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Pixar, the creative geniuses behind such films as Toy Story (both one and two), A Bug’s Life and Monsters Inc, now bring us a fifth animated adventure— Finding Nemo. Since its US theatrical release in May of 2003 the film has gone on to become the highest grossing animated feature of all time, knocking Disney’s [/i]The Lion King[/i] from the top spot after almost a decade. Now, thanks to this two-disc Collector’s Edition, UK consumers have the chance to enjoy the film all over again in the comfort of their own homes.

Finding Nemo: Collector's Edition

Feature


Life on the Great Barrier Reef is full of danger, especially when you’re a tiny clown fish! For over-protective single parent Marlin every day is full of worry, but today is even worse—today his only son, Nemo, starts school. Unfortunately Marlin’s fears are realised when the adventurous Nemo is scooped up by a scuba diver and taken away. After a frantic chase Marlin is about to give up hope when he runs into Dory, a blue tang who suffers from severe short-term memory loss. Dory offers to help Marlin, and the pair set off on an impossible journey that will see them ‘dining’ with razor-toothed sharks (who are struggling with vegetarianism), tangling with deadly jellyfish and surfing with super-cool turtles.

Meanwhile, Nemo is reluctantly settling into his new home—a fish tank in a dentist’s office overlooking Sidney Harbour. At first the colourful characters that inhabit the tank are all for helping Nemo adjust to life in captivity, but when word of Marlin’s rescue attempt reaches them they come up with a daring plan to free him before Darla—the dentist’s bratty niece—gets her hands on him.

I really enjoyed Finding Nemo, which is only the second Pixar film that I’ve seen (the other being Monsters Inc.). Stunning animation aside, the story is very well told, striking just the right balance between adult and juvenile humour. The quality of the voice acting is also outstanding, particularly young Alexander Gould’s Nemo. I also enjoyed Elen DeGeneres’ performance as Dory, while Willem Dafoe turns in a great performance at hard-nosed old fish, Gil.

Video


Taken directly from the digital source and presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen (close enough to the theatrical ratio so as not to bother the majority of viewers), Finding Nemo looks absolutely marvellous. Animation is—for want of a better word—stunning, especially the complex emotions that have been imparted to the tiny digital ‘performers’. The underwater environments are teeming with life, and look particularly fabulous due to the outstanding use of lighting that changes according to location, time of day and the level of particulate matter in the water. The film is awash with a kaleidoscope of colour—whether it be the deep blues of the ocean or the lush greens and rich reds of the Reef—yet there is little to no colour bleed or posterisation. Contrast and black levels are also just about perfect, and the image retains a fantastic level of detail throughout.

Finding Nemo: Collector's Edition
I have read a number of comments about so-called halos or mosquito noise surrounding certain characters, but although I was able to spot something I’m not totally convinced that it was a digital artefact. The effect is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on DVD, and seems far too localised to be attributed to compression problems. To me it looks more like a stylistic choice than a fault with the transfer, although I never saw the film theatrically so it’s difficult to substantiate that supposition. A small amount of edge enhancement was visible when looking at some of my screen captures at a greatly increased magnification, but under normal viewing conditions it was undetectable on my 32” screen. Having managed to borrow a copy of the region one release to compare certain shots I can confirm that the region two disc definitely appears to have less edge enhancement applied. I briefly considered deducting a point for the minor problems outlined above, but after some consideration this seemed a petty thing to do as, all things considered, this is a magnificent transfer.

Audio


As with the region one release the disc includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track (both English and Hebrew), but unlike our American counterparts UK consumers have access to a DTS 5.1 option (English only). I’ve no desire to get into the whole Dolby/DTS debate, but from the brief tests I conducted it seems there is little to separate the two beyond the usual differences in volume levels. For the purposes of the review I opted for the DTS track, but whatever track you chose the mix itself is sure to please.

The mix—crafted by Skywalker Sound legend Gary Rydstrom—is the perfect accompaniment to the stunning visuals, and although it’s primarily a dialogue driven movie Finding Nemo is blessed with a very engaging soundtrack. Surprisingly active from the outset, outstanding use of positional audio creates a wonderfully immersive experience that really draws you into the aquatic environment. The aforementioned dialogue is crisp, clear and remains perfectly audible throughout even the most hectic of scenes (even when redirected to the various discrete channels), while bass is unusually ferocious for a movie of this nature (although this is not a bad thing). At times you could be forgiven for thinking that you are watching the latest big-budget Hollywood action blockbuster, such is the quality of this mix. Just listen to the scene in which Bruce the shark goes on a feeding frenzy for a perfect example of how to create an ideal balance between score, effects and dialogue.

Extras


After you’ve skipped the advertisements (which are becoming all too common), disc one opens with some very impressive animated menus that feature voiceovers from Marlin and Dory. I was particularly amused by the fact that the longer you sit without making a choice, the more exasperated the fish get! There’s also a short introduction from directors Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, who tell you about the various features to be found on the two discs (and they even rope in John Lassiter to assist with the skit).

Finding Nemo: Collector's Edition
Chief among the features on disc one is the Visual Commentary. Co-writer Bob Peterson joins directors Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich for the duration of the tack, which flows nicely from beginning to end. At key points during the commentary the film branches off to various features such as deleted scenes, test footage, isolated music and outtakes from the voice recording sessions. This approach is both a blessing and a curse, in that it succeeds in delivering a truly unique commentary experience, but is ultimately a little disjointed. I would have liked the option to view the film with just the commentary track. For those of you who find it hard to sit through an entire track in one sitting, it’s worth noting that the commentary is conveniently divided into chapters to enable easy access to specific scenes—a nice touch.

Sneak Peek: The Incredibles is a short teaser for an upcoming Pixar film that managed to elicit a chuckle or two in spite of its short running time. Finally on disc one was have some Virtual Aquariums that transform you television set into a heaven for sea life. There are seven in total, and I have to admit to finding them surprisingly relaxing.

Disc two is where the bulk of the extras reside, and as with disc one there is an optional introduction by the directors. After you’ve watched this quick guide to the features it’s on to the material itself, starting with Exploring the Reef. Introduced by Jean-Michelle Causteau, this seven-minute featurette takes a humorous look at life on the reef complete with the odd interruption from the animated characters themselves (some would say with ‘hilarious’ results). While I would have preferred a more informative featurette, this piece is entertaining enough.

Knick Knack is a short (three minute) animation created by Pixar back in 1989. Presented with optional commentary, the short tells the tale of a poor snowman who is trapped in his snow dome, separated from the other ‘warm weather’ knick knacks. Although over fourteen years old this is still an amusing and technically impressive little skit (and you really have to feel for the poor snowman come the end).

Mr. Ray’s Encyclopedia (sic) is the first of three enjoyable interactive features. When entered, the encyclopaedia presents you with numerous pictures fish and of ocean life, which when selected lead to a brief video clip complete with humorous commentary from Mr. Ray himself. The second feature, Fisharades, is an interactive game for one or two players. A school of fish form shapes, which the player(s) have to guess by selecting from one of four options using the remote. The quicker you guess the correct answer, the more points you get! The game is introduced and narrated by Crush the turtle, and Dory even puts in a vocal appearance from time to time. Finally we have Storytime, an interactive animated story aimed squarely at children. Kids can either choose to read by themselves or along with a pleasant female narrator.

Finding Nemo: Collector's Edition
Next we have Behind the Scenes, which grants access to a number of submenus that deal with every aspect of the production. The first featurette in this submenu is Making Nemo, a twenty-five minute ‘making of’. From research and insights into the collaborative process, to storyboarding and early animation tests, this segment covers pretty much everything you could want to know about the genesis of the film. It was particularly interesting to watch some of the early test footage, which was actually dismissed on the grounds that it was too photo-realistic. Some of the shots are so convincing you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between the original footage and the CGI!

Next up we have the Design Galleries menu, which is itself split into four submenus. The first of these, Art Review, includes various sketches and concept designs with a choice of musical accompaniment or commentary from the artists. Characters contains rotating 3D models of all of the major characters in the film, which can be viewed individually or played sequentially complete with accompanying music and snippets of dialogue. Environments is the more traditional still gallery, and contains various sketches of the reef, the ocean and the harbour, all of which are navigated with the forward and back buttons on your remote. Finally in the section we come to the Color Script (sic), which outlines the film’s colour palette depending on environment, moods and time of day.

Studio Tour is just that: a guide to Pixar Animation Studio’s offices. Hosted by Alexander Gould -- who provides the voice of Nemo in the film—this is a fun piece that introduces various departments like story, design and animation. Character Interviews follow, and are introduced by a particularly annoying American gentleman. The short sequence does little more than act as an introduction to the story for potential viewers, although there are some nice performances from the voice actors and animators alike.

The final menu is called Publicity, and it includes virtually everything you could want in the way of promotional material. First up we have a selection of both teaser and theatrical Trailers, followed by a brief snippet of the Music Video for ‘Beyond the Sea’ (massacred by Robby Williams—poor Bobby Darrin must be spinning in his grave), while Character Profiles of Bruce, Crush and Nigel offer up some amusing fishy facts. The section closes with a Print Gallery, which contains stills of the various posters, billboards, lobby cards and bus shelter advertisements used to promote the film. Rounding things off on disc two are four more Virtual Aquariums, this time featuring the inhabitants of one P. Sherman’s fish tank.

Finding Nemo: Collector's Edition

Overall


From a technical standpoint, Finding Nemo is one of the best animated films I’ve ever seen. Thankfully this technical excellence is backed by a solid story, great voice acting and a more than generous helping of humour. The DVDs themselves deliver stunning visuals, impressive audio and a deceptively thorough—not to mention entertaining—set of extras. Even if I weren’t a fan of the film I’d probably recommend that you pick this package up simply to marvel at the stunning animation, but seeing as Finding Nemo is one of the best little films I’ve seen in some time I’m more than happy to give it my seal of approval.


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