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Blu-ray Review: Finding Nemo

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Finding Nemo release in 2003 marked Pixar’s fifth feature. In addition to winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the movie was ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the Top 10 animated films ever. The movie features the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould and Willem Dafoe.

The Movie

Finding Nemo. Of all the Pixar movies, this has the most synoptic title. Marlin (Albert Brooks) is a clownfish left to raise his young son Nemo (Alexander Gould) after the devastating loss of his wife and other offspring. Marlin has since poured all of his energy into raising his young son, but has also poured on the neuroses. His overprotective nature matches Nemo’s desire to wring free and explore. However, one day Nemo’s curiosity results in his accidental capture; he’s taken to a dentist office fish tank, where he meets several other captured souls, always plotting escapes which never seem to pan out.

Meanwhile, Marlin happens upon a strange ally by the name of Dory. Dory doesn’t mean to be strange, she’s just really, really forgetful. But either because of, or in spite of, it, she agrees to help Marlin look for his lost son, a journey that quickly grows longer and more hazardous than either anticipated. As tales of Marlin’s remarkable journey to save his son quickly spread throughout the sea, they also manage to reach Nemo and give his captive band both inspiration and an idea on how they can finally break free.

Oh, and there’s also a great white shark with an Australian accent (he’s pretty great).

I hate to get too serious about a cartoon, but what struck me most upon revisiting Finding Nemo was its emotional family drama. Most of Pixar’s stories revolve around finding home: either finding your way back or figuring out where you belong in the first place. Family units that are stretched get pulled back together, or misfits finally gain acceptance and community. It’s a common theme for any type of movie, and for Pixar it’s the emotional center around which they can hang adventures, humor and ridiculously good animation.

But in Finding Nemo it becomes a universal element, as all of the main characters are displaced. Marlin is trying to balance being a good father without being over-protective after the tragedy of losing his wife. Nemo is physically different but feels he’ll never get the opportunity to grow under the suffocating wing of his dad. Dori, underneath all of her ditzy lovableness, is lost and adrift in life. Even the inhabitants of “the tank” seem to have long ago given up, until Nemo comes along to once again remind them that this is not where they belong.

And that’s sort of the beauty of Pixar, is that underneath a wildly fun and colorful romp of a movie, they still manage to squeeze in more emotion, more human longing through animals, toys and robots than the majority of live-action films around them. The fact that they’re beautifully animated and sharply humorous is just delicious icing. Pixar may have a distinct and even predictable formula to their films, but as their fifth feature proves, that doesn’t mean that it’s something that must become rote or routine. We all have the same basic needs and desires, and there are an abundance of journeys and adventures that can accompany their fulfillment.

Video / Audio

Blu-ray feels like it was made to show off Pixar movies. The amount of detail and clarity that comes through over the DVD version is just impressive. The amount of care and craftsmanship they put into these films is ridiculous, and fortunately they never skimp on their transfer to high definition. In all the places where you’d expect to find some color balance issues or digital seams or banding, they’re just not to be found. At every turn you’re presented with images that are almost too perfect (nature’s ocean floor isn’t that clean, guys). And being too perfect is about the only complaint you can lodge here.

Similarly, Nemo’s English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track shows real muscle. They play up the immersion of each environment for all its worth. This is easily one of the strongest audio tracks from Pixar and adds huge amounts of depth to the experience. In addition, it is expertly balanced throughout, effortlessly transitioning from louder to softer scenes and back. There are no dropouts or anomalies to report, and it works beautifully with the video encode to make a stunner of an A/V presentation.

Bonus Material

The first disc in the set, which contains the main feature, also includes the excellent “Cine-Explore” mode – the typical picture-in-picture commentary track. This includes production artwork, early animation renders and a few interview clips. All of the content is basically unique to the track, so be sure not to miss it. Disney and/or Pixar always put a lot of care into these, and edit them to be very focused and substantive talks.

With the exception of the “Knick Knack” short (HD, 3:37), the rest of the items on the movie disc are new to this release. “Finding Nemo – A Filmmakers’ Roundtable” (HD, 17:36) gathers Andrew Stanton and several of the other filmmakers for a look back at the making of the film. “Reinventing the Submarine Voyage” (HD, 15:05) is frankly an overlong look at repurposing the dormant theme park submarine ride(s) after the success of Finding Nemo. “Deleted Scene: Alt Opening” (HD, 3:04) is an early animatic try at establishing Nemo’s family, and “A Lesson in Flashbacks” (HD, 8:00) gives Stanton a chance to recount how he was originally going to try to spread out Nemo’s origin story throughout the film instead of altogether at the beginning.

The second disc in the set contains all of the items from the previous DVD release. As such all of the items are in standard definition, with the exception of the “Aquarium” screensavers, which offer some nice, gentle animated loops for fans of self-hypnosis, and “Art Review” (HD, 8:38) which features a few of the art leads discussing the style and visual development of the film.

“Making Nemo” (SD, 25:35) is the standard making-of feature and a good one-stop for the gestation of the movie. “Exploring The Reef” (SD, 7:01) is a fun spoof on nature shows, and features Jean-Michel Cousteau. “Studio Tour” (SD, 5:24) is a sugar-fueled look at how Pixar do what they do featuring Alexandar Gould, the voice of Nemo; you know, for the kids. “Old School” (SD, 9:14) contains several quick odds and ends related to the film. “Mr. Ray’s Encyclopedia” (SD) features clips and information about different species of fish – and fishy mammals – from the movie. “Outtakes” (SD, 1:35), “Deleted Scenes” (SD, 5:26) and “Publicity Pieces” aka “Trailers” (SD, 10:55) round out the disc.

A DVD version of the film is also included, and includes the “Knick Knack” short and the roundtable discussion.

Conclusion

I had honestly forgotten how good Finding Nemo looks and how engaging is its hero’s journey. Not only is it one of the films which shows Pixar at its storytelling peak, but it might still be their most visually immersive. The fact that most of the ported bonus material remains in standard definition is a slight bummer, but they have still packed an impressive amount into this set. If it was my job to sell high-end flatscreens, I would just play this Blu-ray on a loop and hold out a bag for people to throw in their money. This release looks that good, and any fan of the film should not hesitate at all in picking it up.

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About David R Perry