I can’t think of an American animated feature that’s better than Finding Nemo. There are plenty that are on par – I’ll throw Wall-E, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beauty and the Beast out there if you're shaking your fist right now – but this story of a little fish in a big pond marks one of the crowning achievements of the medium, provided you don’t bring Japan into the conversation. Hell, even if you do, Finding Nemo ranks very highly. If ever there was a film that wasn’t broke, this is it. So naturally they converted it into 3D for a special re-release this weekend. (Stupid irony.)
Unlike Beauty and the Beast, however, whose 3D conversion would kindly be called a total disaster, Finding Nemo was originally crafted within a three-dimensional environment, albeit a digital one. So the post-conversion is less like colorizing radio and more akin to a digital remaster from an already perfect print. It hasn't changed, it's just been sharpened a bit. So much of Finding Nemo takes place in a neutral environment, floating around an infinite world of salt water, that the 3D effect is often imperceptible. Mercifully, when you do notice the dimensionality of the image, Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich’s environments are sufficiently rich that the effect is pleasing, and occasionally even a little extra thrilling. The nearly climactic chase scene with the rat-like seagulls was always a stunner, and 3D certainly doesn’t hurt. I’d say it’s one of the most satisfying action sequences of 2012… if wasn’t made nine flippering years ago.
The story of Finding Nemo seems simple, and on the surface follows many of the clichés that so frustrated me earlier this year in Ice Age: Continental Drift. An overprotective parent is told off by their frustrated off-spring, only to be immediately separated from their progeny in a most contrived fashion, forcing each member of the family dyad into a series of adventures designed to test their resolve, inspire their personal growth and prepare them for a tearful reunion with both protagonists having reached enlightenment, or at least an appreciation for each other’s point of view.
Unlike the bad versions of that story, however, Finding Nemo is extremely good. (I can't believe I get paid to write sentences like that.) The relationship between the father and son, even though they’re clown fish, is richly illustrated and the void between them is naturally and empathetic on both sides. Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) loves his son dearly but is overprotective because a barracuda ate his wife and their hundreds of other children. Nemo loves his father but is desperate to take his first step… er, stroke? Let’s say his first stroke into the world all by his lonesome. Their emotional separation comes when a scuba diver kidnaps Nemo, justifying every paranoid fear Marlin ever had and thrusting Nemo into the very adventure he might have wanted, albeit under circumstances more dire than he could have imagined. Interpersonal drama heightened to logical but extreme degrees, not arbitrary tropes shoved into a children’s cartoon. Screw you, Ice Age: Continental Drift. Movies like Finding Nemo are why I reject you.
I digress, don’t I? You know the story, you know its quality. Finding Nemo is one of the most inventive and heartbreaking movies to come out of Disney, and even Pixar, and that’s a statement you can’t make lightly. The comedy still plays, because it’s based on character and not situational comedy or cultural reference. The characters are complete creations, their stories elegantly told. The action thrills, the filmmaking energetic and often very original. The 3D doesn’t hurt the experience one bit, and might even improve a few key moments (I actually wrote that, and while true, it really does hurt me a bit). Finding Nemo remains a genuine modern classic, and if you haven’t seen it in theaters – heck, even if you have – this weekend is an excellent opportunity to revisit its perfection.
Yes, I said “perfection.” Look at the score.