Finding Nemo: Pixar's Latest Doesn't Take the Plunge

USUALLY THE PATTERN with an only moderately successful animated film sub-Shrek, sayis for the studio to wait a year, then put out a direct-to-video sequel. That's how we get bland, pleasant titles like The Little Mermaid Goes Back to the Well or Tarzan Swings Through Manhattan that no one besides your kids and their baby-sitter has heard of. With Finding Nemo (which opens Friday, May 30 at the Metro and other theaters), it feels like we're getting the smudged carbon copy first. Don't get me wrong: I think highly of Pixar's Toy Story and even more highly of Toy Story 2, and the animation here does not disappoint. Its computer-generated submarine seascapes are nothing short of amazing, better than George Lucas' planet-city of Coruscant in Star Wars II. Behind the scaly main characters, I loved how the sandy sea bottom constantly shifted in wave- refracted pools of light and shadowlike Monet's lily pads rendered with 0's and 1's. And when our piscine stars became dangerously stranded above their natural milieu (i.e., fish out of water), I gasped at how their shapes abruptly sharpened into hard outlinelike the cheesecloth had been yanked from the lens in an old MGM close-up. My knuckles whitened as I wondered if our heroes would make it safely back to the briny deep. Fear not, Nemo's story is as safe and satisfying as nap time: Anxiety-ridden single-parent clownfish Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) undertakes a rescue mission when his only son, Nemo, is fishnapped from the Great Barrier Reef to an aquarium in a Sidney, Australia, dentist's office. Intercut between the two time- honored scenarios (The Searchers and The Great Escape), and you've got a pretty good birthday-party matinee for the one parent brave enough to drive the Volvo XC70 station wagon to the local multiplex. Problem is, I'm that parent (well, not yet), and Nemo doesn't provide half the parental rewards of the Toy Story franchise. It's more like Ice Age, where family-values schmaltz overwhelms the pleasure of sheer animated implausibility. I mean, how much convincing do kids really need that parents' overprotectiveness is really love? (They push our buttons because they know they can get away with it.) And must parents really be reminded, again, to set aside their fears and let their little ones spread their, um, fins? (On top of this pabulum, plucky Nemo is handicapable with an undersized right pectoral flipperwhy not just put him in a little floating wheelchair?) If Brooks' orange-and-white patriarch grows irritated on his quest at his blue-and-yellow ADD-case Sancho Panza, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), that's because she's irritating. If minor players make the more major impressions (e.g., Barry Humphries' shark and Geoffrey Rush's pelican), that's because the script is emphasizing the wrong things. Nemo's best running gag is the gaggle of stupid seagulls who keen "Mine! Mine! Mine!" before descending like a flock of feathery Stukas to eat anything they espy. They announce their presencehow else?by shitting (hats off to both Hitchcock's The Birds and Mel Brooks' High Anxiety), and Nemo does permit itself one fart joke. But the lessons outweigh the laughs. In a film whose mantra is "trust," Nemo's creators might've trusted themselves a little more. bmiller@seattleweekly.com

 
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