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Teeth of the Sea

Pixar's beautiful 'Finding Nemo' is full of rainbow colors--and some shadows

By Richard von Busack

IN CHILDHOOD, I couldn't tell the difference between a painting and a photograph, and I wonder if that's true for other children--that might explain why children take cartoons so seriously. In Finding Nemo, the new effort by Emeryville's Pixar Studios, the illusion of vastness in coral reefs and undersea schools of fish stops seeming like an illusion. The film is so technically brilliant that you stop thinking of it as a cartoon. Director/writer Andrew Stanton links this still-startling computer animation with a funny but sensitive story. Finding Nemo is about the agony of a parent living in fear of something bad happening to a child--a parent who is too panicked to let that child to explore and learn.

Nemo (the voice of Alexander Gould), a small clown fish, is the only son of the fussy, overprotective Marlin (Albert Brooks). One day, defying his dad's orders, Nemo swims away from the reef. Scuba divers scoop him up and take him to an aquarium in a Sydney dentist's office. The fearful Marlin makes a transoceanic journey, dodging all the creatures anxious to eat him or sting him. Meanwhile, Nemo does his best to escape the aquarium. The dentist's daughter, a beastly little girl who intends to kill her pet fish, is about to take him home.

The closest thing to a villain in Finding Nemo is a trio of sharks in recovery from fish-eating (one is voiced by Eric Bana). The film also features a flock of ravenous moronic seagulls, that, like some toddlers, only know one word: "Mine!" Brooks' nervous Marlin has an excellent reason for his fears, as seen in an opening that sucker punches the audience when they least expect it. Pixar's ability to pack emotion into these feature cartoons is unrivaled. But in Finding Nemo, the female side of the film seems a little frayed. Ellen DeGeneres does the voice of Dory, an electric-blue tang fish that becomes Marlin's reluctant sidekick. She suffers from short-term memory loss. Though this trait is meant to be sweet, it's actually disturbing. Dory is a little less like Gracie Allen and more like an Alzheimer's patient. You can sympathize with Marlin when he seeks to brush her off with Brooks' passive-aggressive double talk ("It's because I like you that I don't want to be with you. It's a complicated situation").

The French title for the film Jaws is The Teeth of the Sea. Similarly, there's nothing toothless in Finding Nemo, with its shades of horror and pathos along with the comedy. Ultimately, the tropical colors become wearisome. Dory and Marlin head into the depths of the sea for a blackout scene, where they're about to be disturbed by the light from a deep-sea bioluminescent fish. I would have preferred the dark for a second, glad to have a break from the shocking pinks and day-glo oranges. Impressive as it is, Finding Nemo is glutting in a way the other Pixars aren't.

Finding Nemo (G; 101 min.), directed by Andrew Stanton, written by Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds and starring the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres and Alexander Gould , opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the May 29-June 4, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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