PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Finding Nemo (2003)

Renée Scolaro Mora

What I find more intriguing is the timeliness of Marlin's dilemma, raising his child in an ever more dangerous and unpredictable world.

Finding Nemo

Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: voices of): Albert Brooks, Alexander Gould, Ellen DeGeneres, Willem Dafoe
MPAA rating: G
Studio: Disney-Pixar
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-05-30

Finding Nemo is Pixar's latest CGI marvel. Like Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Monster's Inc., it features amazing animation, great characters (and perfectly matched celeb voices), sharp wit, smart humor, and a story both timeless and timely. But while it's about fathers and sons, love and limits, discoveries of the world and self, the film is also flush with traumas and tragedies: dead mommies and kidnappings, despair and impending doom. At 34, I was a smidge stressed; at four, I probably would have been crying.

Finding Nemo follows the "adventures" of clown fish and single father Marlin (Albert Brooks in all his neurotic glory), who is overprotective of his only son, Nemo (Alexander Gould). You can't really blame him: in the opening scene, his wife (Elizabeth Perkins) and the other few hundred eggs that would have been Nemo's sibs are wiped out by a truly scary looking, sharp-toothed fish on the first day they've moved to new digs in the Great Barrier Reef. Finding the lone remaining egg, Marlin swears, "I promise I'll never let anything happen to you."

Cut to a few fish-years later and Marlin has delivered on his promise: he doesn't let anything happen to Nemo, good or otherwise. His #1 lesson has been simple but profound: "The ocean is dangerous." Nemo understands his dad's nervous nelly-ness stems from love; nevertheless, he wants to be like all the other kids, going to school and exploring the sea on his own. Marlin also tends to define Nemo by his handicap: one fin is smaller than the other, and so, he's not a great swimmer. Or so Marlin keeps telling him and anyone else in earshot.

It is from this prohibition that the film's central trauma emerges: Marlin catches Nemo and his friends playing a risky game of dare, seeing who can swim closest to a boat that's drifting off in the distance. Marlin humiliates and infuriates Nemo, forbidding him to swim any farther. "I hate you," Nemo tells his father and then, in that familiar "Don't-move-one-more-inch-or-you're-in-big-trouble, mister" game, Nemo swims off defiantly to tap the boat with his fin. No sooner does he make his point, than Marlin's is made as well: a huge shadowy figure emerges between them, a scuba diver, who swoops little Nemo into a jar and boards the boat with him, while Marlin swims after them, panic-stricken over his son's kidnapping.

And so the adventure begins: Marlin, the most scaredy-cat fish in the ocean, must become the bravest, facing all the dangers that he knows are out there, breaking all of the limits he set for himself and for Nemo, in order to rescue his son. Everything Marlin is afraid of is, in fact, quite scary, but fortunately, many of the situations he finds himself in offer plenty of comic relief: Marlin begrudgingly teams up with a fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), whose lack of short-term memory means she can't remember from one minute to the next who Marlin is or what they are looking for. Coerced into a "meeting" with a Great White Shark (named Bruce, after the mechanical shark on the Jaws set, and voiced by Barry Humphries) and a few ofhis shark friends, they find themselves briefly part of a 12-step program for sharks who want to go off fish ("Fish are friends, not food"). Then they catch a ride on the EAC (Eastern Australian Current) on the back of a 150-year-old sea turtle named Crush (voiced by director Andrew Stanton).

As the story of Marlin's search spreads throughout the ocean, he becomes a living legend, with other creatures pitching in to find Nemo. Even Nemo hears about his father's quest, from where he's now living in an aquarium in a dentist's office and awaiting the weekend when he'll be given away to Darla, the dentist's niece (a fate tantamount to a death sentence, as the little monster is already a notorious "fish killer"). Hearing of his father's bravery inspires Nemo to try to make his own escape, aided by his fellow tank fish, scar-faced Gill (Willem Dafoe), blowfish Bloat (Brad Garrett), and the starfish Peach (Allison Janney).

Finding Nemo's "messages" for the kids are obvious and simple, as they should be: parents set limits out of love, but they are not infallible; children are not defined by such limitations, but by a limitless capacity to learn and grow; and love conquers all, even (fairly abject) fear. None of this is new, and that's okay. It is beautifully and effectively told here.

What I find more intriguing is the timeliness of Marlin's dilemma, raising his child in an ever more dangerous and unpredictable world. During the last year in the U.S., child abductions were sensational headline news; snipers were killing parents and targeting kids; the colors on the "Terror Alert" scale rose and fell and rose again. No measure of protection is good enough anymore, and there is no haven that can shield us from these frighteningly random unknowns, not even our own homes. Parents are obliged to equip our children to navigate this world, no matter how scary, and so we don't have the option of forbidding them from engaging with it.

The film illustrates this tension between our desire to protect our kids from the dangers of the world and our responsibility for raising them so they can function in that world, by comparing the fathering techniques of Marlin and Crush. In one telling scene, Marlin watches Crush let his kid, Squirt (Nicholas Bird), get whipped off from the relative calm of the EAC into the wildly whipping current. Marlin instantly panics and yells at Crush to go rescue his child. Crush, on the other hand, thinks it best to "see what the little dude does," and sure enough, Squirt works it out.

It's not the first time in the film that Marlin learns a thing or two from someone seemingly less smart than he is (Dory's readings of situations prove to be more accurate than Marlin's on more than one occasion). That Crush, a stereotype of the half-baked surfer dude, becomes a role model could be attributed to his age and experience, or it might just be because he reads his environment well. The moment marks the difference between seeing the world, regardless of its condition, as a necessary and useful arena for experience and growth, and seeing it the way Marlin sees the current, as a "swirly vortex of terror." It may be just that, but it's where we live and we have to teach our kids how to negotiate those dangers without filling them with fear.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.