my ‘Stanton as a first time filmmaker’ theory in the foot, but it seems to me that he was a bit of a mouthpiece for Stanton, much like an assistant director on a traditional film set. I apologize if my assumption is incorrect.

The new extras continue on disc one with Finding Nemo: A Filmmakers’ Roundtable (17:40, HD), which features Stanton, Unkrich, Peterson, producer Graham Walters, technical lead Oren Jacob, and production designer Ralph Eggleston waxing nostalgic about the production. The lack of overlap with the Cine-Explore commentary is remarkable and the stories, which are occasionally supported by video footage, are all very entertaining. The jokes are kind of bad, but the anecdotes are golden. Next is Reinventing the Submarine Voyage (15:10, HD), a sort infomercial for the Nemo-ization of the Submarine Voyage ride at Disneyland with Imagineers Kathy Mangum, Tom Fitzgerald, Rick Rothschild, Tony Baxter, Alfredo Aeyea, Kevin Rafferty, and Bob Gurr, and Pixar staff Roger Gould and Stanton. The first disc ends with an alternate opening (3:00, HD), presented in storyboards and introduced by Stanton; A Lesson in Flashbacks (8:00, HD), where Stanton discusses changing the film’s original flashback structure (which is discussed in the commentary), complete with footage; Knick Knack theatrical short (3:40, HD); and an ‘aquarium mode’ option.

Finding Nemo 2D
Disc two features mostly vintage DVD extras (though some images have been re-scanned in HD) and begins with Art Review (8:40, HD), a look at the film’s production art with narration from production designer Ralph Eggleston, character art director Ricky Nierva, and shading art director Robin Cooper. Making Nemo (25:40, SD) is a solid making-of featurette. It covers the project’s technical issues, a scuba-diving trip, storytelling, animation, and the games staff played to keep from going mad, with John Lasseter, editor David Salter, and a bunch of cast and crew members already interviewed elsewhere in the extras, though, they look almost a decade younger here. Exploring the Reef (7:00, SD) is brief exploration of the reef with Jean-Michel Cousteau, Marlin, Nemo, and Dory. Under the ‘Old School’ tab are a series of quick behind-the-scenes snippets, including El Capitan Pitch Selects (00:50, SD), a fish school progression reel (00:40, SD), MA reference footage (00:50, SD), water progression (2:20, SD), a reel of the seagulls saying ‘mine’ in different languages (00:20, SD), pelican flying animation progression (00:30, SD), a tribute to animator Glenn McQueen (2:50, SD), and a faux-promo for the Aquascum 2003 (00:32, SD). The disc also features a studio tour with actor Alexander Gould (5:20, SD), actor outtakes (1:20, SD), seven deleted scenes (these were mostly presented alongside the visual commentary on the DVD release, 5:50, SD), four trailers, TV promos, Mr. Ray’s Encyclopedia with 13 educational video pods, and more aquarium mode options.

Finding Nemo 2D

Overall


Finding Nemo is still an incredible filmmaking achievement, beyond even the obvious technical accomplishments. It really does approach mythic levels of perfection in balancing child-friendly thrills with adult-friendly themes. It’s no surprise that its Blu-ray release (which marks the last Pixar catalogue title to hit the format) is a slam-dunk in the video and audio arenas, but the verification is still a relief. The extras include all the old DVD’s features, some of it adjusted for the format upgrade (HD image sans, pop-up video over branching options), along with a handful of new additions that take a retrospective slant. All in all, this is almost as good a package as we could expect from the material. Mine!

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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