#ThrowbackThursday – Finding Nemo

Original US release date: May 30, 2003
Production budget: $94,000,000
Worldwide gross: $940,335,536

I’ve been a Pixar fan as long as most everyone else has been: since the beginning.  Still, in spite of that, I somehow missed seeing Finding Nemo in the theaters upon its original release.  I still don’t really recall how that happened.  I’ve of course seen it since and I own the movie, but it remains one of the Pixar films with which I feel least connected.  So, in this #ThrowbackThursday, I intend to determine if it’s simply because I didn’t have that theatrical experience or if there’s more to it than that.

There’s no question that I have been one of the few who haven’t felt a strong personal connection to the film.  With a production budget of $94 million, the movie was a massive hit all around the world, earning more than ten times its original budget (after a 2012 re-release.  It neared $900 million in its original 2003 run.).  I still hear – and make – references to Finding Nemo in my daily life on a fairly regular basis as it has become entrenched in the general public consciousness and is undeniably considered a timeless family classic.

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For the few who may be unfamiliar with the film, Finding Nemo follows single father clown fish Marlin as he must find his son Nemo, who has gone missing off the Australian Reef.  Marlin enlists the help of a regal tang (yeah, I looked that up) named Dory with a short-term memory problem and a gigantic heart.  As the duo attempts to pick up Nemo’s trail, Nemo himself is trying to escape captivity that appears to be leading to a potentially life-threating scenario.

Though I’ve seen the movie a few times, this was my first time watching it in 3D and, wow, did it ever pop!  Even in 2003, Pixar’s animation was gorgeous and detailed.  The textures actually engage the brain’s sense of touch, the colors are vivid but not unrealistic, and the environments are completely immersive – even more so with the addition of 3D.  To my eye, Finding Nemo hasn’t aged and appears as if it could have been released last weekend.  In recent years, Disney’s home-grown animation studio has caught up to, and perhaps even surpassed (by a slim margin), Pixar’s technical and artistic abilities.  But in 2003, nobody was anywhere close to what Pixar was doing.

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But we all know that Pixar is about so much more than the superficial qualities of filmmaking.  With this story, Pixar crafted a tale that is just as relevant and poignant for adults as for the children that many of them brought with them to the theater (or the couch, as the case may now be).  This particular narrative manages to address single parenthood, the fear of loss, physical handicaps, mental handicaps, persistence, confidence, and the importance of relationships.

Nemo never even meets his mother, who sadly dies as his egg is laid.  As a result, Marlin is even more terrified to lose what remains of his family than a typical parent might be.  In fact, he’s so terrified that he becomes overprotective, inadvertently creating a sheltered life for his son.  Compounding Marlin’s fears is the fact that Nemo has a physical handicap in the form of an underdeveloped pectoral fin.  So, when Nemo becomes lost, he not only faces the challenge of being on his own for the first time, but also the idea that he is at an immediate disadvantage due to his physical nature.

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At the same time, Marlin meets Dory, who forgets things very easily and very quickly, demonstrating her lifelong struggle with short-term memory loss.  So now Marlin must learn to depend on someone with a handicap, rather than protecting and restricting them, otherwise he will possibly never find his son.  Nemo also makes new friends who are captured alongside him and both father and son learn to embrace and work with others in order to hopefully achieve their goals.

Whew!  That’s a lot of meat on this bone.  Yet none of it is ever forced down our throats.  It’s all a natural part of this story with the subtext there for those who choose to take the time to fully process what they’ve watched.  For those who do that, adults will be thinking about how it’s difficult but necessary to accept that their kids will eventually grow up and need to experience life – even the scary parts.  Kids will be thinking about how their future is to be written by them, according to their own desires and hard work.  The film effortlessly makes the point that we all have our own handicaps and life will be a challenge no matter what, but persevering and overcoming is part of what makes it worth living.

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But even without that, the movie is pure entertainment from start to finish.  The characters are endearing and loveable (Dory was the break-out, but Crush came in a close second), the action is exciting and innovative, and the humor ranges from amusing to outright hilarious.  Dory attempting to speak Whale might still be the funniest moment from any Pixar film.  What this all comes down to is that Finding Nemo is a total package of a film, appealing to all audiences on all levels.  It’s everything a classic film should be.  It still doesn’t speak to me on a personal level the way some of Pixar’s other films do (specifically Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story 3) but it’s easy to see why it speaks to so many others.  Finding Nemo is one of those films that everyone should see and carry with them on some level from day to day.

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