Finding Nemo is a movie stocked so full of neuroses, paranoia, trust issues and 12-step programs that it ought to sink under the weight, which is perhaps a bit inappropriate for a G-rated Disney flick. But all these Prozac-needing deficiencies provide a nice diversion from the typical Pixar “somebody is lost and trying to get back home” plot. In this one, overprotective parent Marlin loses his only son and swims across the ocean to find him. Assisted by the slightly stupid Dory, who has a short-term memory problem, Marlin battles hungry sharks, rabid jellyfish and gigantic whales en route to saving Nemo, who is trapped in a fish tank in Sydney. But mostly Marlin fights against himself.
Nemo is careful to show that nobody is perfect, but Marlin is the only fish in the sea who thinks flaws are fatal. His fellow gill-breathers don’t think twice about their problems, whether they be water allergies or bad reputations or gimpy fins. They accept them and move on. But so traumatized is Marlin by losing his wife and their hundreds of children (all except Nemo) to a hungry fish in the movie’s prologue, he can’t even admit his problems, let alone deal with them — which makes for good comedy and some touching realizations along the way.
Fifteen years ago nobody knew whose voice was coming out of what mouth. But now animated films are a marquee opportunity (no accident that the trailer for the upcoming Dreamworks cartoon, Sinbad, spends half its time showing Brad Pitt et al. having fun talking into a studio mic), and the casting of Finding Nemo bears mention. Albert Brooks voices Marlin, doing his very best at what it is he does best: sounding pained and nervous, and scared and depressed. It’s almost overkill casting Brooks, the quintessential self-deprecator (Woody Allen, of course, wasn’t available, since he’d already done the same thing in Antz), and it leads to questioning of which came first, Brooks or Marlin.
At the other end of the spectrum is Ellen DeGeneres, who plays Dory with such nuanced naiveté and blithe humor to go along with the animators’ gift of wide eyes and dumbstruck, confused mouth that her character is one of the best animated sidekicks in recent memory. Her throwaway lines are funnier than anything that comes out of all the other fish combined, balancing out the dull father-son-must-be-reunited story at the core of Nemo that threatens to make this just another cartoon.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].