‘Finding Nemo’: Rescue Mission Saves & Strengthens Father-Son Bond

Before 2003, I’d wager that Nemo was a name most widely associated with two Jules Verne novels and not an orange and white striped clownfish. Disney and Pixar changed all that with their successful 2003 computer-animated comedy, “Finding Nemo.” If you’re planning on watching “Finding Dory” this weekend, take time to review this little gem.

Life on the coral reef looks beautiful, but at the onset, we understand that death is always a possibility. The mother fish, Coral, is quickly dispatched. We first meet the happy couple, Coral (voiced by Elizabeth Perkins) and Marlin (an always anxious Albert Brooks). Marlin has found a place with a view, a large anemone that overlooks the end of the Great Barrier Reef and into the wide and seemingly endless ocean. Think of the beautiful view that houses on a cliff have. Then think of all the dangers living cliffside entails. Baby fish don’t have to worry about falling but the deep ocean isn’t a safe place for the small colorful coral fish.

In a small nook below their home, Marlin and Coral have already laid their clutch of eggs and are discussing baby names, when Marlin notices that the other coral fish have disappeared. Cue in ominous music and a dark figure looming in the distance. A barracuda has come in from the sea. Coral is faced with a choice–the safety of the anemone whose stinging tentacles would keep her safe or protecting their clutch of eggs. As Coral heads toward the eggs, Marlin attempts to defend his wife and unborn kids, but is knocked unconscious, falling into the safety of the anemone. When he wakes up, his wife and all the eggs except one are gone. The remaining egg is slightly damaged, but the baby fish survives and is named Nemo.

Due to the damage of the egg, one of Nemo’s front fins is much smaller than the other. If Marlin was a worrier before, now he’s a hovering world-class worry wart. Wisely, Marlin has moved to an anemone in a more central location, far enough away from the dreaded open ocean. He wonders aloud if Nemo (Alexander Gould) shouldn’t delay school another year, but Nemo is determine to attend school and make friends. On Nemo’s first day of school, Marlin follows the class, and embarrasses Nemo. Determined show a little independence, Nemo swims into the open ocean to touch the bottom of a boat that is idling just off of the reef despite his teacher’s instructions and only prodded on by his father’s orders to return. Before Nemo can safely return to the reef, he’s caught by a scuba diver. Another scuba diver approaches Marlin and takes a photo; the flash blinds Marlin momentarily.

Once his vision clears, Marlin rushes after the boat which is speeding off. He bumps into a regal blue tang who claims to know which way the boat went. The tang, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), is good natured but often appears confused. She has short-term memory loss and sometimes confuses if she’s actually met Marlin before. One of the divers drops his diver’s mask and it sinks. Dory can read and this sets up where Marlin and Dory must go.

The rest of the story concerns Marlin and Dory braving the dangers of the ocean to find Nemo. The ocean is a scary place. Sharks could eat you; at the dark bottom of the sea, weird fish with glowing parts and want to try some exotic reef meat and whales might swallow you by mistake while trying to take in krill. Twice Marlin and Dory must maneuver through a field of doom: once through murky rusting man-made mines and once through the more ethereally beautiful pink jellyfish.

Marlin and Dory find their way to Sydney where Nemo’s captor, a dentist, has an aquarium of fish, the Tank Gang. They warn  Nemo he is destined for the dentist’s spoiled niece, Darla, who will likely kill Nemo. A fish in a plastic bag is an invitation for her to practice her shake-and-bake technique. One wonders if the disappearing clownfish have ended up in the tanks and plastic bags  of dangerously adoring Nemo fans all over the world.

John Ratzenberger voices the moonfish school that does formations of other fish in a fishy game of Charade. Pay attention to the use of the name Gerald, too.

As this is a Disney-Pixar film, there will be a happy ending. Marlin and Nemo will end up back at the reef and Dory, having found a new friend, will join them. At the beginning of “Finding Nemo,” Marlin’s smothering over-fathering Nemo was pushing them apart. Along the way to “Finding Nemo,”  both the father and son have learned something about each other and gained the kind of courage and confidence that comes from surviving a great adventure.

“Finding Nemo” is available on Amazon.com for $3.99.

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