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Finding a good Disney film

Culture | Disney deserves to be held accountable for a long string of poor choices, but if there's one compelling argument against a boycott, it's Disney's ongoing partnership with Pixar.

Issue: "Troops hunt for weapons," June 14, 2003

Disney deserves to be held accountable for a long string of poor choices, but if there's one compelling argument against a boycott, it's Disney's ongoing partnership with Pixar.

The Disney/Pixar team is not just producing some of the best kids' movies in recent years, but the best movies, period. The $70 million opening weekend for Finding Nemo, the best ever for a cartoon, shows that audiences are responding to quality, as well.

Finding Nemo (rated G) is the fifth feature-length film produced by Pixar, following the two Toy Story movies, A Bug's Life, and last year's Monsters, Inc. For sheer delightfulness, the galvanizing (for computer animated features) Toy Story films ranked at the top of that list, but they are rivaled by this latest, wonderfully realized children's adventure.

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Nemo takes Pixar's striking digital creations undersea, where an Australian dentist/amateur diver scoops the bright orange clownfish of the title from his ocean home. Nemo's father, Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks), an overprotective single parent (his wife died in a fish attack before Nemo's egg hatched), is forced to set off into the open ocean to rescue his son.

Marlin enlists the help of a fish with short-term memory loss named Dory (a hilarious Ellen DeGeneres) to find the dentist's home in Sydney, hundreds of ocean miles away. Meanwhile, Nemo plots with his new aquarium friends to escape their glass prison before he is given to the dentist's bratty niece, a notorious "fish killer."

Along the way, both Nemo and Marlin encounter an assortment of colorful characters, including sharks in group therapy, sea turtles that speak in surfer slang, and a puffer fish with poor control of his puffing ability.

Nemo is a film that works on all levels. Pixar's successful formula remains unchanged here. The animation is extraordinary, yet never overshadows the story, which is funny, moving, and, at times, scary. This seems to be something that the Pixar team understood from the beginning: that remarkable technical ability is useless if it's not in the service of a solid story to which kids, young and old, could easily relate. The humor in Nemo is both delightfully childish and subtly adult. It is juvenile without lowering (or limiting) itself to potty humor and adult without being crude or cynical-the same characteristics that won audiences of all ages over to Pixar's earlier films.

Nemo is not without its faults, but if only all kids' films were simply this objectionable. As in most modern family entertainment, it's the adults who need to learn the lessons of life as much as the kids. Thankfully, in this case both Marlin and Nemo learn to better appreciate each other before being reunited. (It's only Marlin, however, who apologizes at the end, even though Nemo told his dad that he hated him near the beginning of the film.) But Nemo is devoid of the clumsy moralism that has marred many of Disney's traditionally animated features in recent years, which have been mired in cultural relativism, New Age spirituality, and heavy-handed environmentalism.

Also refreshingly absent: a sappy original song by Elton John, Phil Collins, or any other pop crooner. These songs have been unnecessary, distracting staples of the cartoon genre. I don't know why Nemo doesn't have one, but Pixar again deserves praise for this small decision.

Parents taking younger children to see Finding Nemo should be warned that many of the adventures of Nemo and Marlin are surprisingly intense, and may be too frightening for some, despite the film's G rating. Marlin flees a shark attack and is sucked into the belly of a whale; Nemo is nearly sliced by the gears in the aquarium's filter system-these scenes are scarier and more realistic than anything in Pixar's previous offerings.

Otherwise, Finding Nemo is a fantastic family film, and proof that some good things do still emerge from Walt Disney's fabled empire.

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