Nemo stars in swimmingly splendid story

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran on June 6, 2003. Movie critic John Wirt originally gave “Finding Nemo” four stars.

The folks who brought us Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. are swimming in more success with the high-spirited, funny fish tale, Finding Nemo. Another gem from Pixar Animation Studios, Finding Nemo uses its eye-pleasing computer animation in the service of a deep story of love and courage.

Finding Nemo opens on a note of domestic bliss. Clown fish couple Marlin and Coral are expecting. The pair can’t wait for their approximately 400 eggs to hatch. But a rush of Bambi-like tragedy destroys Marlin’s world. He barely survives an attack by a predator, and Coral and all but one of the couple’s eggs disappear.

Marlin, whose voice is supplied by the aptly anxious Albert Brooks, becomes an overprotective father to little Nemo. All that worrying irritates Nemo, a spunky little clown fish who’s more than ready for his first day at fish school. Marlin’s desire to protect Nemo drives the young fish to prove his independence to other fish kids. Nemo swims into open water and is caught by a diver.

And so begins Marlin’s incredible journey to find his only son. His companion on the trip, a forgetful blue tang named Dory, is a mixed blessing. Dory owes her voice and comic timing to an expert, Ellen DeGeneres from New Orleans. The computer-generated Dory and DeGeneres blend to form one crowd-pleasing ham of a fish character.

As in classic, hand-drawn Disney animation, Finding Nemo’s protagonists interact with colorful supporting players. Marlin and Dory’s encounter with a trio of Aussie-accented sharks — the movie opens on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef — is a sharp set piece. These grinning predators have formed a self-help group to help them break the fish habit, but Marlin and Dory discover the sharks retain their taste for fish.

During his sea trek, the fearful Marlin is transformed into a courageous parent. That spiritual journey is at least as great as his physical journey to Sydney Harbor. Meanwhile, Marlin and Dory develop a genuine relationship. The pair’s interaction is complex enough to put the relationships in so-called adult films to shame.

The same goes for the father and son relationship of Marlin and Nemo (voice by 9-year-old Alexander Gould), and Nemo and Gill, the tank-dwelling Moorish idol fish (a touching voice performance by Willem Defoe) Nemo meets while his father and Dory endure their scary and funny adventures.

Finding Nemo is the best combination of storytelling and technology. Beautifully utilized computer animation makes a multitude of sea and land creatures live convincingly in a splendid story.