Pixar's 2003 epic Finding Nemo is remembered for many things - its stunning CGI and gorgeous visuals, its universal critical, commercial and public acclaim, its Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and Ellen DeGeneres as a loveable amnesiac. Eight years later, it's the same inspiring, moving and exciting tour de force as it was when it came in second to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in terms of box office sales. It hasn't aged a drop.
When his mate and 399 of their eggs are killed by a barracuda, Marlin the clownfish (Albert Brooks) loses his smile and becomes protective of his last remaining offspring, Nemo (Alexander Gould) to the point of paranoia. Nemo, being young and resentful of his father's suffocation, acts out and is captured by a scuba diver and spirited away on a boat. Desperately searching for his son, Marlin meets Dory, a cheerful Regal tang with short-term amnesia. Vitally, she is able to read the address on a diver's mask dropped from the boat, but as they navigate the dangerous ocean, Marlin has to ensure Dory doesn't forget their mission. Nemo, meanwhile, makes contact with the Tank Gang, led by the scarred Moorish idol Gill (Willem Dafoe), who resolves to get Nemo back to the ocean before he falls into the clutches of every fish's worst nightmare - a little girl named Darla (Lulu Ebeling).
Watching Finding Nemo after eight years, I was constantly surprised at how intense, and even violent, it would get. Ostensibly a movie for kids, the movie even starts with the vicious attack by the barracuda that decimates Marlin's family and his life. Then there's Marlin and Dory being menaced by a monstrous Great White Shark (Barry Humphries), Nemo's failed first attempt as escaping from the tank, Dory's close call with the jellyfish, and the larger issue of Marlin's fear for Nemo's life ("You think you can do these things, but you can't!"). A lot of those scenes are played for laughs - whoever came up with the concept of vegetarian sharks deserves a medal, and let's face it, the ocean is a dangerous place - but much like Pixar and Walt Disney did with The Incredibles the following year, Finding Nemo weaves across the line between "Aww, look at the fishies!" and "Holy crap that was disturbing."
Naturally, being a Disney & Pixar movie, the movie is uplifting and does end on a bright note - Marlin and Nemo are reunited, Bruce the shark is back on the wagon and everybody lives happily ever after. Maybe a little too happily ever after - as important as it was to see Marlin let Nemo live his own life, it would've been nice to see Nemo learn something from his experience. A little chastening reminder that sometimes, parents do know what they're talking about. Still, given everything that Nemo and Marlin had to go through, their reunion is genuinely touching, and manages to hit all the right buttons even eight years on.
Pixar has made a habit of charming tears and happy thoughts out of even the hardest hearts, and Finding Nemo is certainly no exception to that. From the staggering visuals and the fascinating array of sea life - from fish to sharks to crabs to turtles to starfish to pufferfish, even gulls and pelicans - to the scope and simplicity of a guy looking for his lost son - the movie is as lush, as captivating, as brilliant, and as exciting as the very ocean itself.
4.5/5.0: When people think of the great movies that Pixar has made, Finding Nemo will be at the top of the list.