[Screen It]

(2003) (voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres) (G)

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Computer Animated Comedy: A clown fish sets out across the sea to find his son who was captured and then sold to an Australian dentist.
Marlin (voice of ALBERT BROOKS) and Coral (voice of ELIZABETH PERKINS) are happy parents-to-be of several hundred clown fish and have moved to a new undersea home. Yet, disaster strikes and Marlin is then left alone with only one egg that he vows to protect.

Sometime later, it's the first day of school for young Nemo (voice of ALEXANDER GOULD), and Marlin isn't happy to let him out of his sight. That's not only due to him being an over-protective dad, but also because Nemo has a smaller than normal fin that doesn't bother the youngster, but worries Marlin.

To prove his dad wrong about such matters, Nemo disobeys his orders and sets out in the direction of a human boat. To Marlin's horror, a human diver than captures Nemo and speeds away, leaving Marlin shocked and heartbroken. After accidentally but literally running into Dory (voice of ELLEN DeGENERES), an optimistic blue tang with short term memory loss, Marlin discovers one of the diver's masks and then sets out to track the address on it back to his boy.

Meanwhile, Nemo has ended up in an Australian dentist's office in an aquarium with the likes of Gill (voice of WILLEM DAFOE), Bloat (voice of BRAD GARRETT), Peach (voice of ALLISON JANNEY), Gurgle (voice of AUSTIN PENDLETON), Bubbles (voice of STEPHEN ROOT), Jacques (voice of JOE RANFT) and Deb (voice of VICKI LEWIS) who believes that her reflection is her twin sister, Flo.

Nemo's appearance stimulates Gil's desire to try to escape again and he hatches an elaborate plan to do so. It's important that they succeed since Nemo is targeted as a gift to the dentist's 8-year-old niece, Darla, who has a penchant for killing fish.

As they plot and prepare for their escape, Marlin and Dory make their way across the sea. Along the way, they encounter various creatures, such as three sharks -- Bruce (voice of BARRY HUMPHRIES), Anchor (voice of ERIC BANA) and Chum (voice of BRUCE SPENCE) - who are going through an AA type step program to stop eating fish; Nigel (voice of GEOFFREY RUSH) the pelican; and laidback "surfer" turtle Crush (ANDREW STANTON) and his son Squirt (voice of NICHOLAS BIRD). With time running out, Marlin hopes to find and rescue Nemo before it's too late.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
The magic of movies is in turning artificiality into reality, at least in the eyes, mind and/or heart of viewers. That's true whether you're talking about period costume drams or the most lavish, special effects laden sci-fi films. The trick, of course, is doing it so well that the viewer gets caught up in the event, forgets he or she is watching something that's not real, and never sees the puppeteer's strings (or has to think, "Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain").

Pixar has always been one of the better - if not the best - movie houses at doing just that. From their award-winning short films to their critically acclaimed and highly successful features, they've always managed to hook viewers and make them forget that the computer-generated lamps, snowmen, toys, bugs and monsters are just a series of zeros and ones spit out by a bunch of computers and programmers.

They've done so again with "Finding Nemo." A delightful, engaging and terrific effort, it's sure to be as successful and beloved by kids of all ages as was "A Bug's Life," "Monsters, Inc." and the "Toy Story" films.

While intentionally not striving to be photo realistic like "Final Fantasy," the film's visual look - overseen by supervising animator Dylan Brown - is nothing short of outstanding to behold. Most of the characters have purposefully been rendered in a cartoonish, if three-dimensional fashion, but it's the background undersea world that's eye-popping.

Whether it's all of the water (both below and on the surface) or all of the plant life and such within it, the film's visuals are highly detailed and impressive. Yet, as has been the case in all of Pixar's works, the story and its characters are equally as important as how things look.

Although the starting-off point is pure Disney animated effort - with a single parent caring for a child - the script by writer/director Andrew Stanton (co-director of "A Bug's Life" and writer on all of the Pixar features) and co-screenwriters Bob Peterson and David Reynolds (who've both worked on various Pixar projects) goes well beyond that. In essence, it's part undersea road trip movie, part find and rescue adventure, and part fish out of water (figuratively and occasionally literally) story, all liberally mixed with plenty of comedy and action.

As I've stated before, I'm not sure why Pixar always makes film that appeal to kids and adults alike without boring or insulting the intelligence of either group - while most other features aimed at kids, particularly live action ones, fail at that - but they've done so again here.

Children will enjoy the fun and funny characters, the goofy slapstick material, and the various (and maybe even scary if not just suspenseful) action moments. The adults will feel the same way, but the beauty of the film for them is with the myriad of fine details interspersed throughout the production.

There are the various universal parenting issues that have been seamlessly transferred to the aquatic characters with which parents and kids will easily identify. Then there are the insider references (the main shark is named Bruce, possibly after Spielberg's nickname for the mechanical one in "Jaws") and other bits of humor that are like icing on the cake.

For instance, some sharks attend an AA like step-meeting to try to overcome their addiction to eating fish, while another fish and her "twin sister" - which is actually her reflection on the aquarium walls - are named Deb and Flo (a joke on "ebb and flow").

The vocal work from top to bottom is outstanding, with Albert Brooks ("The In-Laws," "The Muse") and Ellen DeGeneres ("The Love Letter," "Goodbye Lover") getting the lion's share (or is that fish's share) of the material and funny dialogue. Both are perfectly suited for their characters and bring just the right touch to them.

The likes of Alexander Gould ("Wes Craven Presents: They"), Willem Dafoe ("Spider-Man," "Shadow of the Vampire"), Allison Janney ("The Hours," "Nurse Betty"), Geoffrey Rush ("The Banger Sisters," "Frida") and Barry Humphries ("Nicolas Nickleby," "Spice World") voice just a few of the many other characters and are just as enjoyable to hear. Even the film's director gets into the act by voicing Crush, the laidback, surfer-dude turtle.

Simply put, this is a terrific piece of filmmaking from both a technological and storytelling aspect. While there are a few slow moments and the momentum occasionally wanes in the third act (which might be okay as it gives the little ones a moment to catch their breath), the effort is otherwise the film to beat this summer and is easily one of the best so far this year.

Completely engaging, fun, funny, adventurous and even heartwarming, "Finding Nemo" is a near perfect example of movie magic that will appeal to viewers of all ages. We highly recommend this film that rates as an 8 out of 10.

Reviewed May 20, 2003 / Posted May 30, 2003

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