When the Pixar people set out to make an animated children's movie--with cute, anthropomorphized creatures, lots of cool, colorful computer graphics and simple, kid-friendly plotlines--they also give us adults a treat we rarely get elsewhere: our favorite comedic performers doing what they do best.
In Toy Story and again in Toy Story 2, Tom Hanks voiced the role of the heroic but self-effacing Woody, an old-fashioned cowboy doll, while Tim Allen played the swaggering and clueless astronaut doll, Buzz Lightyear. In Monsters, Inc., Billy Crystal was the voice of the wacko, one-eyed monster to John Goodman's large, lumbering straight-man. In each case, not only did the writers capture the essence of that particular performer's shtick, Pixar's computer animators also captured, to a T, their facial expressions and physical mannerisms.
Now, in Finding Nemo, writer-director Andrew Stanton has come up with the inspired teaming of Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres as Marlin and Dory, a mismatched couple of tropical fish who inhabit the Pacific waters in and around the Great Barrier Reef. Marlin is an orange-and-white clownfish and Dory a bright blue, big-eyed fish, and, no, these two cartoony creatures don't really look like Brooks and DeGeneres. Yet they do: The familiar expressions show up in those fishy eyes, the particular twists of those fishy mouths. Also, Marlin and Dory have impeccable timing, with her loopy free-associations feeding directly into his studied paranoia. They're simply wonderful together.
Marlin's troubles begin when his wife disappears during a surprise shark attack--along with all but one of her unhatched eggs. The sole surviving offspring is Nemo (Alexander Gould), who, although slightly handicapped (with a stunted gill), happens to be a very smart and brave little fish and the apple of his doting dad's eye. Overprotective Marlin recites a litany of dos and don'ts as he sends Nemo off to 'school' for the first time--warnings the little fish unfortunately fails to heed. For, on a dare from his classmates, Nemo swims away from the protective reef and right into a net wielded by a human being--a deep-sea-diving dentist, in fact--who's collecting specimens for the tropical fish tank he keeps in his office back in Sydney.
Alas, Nemo winds up in the dentist's aquarium, joining the imperious Gill (voiced by Willem DaFoe) and various other fauna from the briny deep. With the assistance of a friendly pelican (Geoffrey Rush), this lively group soon develops an escape plan for the determined Nemo--and for themselves.
Meanwhile, back at the reef, Marlin has learned of Nemo's capture and, despite the odds against him, sets out to rescue his son. Before swimming far he meets the ditsy Dory, whose biggest (and funniest) failing is that she has no short-term memory. Her forgetfulness--are we looking for Nemo? Or is it Harpo? Bingo?--drives Marlin bonkers and he thinks about ditching Dory until he discovers she has a few impressive talents he lacks. For example, Dory can read, so she's the one who finds the dentist's name and address on the goggles he lost on the reef.
As Marlin and Dory make their way to Sydney, they encounter an incredible variety of mostly scary underwater creatures--including a trio of deep-sea predators who are members of Fish Eater's Anonymous. ('Fish are friends, not food,' they chant.) They get entangled within the trailing stingers of a huge flock of pink jellyfish, spend time in the belly of a whale, and catch a ride on the back of a very mellow turtle as he clips along on the fast-flowing Eastern Australian Current. It's all a computer animator's paradise.
Along with perfecting the new art of computer animation, the Pixar studio has also perfected a new form of movie satire. The well-known actors appearing in Pixar movies not only take pleasure in entertaining kids, they also have fun satirizing themselves--to the great delight of the more mature fans of the studio's movies. Finding Nemo is another terrific Pixar pic for all generations.