After the tragic loss of his wife and all but one of his children, neurotic (and deeply unfunny) clownfish, Marlin (Albert Brooks), clings mightily to his only surviving son, Nemo (Alexander Gould, "They"). Fiercely protective of his child, Marlin watches over everything Nemo does, even taking him out of his first day at school due to potential dangers. Nemo rejects his father's overprotective nature, and while attempting to swim out into the dark and bottomless section of the ocean on a dare, he is captured by some deep sea divers and taken to live in a dentist's office fish tank. Nemo's disappearance leaves Marlin delirious with fear, swimming out into the great unknown to search for his son. Luckily, he finds help in a memory-impaired fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). Together they battle sharks and jellyfish, ride with turtles, and try to escape whales as they search for the little lost fish named Nemo.
It's hard to argue with the Pixar formula. For heaven's sake, the tried and true has worked for the company for an almost unprecedented four-movie run (the "Toy Story" movies, "A Bug's Life," "Monsters, Inc."), resulting in box office success beyond imagination. But with "Finding Nemo" (IMDb listing) the Pixar mainstays of adult-angled comedy, bright colors and bouncy characters for the kids, celebrity voices, and a strong moral holding it all together are quickly becoming all wet. "Nemo" is such slender material that director Andrew Stanton must use every inch of his being to keep it afloat for 90 minutes. The picture cannot bear this stress, with the usual trips down sentimental avenues feeling incredibly forced this time out, and nowhere near the bittersweet levels of Pixar's last film, "Monsters, Inc." "Nemo" isn't particularly funny either, as it includes the usual mix of bodily fluid humor and Pixar's penchant for movie homages (including "Jaws," "The Birds," "Mission: Impossible," and "The Shining"). However, the film is more confident as a goofy comedy than a lesson-teacher about accepting life's unavoidable challenges, and "Nemo" suffers from Pixar's assumption that their rigid formula applies to all their stories.
If the story lacks bite, the technological advances made by the Pixar team are what really shines brightest in "Nemo." Pixar appears to be the only animation studio out there continually taking on new visual challenges with their movies. "Nemo" is set mainly underwater and, outside of the real thing, it is a glorious representation of undersea life. Stanton and his team really nail fish movement, the gentle sway of the ocean, and the vivid colors of this mysterious world. The film's highlight is a sequence where Marlin and Dory have to navigate their way through an army of ghostly, pink jellyfish, avoiding the stinging tentacles at every turn. This sequence plays up the Pixar strengths of cartoony colors, action and light suspense. "Nemo" is a fantastic-looking picture that remains consistently engaging eye candy, even when the story starts to sink rapidly.
There isn't a much better choice for the neurotic lead character of Marlin than Albert Brooks. After a career of playing whiny, self-absorbed humans, here is a chance for Brooks to play a fish with the same attributes. Brooks gives the role his all and fashions a nice undercurrent of doubt and caution to the character. The other celebrity voices fit the bill appropriately (including Allison Janney, Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Stephen Root, Erik Per Sullivan, Pixar regular John Ratzenberger, Vicki Lewis, Richard Kind and Brad Garrett), with Willem Dafoe standing out nicely as Gill, the compassionate and determined leader of the fish tank where Nemo unexpectedly finds himself. Dafoe is often so good in his section of the film that I wished the fish tank was the central focus of the picture. It's much more entertaining than Marlin's journey.
"Finding Nemo" is going out to millions of eyes that won't take much of a discerning glance at the final product, and I understand that. For obvious reasons, family films are rarely criticized. "Nemo" is gentle and occasionally entertaining, but like McDonald's, Pixar is a brand name now, and the logo alone sadly means more than the product they sell.
Filmfodder Grade: C