By Joseph Braverman (****)
In my estimation, the two greatest films ever to be made concerning the “deep blue sea” come from Disney: 1989’s The Little Mermaid and 2003’s Finding Nemo. Sorry Spielberg, but when it comes to the visual splendor and untold adventures one can obtain from the giant, often uncharted world we call “the ocean,” nobody does it quite like Disney. So when I heard there was to be a re-release of Finding Nemo in 3-D, I immediately perked up at the idea. Not only is Finding Nemo one of Pixar’s best efforts to date, but I hadn’t seen the movie in nearly ten years, perhaps since its initial release. I was worried that my opinion of the movie was going to change, and also wondered whether the 3-D would distract my emotional attachment with Marlon and his journey to find and rescue his physically limited son, Nemo. Ten years later and wiser — 23 years old versus 14 at the time of Finding Nemo’s original release — I am proud to report that the 3-D is infused seamlessly into the classic animated feature. There is never an issue with jagged lines or the other nuisances that often appear when watching a film that’s released in 3-D. In fact, I daresay Finding Nemo’s extra use of dimension makes for an even bigger, more involved, deeper felt movie-going experience the second time around. You cannot help but embrace Dory’s mantra when watching: “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”
The great thing about Finding Nemo is that it wastes no time. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a well-defined story or satisfying character arcs, but rather it avoids getting bogged down by filler moments that only serve to provide needless chuckles. Finding Nemo’s simplified, watered-down approach to storytelling may infuriate some adults who want to sink their teeth in a bit more in the hopes of some deeper meaning, but I find a “G” rated film like this would lose its audience midway through if it went that route, with issues of pacing all but guaranteed. As far as pacing goes, movies don’t get much better than Finding Nemo. From the first few minutes, we are instantly aware and understanding of Marlon’s need to be an overprotective parent, just as worried for little Nemo as Marlon is especially in light of one fin being smaller than the other — Nemo’s ability to swim is weakened as a result. When Nemo is accidentally kidnapped by a deep sea diver who happens to be a dentist in Sydney, Australia, it’s impossible to turn your gaze away, knowing full well that Marlon’s journey to find his son is going to be an adventure of epic Disney proportions. Ten years later, my emotional commitment to the story was still as strong as ever, praying that Marlon would find his son in time before the dentists’ terror of a niece, Darla, takes Nemo on as a pet so she can rattle and rattle him until he has “X’s” for eyes. There isn’t a wasted frame in Finding Nemo — every second there is something going on that is integral to the plot, and the witty screenplay by Bob Peterson, Andrew Stanton, and David Reynolds provide the right kind of laughs, the right kind of cries, and the right kind of empathy toward even the most unsympathetic characters (Bruce the shark for instance, who is currently “back on the wagon” after swearing an oath to never again eat fish).
A movie littered with so many characters could become overwhelming, even with the knowledge that dozens of characters are bound to appear in a playground as large as the ocean. However, each new character we meet along the way is so unique that they become a welcome addition to the grand scheme of the film, not an obstruction or time-waster a la Andrew Stanton’s Wall-E. In that film, anytime E.V.E. or Wall-E weren’t the focus of a scene, the film dragged and boredom set in rather quickly. In this respect, credit has to be given to the spectacular voice cast, which I would argue should have garnered the film at the very least a SAG award for “Outstanding Performance By a Cast in a Motion Picture.” Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres are the obvious standouts, but performances like Willem Dafoe’s scaly-voiced Gill or Andrew Stanton’s colossally awesome voice-over work as Crush the Turtle deserve major props as well. Alexander Gould is also perfect as the young Nemo, rebellious at times but not unjustifiably so, and his innocent nature perfectly sums up why Marlon loves his son so very much.
What can I say about Ellen Degeneres and Albert Brooks that hasn’t been said so many times already? Degeneres had the “Oscar” word thrown around for her voice work in Finding Nemo, but it unfortunately never panned out. I challenge anyone to find me a better comedic performance from 2003, because Degeneres simply throws herself into the short-on-memory/large-on-laughs role of Dory, never relapsing when it comes to vocal commitment. Her voice is animated already — it was has a rather charming squawk-ish tone — but Degeneres moves past predictability by using her vocal instruments to deliver a range of emotion. You expect a one-note delivery from Degeneres, but the dynamic intonations she brings to Dory’s dialogue make it apparent that both Dory and Degeneres are more than just your stapled-on comic relief. The scene where Dory tells Marlon to have faith and jump into the whale’s stomach, even though she truly doesn’t know what will come of it, is perhaps one of Degeneres’ finest acting moments of her career. It’s then you realize that Dory perhaps is a lot more self-aware than previously imagined, and we feel foolish for ever believing otherwise.
As everyone knows, I am a huge fan of Albert Brooks. The man takes any role given to him and molds himself to it, likeable no matter if he’s an overprotective father like in Finding Nemo or a mobster who’s forced to fix a mess he never wanted to be a custodian for (Drive). I found myself really connecting to Marlon even more so ten years later, especially since he reminds me so much of my own father, overprotective to no end but lovably so. Brooks makes watching movies a delight, and if he was in every film going forward, you would not find me complaining.
As for the 3-D, there isn’t much more to add on top of what I said in the intro. The use of the extra dimension creates a greater depth of field, where the ocean feels more expansive thanks to the distance visually perceived between the characters in the forefront and the background ocean environments. Finding Nemo 3-D is so vividly splendid on top of the already magnificent story that you’re smile will widen just a bit more than it did nine years earlier. As one of Pixar’s greatest masterpieces — and there are many — this is worth another rewind at the cineplex, especially with the added feature of 3-D. So if you’re asking me whether it’s worth your time and money to go see Finding Nemo 3-D, my answer will take its cue from Crush: Like, totally dude! Woah!!!
Toy Story Short: “Partysaurus Rex” (***)
Finding Nemo 3-D is precluded by a new Toy Story short, “Partysaurus Rex.” Fans of the gut-wrenching Toy Story franchise shouldn’t expect any waterworks, unless of course you take that word literally. The short takes place in a bathtub, where the only time the bath toys are able to have fun and be of some use are whenever Molly, Andy’s sister, decides to go all “scrub-a-dub-dub.” The bath toys live for these brief few minutes of daily ecstasy, but after the fun is over, it’s back to lying around being bored and unfulfilled. When Molly decides to bring Rex into the bath one day — much to his extreme displeasure — he realizes he’s of greater value to the bath toys than he is to his usual toy posse. That’s thanks to his arms, which can move the bath handles, allowing the water to pour out for the toys to exercise their innate “play” function without requiring Molly’s presence. What ensues is essentially a toy hoedown, the bathtub transformed instantaneously into a Hollywood-esque dance club where the toys go wild and do everything short of grinding on one another. Visually, Pixar pushes themselves to the max with their use of colors, astounding sequences showing the transformation from a typical bath setting to a hot and happening club environment, and some of the most realistic-looking water CGI I’ve ever seen in animated film-making. Songs you’ll recognize will be played on repeat, and you can’t help but have a good time and just vibe along with the toys and their state of dance euphoria. At my screening, the sound was incredibly loud, I imagine to really stress the booming club milieu. If parents bring children along who are sensitive to loud noises, I suggest giving them some ear plugs during this short — just a word of caution. Adults and die-hard fans of Toy Story may find this short a complete throwaway component to a beloved movie franchise, but it’s never a bad thing revisiting the world of Toy Story, even if it’s just Rex who’s the main character of focus. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen do contribute small lines of dialogue, but this is definitely Rex’s story of acceptance and finding his inner “cool.” The short contains very little depth or plot, but you will be amused despite feeling a tad disappointed. Disney’s Paperman has a much better shot at the Oscar for “Best Animated Short” than “Partysaurus Rex,” but there certainly isn’t a dearth of fun to be had here!
By Joey Magidson (***½)
The most modern of Disney’s recent trend in the last year or so to re-release their top drawer classics in 3D (and the first of Pixar’s films to get the honor, though it won’t be the last), ‘Finding Nemo’ is exactly the movie that you remember it to be. Wearing a pair of glasses and seeing things with the added third dimension doesn’t really affect things one way or the other (in fact, I was able to take my glasses off a few times and barely noticed a difference, but more on that in a little bit). This is still the highly entertaining, exquisitely animated, and expertly acted cartoon that the studio unleashed on audiences about 9 years ago. The voice talent may in fact be among the very best ever in an animated flick. I may like a few Pixar films better than this one (heresy to some, but I just consider the studio to have made a number of damn near perfect films), but there’s no arguing that this isn’t a wonderful movie, incredibly well done by Pixar rockstars Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich. I won’t have too much to say about this one, since I don’t know who hasn’t seen this flick by now, but it’s hitting theaters next week and should be a solid bit of nostalgia to audiences. This little Early Review is mostly just a reminder that another winner from Disney is getting a 3D re-release, though at the end stay tuned for a few words on the new Toy Story short that’s being paired with it.
A quick plot refresher for those who don’t remember it…the story is pretty much what the title suggests it is. Set in the Great Barrier Reef, we first meet clownfish Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks) and his wife Coral (voice of Elizabeth Perkins). They’re about to be parents, but tragedy strikes and soon Marlin is left with only one offspring, Nemo (voice of Alexander Gould). He’s overprotective, but Nemo is excited to start school and Marlin can’t stop him. To Marlin’s horror, humans capture Nemo and take him away, all the way over to a fish tank in a dentist’s office in Sydney. Marlin made a pledge to keep Nemo safe, so the timid fish must work up some courage to save his son. The father isn’t alone however, as he’ll receive help of a sweet but forgetful blue tang named Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres). Along the way they’ll meet a trio of sharks in a support group to keep themselves from eating fish. Bruce (voice of Barry Humphries), Anchor (voice of Eric Bana), and Chum (voice of Bruce Spence) are trying, but a whiff of blood could get them right off the program. Meanwhile, Nemo isn’t content to sit in a tank and plans his own escape. Will the two ever get back together? Well, it’s Disney/Pixar, but it’s such a well done movie, as you all know…
Very few animated flicks have had such great voice acting as this one. Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres especially are top notch, with the latter someone who a few argued deserved Best Supporting Actress consideration. I don’t know that I’d go that far, but she’s quite good. Brooks gets to be a hero in a way he normally wouldn’t, and if DeGeneres steals the show, Brooks is hardly left in the dust. Alexander Gould has an innocence and perkiness in his voice that just makes you smile every single time that Nemo talks. Those with less juicy roles still manage to impress, with the aforementioned Perkins making the most of her cameo and the likes of Eric Bana, Barry Humphries, and Bruce Spence all doing fine work as well. Also lending their voices are Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Stephen Root, Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, and of course John Ratzenberger. Everyone is real good and those who claim this cartoon has the best voice acting of all time might not be too far off base with their claims.
Co-directors Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich have gone on to bigger (and in some cases better) things since their collaboration here, but it’s hard not to look at this as a huge achievement in direction for both. They were starting with a terrific screenplay that Stanton co-wrote with Bob Peterson and David Reynolds, so the combination just elevated things. They have an incredibly detailed look to their film, and the screenplay just zips along, mixing in solid humor and a real heart. This really is a complete flick, with just about nothing to complain about. Pixar may not be making masterpieces every single time out, but this was one of their finer moments, for sure.
A note about the 3D…it’s pretty ordinary, but unobtrusive. They’re just mostly adding depth to the background, which hardly is bad, but might not be worth the added financial investment. That’s your call, not mine (since I didn’t have to pay for the surcharge, of course), but it’s worth noting. This isn’t going to change your experience in any real way. It’s still ‘Finding Nemo’, just in 3D.
In the end, do I really need to remind you of the high quality inherent in ‘Finding Nemo’? It’s just as good as it was 9 years ago. The 3D version doesn’t add too much, but it doesn’t take away either, so fans of this Pixar flick will have nothing to complain about. Unless you absolutely despise 3D, you should definitely check out this cartoon one more time when it hits theaters next week. Quality is quality, and few animated flicks in the past decade have been as good.
As mentioned above, attached to this flick is a new Toy Story short, this one called ‘Partysaurus Rex’. This one features Rex (Wallace Shawn) getting a chance to cut loose in the bathtub with some new toys that think he’s far cooler than he really is. This is tonally very different from what the trilogy showed us, but it is cute on its own terms. It’s not a must see or anything, but I liked it. Consider the short an added bonus to an already enjoyable time at the movies.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!