Thursday, September 24, 2020

Reserved Seating Ranks the Pixars: FINDING NEMO

 by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino

The review duo who just keep swimming.

Adam: After a brief hiatus, welcome back to Reserved Seating! I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: Our Pixar series continues this week with a revisit of 2003’s Finding Nemo directed by Andrew Stanton (WALL-E, John Carter, Finding Dory). The film stars Albert Brooks as Marlin, a clownfish dad who overprotects his son Nemo after they lose their family early in the film. Nemo (terrifically voiced by Alexander Gould) is getting older and braver than his dad and wants to start going to school and swimming out into more of the open ocean. Soon thereafter, Nemo is scooped up by divers leading Marlin on an adventure across the sea all the way to Australia with the help of a forgetful blue tang named Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres).

Finding Nemo was one of my favorite Pixar movies over the years but I hadn’t seen it in a very long time before this revisit. I’m happy to say that I may like it even more now than I did back in 2003. It’s certainly my favorite Pixar film that we’ve covered so far (even though I love Toy Story 2) and the one that makes me the most emotional. It’s a real heart-tugger of a movie and an engaging “road movie” as well. This might be colored by recent allegations, but Ellen DeGeneres’s Dory dragged down the proceedings for me a bit this time. I don’t think the movie needs that character except to be comic relief and someone for which Albert Brooks’ Marlin to have a rapport. Her character is put to better use years later in Finding Dory, where the filmmakers flesh Dory out more. That complaint aside, the father-son dynamic in Finding Nemo is really beautiful and the film deals with an inevitable, relatable push & pull every parent and child eventually have where the kid is ready to grow up and the parent is a lot less ready for that to happen. I alluded to it earlier, but kudos to Alexander Gould, whose voice performance as Nemo is equally adorable and moving. Also, we have to talk about the sneaky MVP of this movie, the great Willem Dafoe as Gill. Because of him, the B-story in Finding Nemo is just as entertaining as the main plot.

What are your thoughts on Finding Nemo?
Rob: Finding Nemo came out during a period when I was just starting to pick Pixar back up in a kind of post-ironic, high school way. My friends and I reappropriated this “second wave” of Pixar films with a wistfulness for our lost youth (Keep in mind, we were sixteen when Finding Nemo came out), so this was the first one I saw in the theater and really embraced since A Bug’s Life. I haven’t watched it much since, and I still haven’t gotten around to watching Finding Dory, but I remember enjoying it.

Here’s what’s odd about me, though. Now that I have a child of my own who just started Kindergarten a few weeks ago, this viewing of a movie like Finding Nemo could have been significantly more jarring. You’d think I’d have shifted from Nemo’s perspective — a young, free-spirited kid trying to prove to his overprotective parent that they’re capable of standing on their own — to that of Marlin’s defensive dad, the one who’s seen how hard life can be and just wants to keep his child safe. But the truth is that I’ve always been on Marlin’s side. I didn’t have overprotective parents. I was exposed to the world from a pretty early age. So I think what I appreciate most about Finding Nemo is its ability to balance perspective between father and son: Neither is ever painted as irrational. Even Marlin’s big epiphany moment — when he realizes he’s projecting a lot of his own trauma onto his son — is handled intelligently and with a lot of empathy. The movie rarely simplifies the issues or takes sides of the argument.

I completely agree. I see the movie from both Marlin and Nemo’s point of view because I was raised in a Marlin way and shared Nemo’s frustration, but I also feel like Marlin when it comes to me being the adult guardian and no longer the kid. It’s a complex dynamic that the movie handles really well.
Rob: I agree that the Dory character feels a little bit like superfluous comic relief, but I also think there’s something to the idea of Marlin getting exhausted from having to constantly repeat his warnings and fears to someone who can’t remember them long enough to be beaten down by it. Nemo would have had to “Yeah, yeah” his dad from infancy, which probably gave Marlin a bit of false comfort in his mindset. Dory doesn’t let him get comfortable in it, and the challenges of their adventure show how much skill and grit it takes just to survive in the big, bad world. In short, Nemo has to be ready to face the world whether Marlin likes it or not.

I’m really glad you brought up Willem Dafoe’s excellent performance as Gill. There was a period over the summer when my son was watching the awful Lion King remake over and over again, which had me thinking a lot about just how rarely a “live action” actor delivers a really great voice performance. It can be done, of course, and frequently is for Disney productions, but Dafoe has the perfect vocal attitudinal range for animation. He’s not just a recognizable actor delivering lines in a sound booth that an animator will sync up later. He’s pitching his performance in a way that all the body language we’d normally see is communicated through his voice. It’s a key difference in acting technique, and I don’t think many A-listers can (or are willing to) make that adjustment when doing animated work. Justice for voice actors!

One of the other things I really appreciated was the way Finding Nemo demonstrates Pixar’s growth in their worldbuilding. There’s almost none of that “What if _____ but like humans!” stuff in this one. It’s not winking at every little thing. Did you have a favorite supporting character or set piece?

Adam: I like the sequence where Marlin and Dory meet up with the turtles and cruise the ocean current. Besides being beautifully animated (the whole movie is), it’s nicely handled seeing that Crush trusts his son Squirt to be more brave than Marlin allows Nemo, but also displaying that Crush still cares. He’s not a lax parent. The way Marlin interacts with Crush is interesting too because he’s learning a new parenting philosophy by example. It shows that Marlin probably doesn’t want to be such a worrying dad, but that’s just how he ended up by design. He doesn’t reject Crush’s philosophy; he’s a little envious of it.
We mentioned comic relief earlier, did you find any of the comic relief more successful than that given to Dory? Pretty much all of the Australia bits (with the pigeons, seagulls, fish in the dentist’s aquarium) makes me smile/laugh when it intends to go for the joke. I think it’s because the humor is clever and borne out of behavior and not going for a tangential pop-culture reference.

Rob: For sure. You can always count on Pixar to pull humor from the right places. I think all of Finding Nemo’s jokes work, honestly. There are so many characters and situations that none of them get especially tiresome. I also like that there isn’t really a villain. The only adversary is growing up!

Anything else on Finding Nemo?

Adam: Nope. Since we’re five Pixar movies into our series, what’s your ranking so far? Mine is:

1. Finding Nemo - 4 out of 4 Riskes (they’re like stars but better)
2. Toy Story 2 - 4 out of 4
3. Toy Story - 3.5 out of 4
4. A Bug’s Life - 3 out of 4
5. Monsters Inc. - 3 out of 4

1. Toy Story 2 - 4 out of 4 Riskes
2. Toy Story - 4 out of 4 Riskes
3. Finding Nemo - 3.5 out of 4 Riskes
4. Monsters Inc. - 3.5 out of 4 Riskes
5. A Bug’s Life - 3 out of 4 Riskes

Adam: Next week, we’re back with a Scary Movie Month Reserved Seating where we’ll each pick 5 new-to-me horror films we plan on seeing this October. Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.


  1. I think Finding Nemo was the first film I saw in theaters. (I went to see Shrek before that but the opening scared me so much I ran out of the theater). I remember closing my eyes because the shark thing at the beginning was so scary. I must have seen this movie 20 or 30 times. My feeling is my personal ranking would be 1) Finding Nemo / Toy Story 2, 2) Monsters INC, 3) Toy Story, 4) A Bugs Life. A bugs life is probably the only Pixar film I haven't watched more than like 10 times (this is, movies pre-Toy Story 3. Although Pete Doctor is my favorite largely because he replied to my fan letters with a hand written note and drawings. I thought Andrew Stanton did as well, until I realized the signature was actually "Dan Scanlon", who did Monsters U. Yes, I was a big pixar nerd.

  2. For a long time, this was my favorite Pixar movie. These days I'd probably give that honor to Ratatouille, but I still adore this one and think the animation is just so gorgeous.

    This was a fun re-visit!

  3. We took a family test the other day and both my wife and I listed Finding Nemo as our #1 movie of all time. Well, that was after she made me cross out Mad Max 2 because she she gave me that look.