Are you the type of person who peeks at the end of novels? Who rattles wrapped Christmas presents for a hint at their contents? Who spends hours poking around the Internet, hoping to uncover cool inside info about major motion pictures months before they open?
(Look at whom I'm talking to here. What a question. Sheesh ...)
ANYWAY ... If that's truly the type of person you are (sadly, I'm one too), have I got a treat for you! The Web's first blow-by-blow breakdown of the storyline for Pixar Animation Studio's next big release, "Finding Nemo."
Where did I come across this truly cool information? Sorry, but that would be telling. Let's just say that this month's trip out to Southern California proved to be exhausting, but very informative.
Now, a brief word of caution here before we proceed: the following "Finding Nemo" story contains significant spoilers. It will give away virtually every major plot point in the picture.
So -- if you really want to be surprised in May as you head out to your local multiplex -- now might be a good time to stop reading this article.
I'm serious, people. There be spoilers ahead. So proceed with caution.
Consider yourself warned, okay?
Okay. Let's get started, shall we?
Putting it bluntly, "Finding Nemo" is going to be a delight. Another certified smash from those clever SOBs in Emeryville, CA. Plan now to buy at least two tickets for "Nemo" during its initial theatrical release. Based on the work-in-progress version of the picture that I recently got to see, this film is just too good to see just once.
More importantly, make sure that the movie theater that you see "Finding Nemo" in has a really large screen. Better yet, try and find a multiplex that will be projecting the picture digitally. That way, you'll actually get to see all of the amazing imagery that Pixar's artists have crammed into every frame.
A word of caution, though. Parents should be aware -- right from the get-go -- that "Finding Nemo" has some fairly intense sequences. Scenes that may startle and/or genuinely scare some of the smaller members of the audience.
One of those sequences comes at the very start of the picture as Coral and Marlin -- a happily married pair of Clownfish -- carefully stand watch over their soon-to-hatch clutch of eggs. Suddenly a barracuda appears and -- in an instant -- Coral and the bulk of the eggs are gone. Only the heartbroken Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and a single, damaged, unhatched egg remains.
Such is life on Australia's beautiful if brutal Great Barrier Reef. Which is how Marlin ends up being such an overly protective parent to the curious and adventuring Nemo. Forever fretting that his son's damaged fin (a result of the barracuda attack that killed Nemo's mother, brothers and sisters) will keep Nemo from being a strong swimmer, Marlin is constantly trying to safeguard his son. Holding him back. Even keeping him out of school (yes, a school of fish ... one of the many water-based jokes that you'll hear in this picture) with the hope that it will help keep his sole surviving child safe.
Nemo -- of course -- chafes under his overly cautious father's too-tight control. So Marlin finally relents and allows his son to go off to school. Of course, Nemo's father immediately regrets this decision. Particularly after he learns the school's first field trip will be to the dangerous Drop-off (I.E. the very spot where Coral and the eggs were attacked by the barracuda).
In a panic, Marlin rushes after his son and unintentionally embarrasses Nemo in front of his new school-mates: Pearl (a Flapjack Octopus), Sheldon (a Sea Horse) and Tad (a Long-Nosed Butterfly Fish).
Nemo is so embarrassed by his father's behavior in front of his new friends that the little Clownfish feels that he must now do something to show how brave he is. So Nemo brazenly swims out into the deep water and deliberately "tags" a nearby boat with his fin. This impresses Tad, Pearl and Sheldon ... until a scuba diver swims up behind Nemo and nets him.
Marlin looks on in horror as the scuba diver clambers up into the boat with his son still trapped in the net. The frantic father then swims after the boat ... but is unable to keep as the scuba diver motors away.
It's at this point in the picture that daffy Dory makes her entrance. Voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, Dory is a Regal Blue Tang with a sweet personality but some real short term memory problems. This means that the well-intentioned fish can't retain any information for more than a minute or so ... which explains the film's running gag of Dory constantly feeling like she has to re-introduce herself to poor, harried Marlin.
Still, Dory is relentlessly optimistic. Which is why -- when the Regal Blue Tang discovers the scuba diver's mask (which somehow got left behind as he and Nemo were motoring away from the area of the deep Drop-off) has the diver's address inside (P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney) Dory proposes that she and Marlin head off to rescue Nemo. Which is what they do.
It's at this point in the picture that "Finding Nemo"'s storyline basically splits in two. Marlin and Dory's on-going quest to find Sydney Harbor and then rescue Nemo sort of plays out like an aquatic / neurotic version of "The Searchers." At times comic (their encounter with Bruce, Anchor and Chum -- three sharks who have formed their own support group in an effort to cut back on eating fish -- is a highlight). At other turns, terrifying (the moment when Bruce falls back into his old habits, as the Great White relentlessly pursues Dory and Marlin through the hull of a sunken submarine, not to mention the pair's far-too-close encounter with a hungry Anglerfish). Which makes this section of the story immensely entertaining.
But -- if I had to pick my favorite part of this story -- I think I'd have to go with Nemo's half of the adventure. For the little Clownfish goes indeed get taken back to Sydney, where he winds up a prisoner in a dentist office aquarium. This portion of the picture then mutates into this brilliant comic riff on "The Great Escape."
Once he's been transferred to the dentist's tank, Nemo finds that he's surrounded by colorful characters: Gill, the tough but likable Moorish Idol (voiced by William Dafoe) who's the leader of this motley crew; Bloat, the Blowfish who's under a lot of pressure (voiced by Richard Kind); Peach, a Starfish (voiced by "The West Wing"'s Allison Janney) who -- thanks to the hours and hours of dental procedures she's observed while being trapped in Dr. Sherman's fish tank -- has become something of a dental expert. Plus Bubbles, the obsessive Yellow Tang (voiced by Stephen Root) who just lives to retrieve the bubbles that come burbling out of the tank's teeny-tiny treasure chest.
Gill, you see, has a plan which will allow all of the fish that are trapped in the doctor's tank to return safely to the ocean. (Why is it so urgent that Gill and Co. get back to the sea? Well, as it turns out, Dr. S has this niece called Darla. And Doctor Sherman periodically gifts some of the fish he catches to his niece as pets. The only problem is ... Darla is really rough on her pets. She reportedly likes to shakes fish to death ... which is why Gill and Co. must find a way to escape their aquarium prison before Dr. S finds himself in a giving mood again.)
Toward this end, Gill has hatched a simple but ingenious plan. The imprisoned fish will deliberately try to make their fish tank as dirty as possible, which will force Dr. Sherman to clean the aquarium. This means that Dr. S will have to place Gill et al in little plastic bags along the countertop as he cleans out the inside of the tank.
From there ... well, given that Dr. Sherman's office directly overlooks Sydney Harbor, all the fish have to do is "hop" in their little plastic bags along the countertop over to the open window and then ... jump out the window into the harbor to freedom.
It sounds like a fool-proof plan, doesn't it? Well, it is ... until Dr. S installs a brand-new filter in the fish tank. Then -- try as they might -- Gill and Co. just can't get their aquarium dirty. This new super-efficient filter just sucked all the dirt and debris out of the water.
Meanwhile ... back out in the open water, Marlin and Dory have survived encounters with swarms of jellyfish, not to mention almost getting swallowed by a whale. They've even lived through a trip through the "swirling vortex of death" as they tagged along with a squadron of thrill-seeking sea turtles (who sound suspiciously like a bunch of Southern Californian surfer dudes).
Eventually, Marlin and Dory wind up befriending a pelican named Nigel (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) who agrees to take the concerned Clownfish and absent minded Regal Blue Tang inside his bill and fly them straight to Dr. Sherman's office.
Little do Marlin, Dory and Nigel realize -- as they're en route to the dentist -- things have come to a head at Dr. Sherman's. Darla had arrived and is now insisting that her uncle hand over his latest prize, the little Clownfish. So Dr. S reluctantly scoops up Nemo with a net and places him in a plastic bag. All seems lost ...
When Nemo decides to pull a fast one on Dr. Sherman and his niece. Rolling over on his bank, the little Clownfish plays dead. Watching closely from inside the aquarium, Gill and the other fish immediately realize what Nemo is attempting: the old toilet escape. Nemo's hoping that -- if Dr. S thinks he's dead -- he'll just flush the little Clownfish down the toilet ... which will eventually allow Nemo to return to the sea.
The only problem is ... Dr. Sherman doesn't immediately decide to dispose of this alleged corpse by pouring the contents of the little plastic bag in the toilet. Distracted by his niece's tantrums, he sets Nemo's plastic bag down on the counter by the window on top of a dental mirror.
It's at this exact moment that Marlin, Dory and Nigel come flying up to the open window of Dr. S's office. And -- peering out of Nigel's bill -- Marlin sees Nemo floating upside down inside the plastic bag and (understandably) mistakenly thinks that his son is now dead. Grief stricken, the father Clownfish asks Nigel to take he and Dory back to Sydney Harbor.
Meanwhile, Dr. S shuts the open office window (to prevent the pelican from getting back in). Now all of Nemo's possible avenues of escape seem to be cut off. The little Clownfish seems doomed to end up in the trash ...
Until Gill -- with the help of all the other fish in the aquarium -- launches himself out of the tank in a last gasp effort to save Nemo. The Moorish Idol lands on the same dental mirror that Nemo's plastic bag is resting on. This impact then sends the little Clownfish soaring through the air, with Nemo's plastic bag eventually landing in the dentist office's spit sink. The plastic bag bursts open upon impact, leaving Nemo free to swim down the drain and eventually make his way back to the sea.
Dr. Sherman then scoops up Gill and places him back in the aquarium ... where all the other fish congratulate the Moorish Idol on his daring rescue of the little Clownfish.
Meanwhile, back in Sydney Harbor ... the grief stricken Marlin has already made his goodbyes to Dory and Nigel. Wishing to left alone in his time of sorrow. Literally moments later, the forgetful Regal Blue Tang runs into Nemo! Given all of her memory problems, it -- of course -- takes Dory a few minutes to recognize Marlin's son. But -- as soon as she does -- these two take off in search of Nemo's father.
Eventually, Dory and Nemo find Marlin. And there is -- of course -- a heartfelt reunion. But -- since this is a Pixar Animation Studio production (I.E. The studio that believes "Why settle for a climax when you can have a climax on top of a climax on top of a climax?") -- the story can't just end there.
Which is why an enormous fishing net suddenly descends into Sydney Harbor and scoops up a group of fish, including Dory! All seems lost ... Until Nemo has an idea. Using some of the lessons that he learned in the aquarium in Dr. Sherman's office (I.E. when a group works together, it can accomplish almost anything), the little Clownfish tells all of the fish trapped in the net that if they all work together and "swim down," their combined force could possibly tear a hole in the net. Giving the terrified group of groupers an avenue of escape.
The only problem is ... the panicked fish in the net don't exactly understand what Nemo is trying to say to them. So -- in order for his plan to succeed -- the little Clownfish is going to actually have to get inside the rapidly rising net and show the fish what he wants them to do.
Of course, when Marlin hears about what Nemo wants to do, the father Clownfish is beside himself. Here, he's just found his son again, only to have Nemo immediately risk his own life in an attempt to rescue Dory. Still -- sensing a new strength and a sense of purpose in his son (not to mention a change in Marlin's own once overly-protective nature) -- Marlin agrees to let Nemo go into the net and try and save the other fish.
Once inside the net, Nemo convinces the group of frightened fish to work together and ... Well, whaddaya know? The little Clownfish's plan works! The fish all escape through a hole in the net and Marlin, Nemo & Dory all have a very happy reunion.
As the trio now make their way back to their home in the Great Barrier Reef, Nemo tells his father that he can't wait to go back to school to tell all of his friends about his exciting adventures. And Marlin -- who's obviously also grown up a little bit because of his ordeal -- is now finally willing to let go of his son. To allow his child to grow up and venture out into the world.
Sounds like a pretty happy ending, doesn't it? Well, what about Gill and all of the other fish who are still trapped in Dr. Sherman's aquarium? Well, I'm pleased to report that -- just before fade-out -- we get to see Gill and Co. in little plastic bags floating free across Sydney Harbor. So I guess that we can say that the "Great Escape" portion of the story ended happily as well.
Sounds like a fairly convoluted but pretty entertaining story, doesn't it? Well, I should warn you that the version of "Finding Nemo" that I got to see was an early work-in-progress print. And (as often happens in Hollywood) films are subject to change right up 'til their release date. So -- when you finally get to see this Pixar production at the end of May -- that version of the film maybe somewhat different from the synopsis you just read.
I only wish that this bare bones description of "Finding Nemo"'s plot that I've cobbled together to could do justice to the great quirky pieces of the picture. The weird little character bits (Like poor Deb. The Black-and-White Humbug fish in Dr. Sherman's tank that's voiced by Vickie Lewis. You see, Deb is convinced that the reflection that she sees in the aquarium's glass is actually another Black-and-White Humbug fish named Flo. [Deb and Flo. Get it?] So Deb spends hours laughing and talking with this fictitious fish) which add so much to the fun of the film.
Then when you add in "Finding Nemo"'s amazing art direction and how effortlessly the production team tosses off eye popping setting after setting ... not to mention the great job that Pixar's animators did with "Finding Nemo"'s human characters (if this is the level of work that Pixar can do now with human figures, I can't wait 'til next summer to get to see what the studio does with Brad Bird's "The Incredibles").
So where does this film fit into the grand scheme of things, Pixar-wise? Is "Finding Nemo" as good as "Toy Story" and "Toy Story II?" Sadly, no. Those two films (at least for me) are the gold standard by which all Pixar productions are to be judged. And "Finding Nemo" doesn't quite reach that very high bar.
Nor is "Finding Nemo" really in the same class as Pixar's 2001 release, "Monsters, Inc."
(Again, my opinion. Your mileage may differ.) Why for? Well, "Nemo"'s somewhat episodic nature (with the story stopping and starting whenever Marlin and Dory encounter another group of kooky characters) sometimes undercuts the film's emotional momentum. Which prevents this picture from having the same sort of extremely satisfying emotional pay-off that "Monsters, Inc." had (I.E. that moment when Sulley finally got to see Boo again).
Which (to my way of thinking, anyway) puts "Finding Nemo" in the same class as "A Bug's Life." Which -- as you'll remember -- was also a visually ambitious film with a very large cast of characters. And -- given that "Nemo"'s director Andrew Stanton also helmed "A Bug's Life" -- it just makes sense that these two projects share some of the same virtues.
So, okay. "Finding Nemo" isn't exactly "Toy Story" redux. It's still miles ahead of the competition. A beautiful looking film with a genuinely entertaining story. Tons of colorful characters. If you're in need of an entertaining night out at the movies, make plans now to go out to your local multiplex on May 30th to go see "Finding Nemo."
That's the only downside to the whole situation. Disney and Pixar have this great picture in the pipeline. But we've all still got to wait two more months before we finally get to see the finished version.
They're actually just now putting the finishing touches on "Finding Nemo." Thomas Newman (cousin to Academy Award winner Randy Newman, the guy who usually scores all of Pixar's pictures) is waving the baton this time around. Earlier this month, Newman and an elite group of Hollywood's best studio musicians trooped over to Culver City to record the film's score on one of Sony's soundstages.
Once the score and all the sound effects for this picture are finally in place, "Finding Nemo" should go from being merely a very entertaining film to something truly extraordinary. Based on what I've been able to see of this film to date, Pixar appears to have another huge hit on its hand.
But just how huge a hit? Given that this will be the very first Pixar Animation Studio release that Walt Disney Pictures has seen fit to release during the extremely lucrative but highly competitive summer season, it's going to be really interesting to see how this film actually does at the box office. Will "Finding Nemo" go on to become the highest grossing picture that Pixar's ever released? Or will "Nemo" -- like so many of last year's seemingly sure-fire blockbusters -- end up under-performing as its legs get cut out from under it as the next box office behemoth (EX: "The Hulk," "X-Men 2," "Terminator 3," "Tomb Raider 2," and "The Matrix Reloaded" et al) comes rumbling in to your local multiplex.
Provided (of course) that the promotional campaign that Walt Disney Pictures has put in place for "Finding Nemo" can get the word out, I would imagine that this Pixar production will have no trouble pulling in at least $100 million. But how much bigger a blockbuster this fish story will turn out to be ... that all depends on the vagaries of the summer movie-going season. When even well-received traditionally animated films like "Lilo & Stitch" have had to struggle to pull in $145 million.
So how will "Finding Nemo" ultimately end up doing at the box office? Check back in with JimHillMedia.com come late June / early July and we'll discuss whether this CG project actually sank or swim.
But -- in the meantime -- if you're an animation fan (or just someone who likes good movies), I strongly recommend that you make plans now to seek out "Finding Nemo."
"Finding Nemo" images © Disney/PIXAR