In our regular polarising-opinion series, Total Film writer Matt Maytum asks, ‘Is it just me? … or is Finding Nemo Pixar's most overrated film?
Don’t get me wrong, Pixar is a purveyor of quality. To my mind they’ve only made one certifiably bad film (Cars 2), and of the remaining 13 so far released, I’d probably give about eight of them five stars. But 2003’s Finding Nemo doesn’t deserve a spot in the upper ranks by a long shot, despite often being named as one of the animation house’s very best: Total Film writers and readers scored it highly in best-of-the-’00s-lists, and it’s currently the third highest-grossing animated film of all time.
It’s not that it’s a bad film as much as a by-the-numbers one. It also doesn’t show off what Pixar is truly capable of, beyond the visuals (which, as with most animated films, have inevitably aged). It’s off to a wobbly start from the get-go – the death of Nemo’s mum and his unborn siblings is dark, grim and depressing, without actually being moving. We’ve barely been introduced to his family before they’re being wiped out (when set next to Up’s magnificent opening, which sketches a lifetime of love in 10 minutes, it seems even more paltry).
And, OK, Marlin has admittedly been dealt a very rough hand, but he’s one hell of a whinger, and a bit of a slog to spend 100 minutes with. Albert Brooks’ voice is naturally steeped in personality, but he’s given no edge to sink his teeth into. His pairing with Dory (who gets sporadically funny lines) makes for one of Pixar’s weakest double-acts: one’s annoying, one’s whiny and their friendship arc feels false and unearned.
The episodic narrative also drains. The quest of the title is just one isolated incident after another – escape the sharks, outrun the anglerfish, dodge the jellyfish – until they stumble across Nemo almost by chance. Plotwise, it feels like a succession of levels from a tie-in videogame. Even when father and son are eventually reunited, one more (quickly overcome) obstacle is thrown in.
Cutting between Marlin and Nemo’s separate strands doesn’t really help the pace. The missing clownfish is crammed into a dentist’s tank with at least seven other captives, but you’d be hard pressed to name one outside of Willem Dafoe’s grizzled Gill. Some serious streamlining would’ve been welcome: colourful critters are thrown in indiscriminately, building a rich world at the cost of a baggy story. And the disconnect between Marlin and Nemo’s storylines robs us of real tension: with everything broken down into bitesize chunks, I never feel there’s a sense of danger (which Pixar has frequently proven is possible in a kid-friendly animation).
Finding Nemo is not a terrible film. It’s still a fair few steps above the crass merchandise adverts that pass for a good number of today’s kiddie flicks. But does it represent the pinnacle of Pixar’s achievements? Absolutely not. It feels like it was made for a child’s attention span, unlike the greatest animated movies, which adults can (and should) watch without apology. It’s repetitive, shallow and the storytelling’s half-hearted.
Or is it just me?