Disney movies have provided a fair share of lachrymose moments ever since Snow White's funeral, but in seven decades, two movies reached the trauma-inducing level: "Bambi" and "The Lion King" (no need to remind why). But while it took half a century to provide the second shocker, it was only one year shy away from a decade that the third one came, through the unsettling (yet powerful) opening of "Finding Nemo".The film starts with a clown-fish couple, Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Coral, they lovingly contemplate their new nest of love in the Great Barrier Reef where hundreds of little eggs are peacefully 'sleeping'. The heart-warming sight distracts us from the ominous arrival of a barracuda. And once Marlin realizes that the Reef is suddenly empty, you know whatever is coming will not be "Fish Police" material, not even "The Little Mermaid". Thankfully (so to speak) the scene is shot in 'subjective camera', Marlin is knocked out and after a brief blackout, the previously colorful and magnificent-looking Ocean from the opening credits turns into a devastatingly silent mortuary.Marlin lost his eggs
but one, a little reddish bowl still beating from inside, a minuscule yet so priceless light of hope. Marlin calls the fish Nemo as the instant homage to his deceased wife who happened to like the name.You see, the mark of great movies is that you can tell from the first five minutes that you're onto something special. "Finding Nemo" left me no doubt that I was going to watch a something very special. I compared the opening to the deaths in "Bambi" and "The Lion King" but these were middle-plot points, establishing a necessary evolution in the main characters. In "Finding Nemo", the tragedy is the set-up, it cements the unconditional love between Marlin and his son, which is what the film is primarily about. Indeed, for all the dazzling visuals and the infinite waves of blue the movie bless our sights with, it's all in the father-and-son relationship.We might dislike over-protective parents, they act ridiculously and embarrass their children when they try to impress their schoolmates, but how can anyone blame Marlin after that first scene, especially since Nemo (because of his egg's fall) has a diminutive fin. Still, the merit of the script is to make us understand Nemo's actions as well, when he sneaks away during a school field trip to get close to a boat, we know it's not to prove something to his friends but just a sign of exasperation addressed to his father. When he's suddenly captured by a scuba diver, he immediately calls Marlin for his help and we can only witness Marlin's desperation and determination to find his little one.The adventure takes off, and takes us from one visual delight to a thrilling encounter. I never felt as hypnotically entranced by the sight of the undersea world on a screen since the days I played "Donkey Kong Country" (don't laugh, if you were a fan of the game, you'd understand). This is computer-generated imagery at its finest, using lights and colors in a way that floats between reality and imagery, when a school of moon-fish form a sad-faced Marlin, you know the animators don't let themselves enslaved by realism and when a tiny fishy reveals to be a giant whale, it's a creative twist on the "are you short or far away?" gag. No visual trick is spared for the sake of a great moment, and it goes as far as allowing us to explore the human world, from the fish' perspective.Poor Nemo finds himself in a dentist fish tank whose occupants, lead by Gill, a Moorish idol voiced by Willem Defoe, try to pull a 'Great Escape'. Oddly enough, it was the tank, not the ocean that inspired Andrew Stanton the idea of Nemo. As a kid, he saw the same ones at the dentist and assumed they tried to escape. When he discovered the clown-fish species, and their reluctance to live an anemone, he found the perfect material for a thrilling and emotional adventure.Still, given the emotional resonance of the plot, he made it a perfect vehicle for comedy; the dentist gags and the goofiness of the seagulls never fails to inspire a few chuckles, the groovy turtles, the vegetarian sharks whose leader is conveniently named Bruce steal the show, but the greatest thing about "Finding Nemo", as far as laughs go, is the creation of Dory. With Marlin and Nemo, she's the third guy on the podium, an adorable regal blue tang fish suffering from short-term memory loss. The writers always find a way to make her condition funny, critical and sad when seriousness is required, and her tandem with killjoy Marlin saved the film from being a "Bambi" in the water.And the fourth star is obviously the ocean, rendered with a majesty that outdates "The Little Mermaid" and 8 years after "Toy Story", "Finding Nemo" showed how far Disney magic can go, it's like water has always been part of Disney's milestones ever since Mickey's "Steamboat Willie". And the story has such a richness of its own, that it needed two climactic sequences, one involving the fish tank and incarnating the human stupidity at its finest through the character of a fish-torturing girl named Darla and a more dramatic one set in fishing grounds where the mass school of grouper try to get off a net. At the end of this powerful journey, both Marlin and Nemo learned a few lessons about their relationship."Finding Nemo" is the stuff great animated movies are made of: magnificent visuals, a powerful story and comedy with the jolly Dory. The film was the most recent inclusion in AFI's Top 10 animated movies and once you see it, it's hard to argue. "Dreamworks" tried with "A Shark Tale", but it couldn't play in the same league than one film that swims 20 000 leagues above.
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