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Finding Nemo
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Finding Nemo, now playing at Green Valley Cinemas, Santa Cruz Cinema 9, and the Scotts Valley Cinemas is directed by Andrew Stanton and animated by Pixar, that studio unparalleled for its combination of beauty and naturalism, even when treating fantastic themes. Stanton, in fact, is the voice of a surfer sea turtle who rides the great current that leads to Sydney, Australia; for Santa Cruzers, he's the show stealer.

Everything about this film is incredibly gorgeous; a story about some tropical fish set in and around the Great Barrier reef in Australia, it offers the perfect vehicle for master animators to display the full range of their awesome talent, from re-creating a realistic ocean floor and coral reef, to painting all of it in full bodied color, to simulating the effect of looking through water, to creating a contrast between the underwater world and "up above," in the dentist's office that serves as the setting for the dramatic denouement of this quest narrative and action adventure story. A father clownfish, played by Albert Brooks, loses his son Nemo on the occasion of the kid's first visit to school. This is especially traumatic since he had previously lost his wife and all his eggs but one in a predator eel attack, and since this dad is the clingy type who can't let his son-slightly handicapped by an abnormally small side fin-learn to swim on his own. When Nemo is captured by humans for aquarium display, dad goes on a great journey to find him and bring him home. The rest is a quest, with numerous obstacles and adventures along the way. The wonderfully quixotic companion is a bluefish with the voice-and even all the facial and mouth movements-of Ellen DeGeneres, who really makes the film, since Brooks' character is a bit too tediously anxious to sustain our interest. Her problem is memory loss, and hooking up with daddy clownfish restores her ability to remember. She is also a fish who can read human English, and thus who deciphers the clues to the son's whereabouts.

There are many fabulous scenes and wonderful ideas in this movie that is really much more for grownups than for kids, unless children these days are far more wizened that many of us suppose: for example, early on the two companions meet up with some really scary sharks who, it turns out, are in a twelve-step program to stop eating fish! Then there are touches that are very kid-like, and which parents probably disapprove of: the dentist, for example, is a terrifying place where terrifying things are done to children. I know it's true, but usually we try to persuade kids that it's not. Anyway, the funny thing there is that the fish in the aquarium provide a running commentary on the procedures being performed, by reading the dental charts. Best of all-besides the surfing sea turtles who talk the talk-is the portrayal of greedy seagulls. What gulls do when they squawk like that, apparently, as we always suspected, is say "Mine!"

The quest narrative is interesting for its reversals of several traditional plot lines: there's the not so subtle Oedipal touch of the shriveled fin, but the quest is the father's rather than the son's. And instead of excessive rivalry, what we're talking about is excessive love, the kind of clinginess that most stories associate with maternal over-protectiveness. Clearly, this is a son's wish fulfillment fantasy, that the elusive father would turn out to be anxious and overly attached, while at the same time undergoing bold and dangerous adventures that rehabilitate his masculinity in his son's eyes. In the imaginary of this film, then, the son wants dad to love him almost to the point of suffocation but to be a hero as well. Put another way, he wants dad to be a mother and a father. This works quite well for fish, many of whom perform some interesting sex role reversals around reproduction.

I heartily recommend this movie: its beauty is breathtaking, the story is, for the most part, a gentle one, and it's genuinely hilarious.

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.