FINDING NEMO (DVD)

4.5 Stars
Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 100 minutes
Click to Expand Credits:

Is Pixar capable of making a bad film? Like a musician who can’t hit a sour note even if he tries, the crew at Pixar simply can’t produce a lousy movie, at least so far. Even when one of their efforts has some holes in the story, as Monsters, Inc. did, it’s still better than most of the films released on any given weekend. And the best part of their work is that adults can appreciate it just as much as kids can.
The same holds true of the “Finding Nemo” DVD, a 2-disc release that offers plenty of fun extras for fans old and young. While the adult-oriented extras aren’t as in-depth as the ones found in The Ultimate Toy Box and the A Bug’s Life Collector’s Edition, I still appreciated what the Pixar crew had to offer. I also laughed a lot during many of the kid-oriented extras, so parents shouldn’t worry about excessive boredom during those brief features.
I actually hadn’t seen “Finding Nemo” before placing disc one in my player, but I didn’t mind taking a chance on the film, given Pixar’s track record. As I expected, I wasn’t disappointed. You’ve probably read many summaries of the plot, so I’ll keep this brief: Nemo is a clownfish separated from his father, Marlin, because of stubbornness that all human parents can relate to. While he winds up in a dentist’s fish tank, slated to become a surprise birthday present for a malicious child, Marlin embarks on a journey to rescue him, aided by a regal blue tang fish named Dory, who suffers from short-term memory loss. Any parent can also relate to Marlin’s terror at losing his son and his subsequent frantic search. The filmmakers clearly understand that the most direct route to a hit film goes through our hearts; pull up some universal feelings, and we’re all there with you.
Like their pals at ILM, the Pixar crew has used their last few films to reach new heights in computer animation. This time they’ve perfected water. Not just aerial shots of the sea, mind you. They’ve managed to realistically portray underwater action, complete with the unique lighting and physical dynamics you’ll find in the blue deep. And even when Nemo winds up in a tank, you’ll notice that they don’t shy away from the complexities presented when, for example, the camera shows us a fish swimming around in the corner where two pieces of glass meet. It’s amazing.
Of course, Pixar pays close attention to story also, and once again their seemingly endless rewrites and story conferences have paid off too. The characters, even the minor ones, are memorable, the jokes will make you laugh, and the father-son relationship at the center of the action truly is heartfelt. Co-director Andrew Stanton comments somewhere in the extras that he worried about “Finding Nemo” becoming an after-school special, but the filmmakers deserve kudos for walking the line between making you feel for the characters’ plight and making you gag with syrupy sweetness, always erring on the side of the former.
Speaking of the special features, disc one offers up an insightful audiovisual commentary that accompanies a gorgeous widescreen version of the film. (Given that Pixar works digitally and masters their DVDs right off the source material, you won’t find any flaws in the picture.) I say “audiovisual” because it pauses the film every so often to show you exactly what Stanton, co-director Lee Unkrich, and co-writer Bob Peterson are talking about. For example, they might discuss the lighting and then cut to a clip in which a Pixar animator explains how it was done. Or they might mention a deleted scene and then pause for a series of storyboards that show it. You can also view each of the extra video clips separately, which is handy in case you want to revisit something.
The first disc also hosts a 25-minute documentary that is informative but not nearly as in-depth as I would have liked. Of course, I’m the kind of DVD watcher who loves the two-hour documentaries that people like Laurent Bouzereau create, so your mileage may vary. You’ll also find plenty of pre-production art to peruse, including a video review that you can watch with or without comments from the artists. Finally, both discs include virtual aquariums that turn your TV into a seascape or fish tank, complete with characters from the film darting back and forth. It will come in handy for parties, I’m sure.
Over on disc two, you’ll find a full-frame presentation of the movie. Thankfully, Pixar reformatted the picture to fit your screen so that you don’t lose any of it, as opposed to panning and scanning and chopping part of it off in the process, although I personally prefer my films in widescreen. This disc also contains a very funny video about the coral reef narrated by Jacques Cousteau’s son Jean-Michel, who has to contend with Dory, Nemo, and Marlin wandering into the frame and making comments. In addition, you can view: a fun behind-the-scenes tour hosted by Alexander Gould, the child who voiced Nemo; a mock interview with the three main characters that gets interrupted by Bruce the great white shark; a Nemo story geared toward little kids; encyclopedia entries about the various fish in the film narrated with flair by Peterson (he also voiced the manta ray teacher in the film); a Fisharades game that gets old fast; and “Knick Knack,” a fun Pixar short from 1989 that also has a commentary track.
You can also watch all the full and teaser trailers for the film. I always find it interesting to watch a trailer after I’ve watched a film and see how the studio’s marketing folks decided to promote it. To top it off, Pixar has also included a trailer for their next project, “The Incredibles,” among the obligatory theater and home video trailers for other Disney releases. “The Incredibles” is being directed by Brad Bird, who helmed the underappreciated movie The Iron Giant, and it looks like it will extend the company’s string of hits. Do you really expect anything less?

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Posted on November 29, 2003 in Reviews by
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