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Walt Disney Home Video presents
Finding Nemo (2003)

"Fish aren't meant to be in a box, kid. It does things to you."
- Gill (Willem Dafoe)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: November 30, 2003

Stars: Albert Brooks, Ellen De Generes
Other Stars: Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, John Ratzenberger, Allison Janney, Geoffrey Rush, Barry Humphries
Director: Andrew Stanton

MPAA Rating: G
Run Time: 01h:40m:27s
Release Date: November 04, 2003
UPC: 786936215595
Genre: animation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ AAA- A-

DVD Review

The folks at Pixar don't just make terrific kids' movies—they make terrific movies, period. This DVD is already the #1 all-time bestseller—the format hasn't been around long enough for the old folk to shake their heads and tut tut at the crazy kids today and their entertainments, but whatever the circumstance or the format, Finding Nemo is a genuinely entertaining and warm-hearted movie. You don't even have to be a kid to like it. Heck, you don't even have to like fish.

The story starts with an almost self-conscious reworking of one of the most terrifying scenes in kids' movies: the opening of Bambi. In the Disney film, Bambi's mother gets taken out by a hunter, an image which terrified me and generations of kids; here, Marlon and Coral, a happily married pair of clownfish starting a family, face calamity when a barracuda comes calling. Said barracuda disposes of Coral and all but one of her unhatched eggs—Marlon is left alone with the only family he's got left, the yet-to-be-born Nemo. Roll credits.

What follows is an underwater Odyssean journey for Marlon, the protective father, all of whose worst fears are borne out when his boy is swooped up by a scuba diver on the first day of school. Marlon sets out to achieve the objective stated in the film's title; he takes the hero's path, to bring his boy back from the great beyond. (Well, from a fish tank in a Sydney dentist's office, anyway.)

What's especially accomplished about Pixar films is the manner in which they can anthropomorphize bugs, say, or toys, or fish, without making them seem treacly and cloying—these characters have a real humanity (if that's the right word for a CGI stingray), and we come to empathize with and delight in them. Finding Nemo is, unsurprisingly, visually splendid—most of the film is set underwater, and the scenes pulse with life and energy and delight. (One small quibble: the anemone in which Marlon and Nemo make their home looks rather too much like a McDonald's SuperSized fries.) But it's a surprisingly poignant tale, too, about a parent learning to let his son grow up; it's got the same kind of emotional resonance that Toy Story has about the inherent disposability in too much of our lives.

Even if you don't want to get all Aristotelian with this one, though, you'll find lots of stuff here that's great big fun. Among my favorites are Bruce, the twelve-step shark ("Fish are friends, not food"), and the cameo by the lobsters with their thick Boston accents ("It was wicked dahk"). On his journey, Marlon befriends Dory, who is sort of an aquatic cousin to Leonard Shelby—she's got no short-term memory, and has the attention span of, well, of a fish. She's voiced by Ellen De Generes, and Marlon's voice is that of Albert Brooks—together they're a winning comedy team, with just the right amount of give and take. Over in the dentist's office, Nemo pals around with the other aquarium inhabitants—you can see the Pixar formula at work here a little bit, as this crew very much resembles the circus posse in A Bug's Life. Willem Dafoe provides the voice of the battle-scarred Gill, who is looking to help Nemo bust out—the parallel storylines of father and son are especially well balanced.

The film pays appropriate homage to the fish tales that have preceded it—there are obvious references to Jaws, Moby-Dick, Jonah, even Pinocchio. (Dory and Marlon are briefly in the belly of a whale, who has the scariest on-screen tongue since Gene Simmons.) There are other bits that are here just for fun, or for Mom and Dad, at least—if you can explain why you're laughing at the film's reference to The Shining to a kindergartener without having said child ask why he can't watch the Kubrick movie, too, you're one up on me. (Also, one of the running gags is that Marlon the clownfish cannot, for the life of him, tell a joke—it's nearly unthinkable to me that the filmmakers passed up an opportunity to work in a GoodFellas reference. "I'm funny? Funny how? I'm a clownfish, I amuse you, I make you laugh?" Oh, well. A reason to look forward to Sharkslayer.) And then some things you just have to run with, for story purposes—for instance, the whole plot unravels if you don't buy the fact that Dory can read. But that's a small thing to overlook, because the pleasures of Finding Nemo are many, and that's no fish tale.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: The first disc of the set offers the film in its original, 1.78:1 theatrical aspect ratio; on the second disc, you'll find a version that's been reformatted by the animators to fill up a conventional 1.33:1 television screen. The purist in me prefers the former to the latter, but the reformatted version is hardly insufferable. And both benefit from Pixar's technological accomplishments, which ensures that this transfer is a clean and lovely one, with hardly a bit of interference. The inconveniences of actors and celluloid don't come up in something like this when it comes to an image transfer, and what you'll see here is lush and rich.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, French, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: There's ear candy to go along with how splendid the pictures look. The 5.1 track is tricked out with lots and lots of underwater effects, and your surround speakers and woofers will get a good healthy workout here. As with many children's DVDs, this one is frequently pegged to a higher register than one that adults are used to, and it occasionally sounds as if it could use a little more emphasis on the bass. But things here really do sound very good. (Note: the French and Spanish tracks are available only on Disc 2.)

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Incredibles, Home on the Range, The Lion King 1 1/2, Santa Clause 2, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, upcoming Disney special edition DVDs
4 TV Spots/Teasers
9 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Andrew Stanton, co-director Lee Unkrich and co-writer Bob Peterson
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. many production sketches, images and illustrations
  2. Fisharades game
  3. Read Along story
  4. THX optimizer
  5. many Virtual Aquarium options
Extras Review: The Toy Story box set probably sets the standard for extras on an animated set, so if Finding Nemo isn't quite on that level, it's still pretty darn impressive. Disc One first: director Andrew Stanton and co-director Lee Unkrich provide a brief introduction (01m:14s), encouraging us to follow up the feature with their audiovisual commentary, which is sound advice. It's really one of the finest of its kind, as Stanton and Unkrich are joined by screenplay collaborator Bob Peterson—their track (02h:16m:12s) isn't merely a straight commentary, but is augmented with sketches for scenes that didn't make the final cut, brief interviews with other members of the Pixar team, footage of De Generes and others recording the voice tracks (look for Geoffrey Rush, as a pelican, squeezing his own tongue), and even Stanton pitching the story before production began to potential licensing partners. The three of them are especially good discussing the evolution of the story—you've got to love the fact that one of their models for the social interactions inside the aquarium was the asylum from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest—and remarking on how their own experiences as parents informed their work on the script. The collaborative nature of the filmmaking process is emphasized throughout, and in many respects, these are the true heirs to the story departments that populated movie lots back in the day. My only problem with all of this is nomenclatural—what, for instance, is the distinction between a director and a co-director? Also, in the various clips, the animators have the unfortunate tendency of turning everything into a verb: "You want to plus the mechanics," or "Will you final it?"

Still on the first disc, under Design Galleries, are an Art Review (08m:33s), pre-production galleries of images, which you can watch merely with the musical score, or with commentary from three production team members; Characters (06m:49s), full of models and sketches of the dramatis personae in various stages of development; Environments, various still details for the production; and Color Script, a collection of over 300 images from the film in its many stages of development. Also on Disc One: seven options to turn your TV set into a Virtual Aquarium, ranging from Reef to Jellyfish, a very high-end screensaver. Basically, if you see a fish icon, you'll want to click on it—you'll turn up either yet another Virtual Aquarium or a modest little easter egg.

Swim on over to Disc Two for more fun, starting with yet another introduction (01m:05s) from Stanton and Unkrich; up next is Exploring the Reef (07m:01s), in which Dory, Marlon and Nemo buddy up with Jean-Michel Cousteau, in a lighthearted, silly but environmentally conscious look at just what it is we're doing to our oceans. Mr. Ray's Encyclopedia (08m:12s) is hosted by Nemo's science teacher, who narrates live-action footage of the fish and other sea creatures that were the basis for the characters.

Knick Knack (03m:25s) is an early Pixar short, from 1989; their house style is already evident in this tale about a priapic snowman in a snow globe trying to put the moves on souvenir tchatchkes from warmer climes. Tonally it's more in keeping with Toy Story than Nemo, but it's still worth a look, and it's short enough that you should play it twice, the second time out with the commentary track from Mr. Pixar, John Lasseter, and the short's technical director.

And you don't have to just sit there and watch—you can play along with Fisharades, a charades game for one or two players, hosted by Crush the turtle, dude; or read along with an accompanying story about Nemo. Under "Behind the Scenes," you'll find Character Interviews (02m:28s), Marlon, Nemo and Dory on the film's press junket, basically; and a Studio Tour (05m:24s), a deliberately cheesy look around Pixar, hosted by Alexander Gould, the child actor who provides Nemo's voice. The Pixar employees seem universally fun, nice and talented, but truly, they're pretty bad actors.

Publicity offers up a teaser, three trailers, and three Fishy Facts, which are still more trailers, really; the '80s homage was wisely done away with in the final cut, because a couple of these are scored with Men at Work's Land Down Under. (Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder?) The Print Gallery is chock full of posters, billboards, lobby cards, and bus shelters designed to promote the film's theatrical release.

You'll also find another four Virtual Aquarium options, THX Optimizers for both audio and video, and a full boat of trailers, including one for Pixar's next film, The Incredibles; another for Home on the Range, an upcoming, conventional animated Disney picture that "is not yet rated"—I'm sure avoiding an NC-17 is a real problem for this one; and, among others, promos for the upcoming whiz bang DVD releases of Pocahontas, Alice in Wonderland, and Lilo and Stitch. (Also, as with the Spanish and French language tracks, the English, French and Spanish subtitles are available only on the second disc.)

If all of this doesn't keep the little people occupied while you press the snooze button at least a couple of times, it means that you've got problems too big for Pixar. Or that it's really time to get out of bed.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

There is so much entertainment produced for children that's less fun than dentistry, and the makers of those should feel at least a pang of guilt for not having the ambition, talent, perseverance, and thoroughly good nature of those who made Finding Nemo. It's a smart, charming, funny, winning movie, and I'm hoping that I'll feel the same after the thousands of times it's likely to play in my house. I bet I will.

 


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