By Drew Taylor | The Playlist September 12, 2012 at 11:00AM
Last fall's surprise smash rerelease of Disney's "The Lion King," a gimmicky two-week promotional stunt designed sell the movie's Blu-ray release that turned into an extended, nearly $100-million-grossing juggernaut, opened the floodgates for 3D animated rereleases. There are two planned for the back end of this year alone: in December, Disney and Pixar will release "Monsters Inc." back into theaters in stereoscopic 3D, in part to promote the sequel due in theaters next summer. And this month sees the rerelease of "Finding Nemo," Andrew Stanton's maritime marvel, now with fish that really float in front of you. As was the case with "The Lion King" last year, the storytelling strength of the actual movie surpasses any amount of added technological wizardry.
Originally released back in 2003, "Finding Nemo" quickly became the highest-grossing animated film of all time (in the years since, it's slipped to the number five position – still not too shabby). At the time it broke away from a lot of the Pixar movies made up until then – the scope was considerably wider, the cast of characters more expansive, and the emphasis not simply on a buddy movie dynamic (although there is still plenty of that). It had a fractured, two-pronged narrative structure that, long before a wordless half hour of a robot picking up trash on earth, felt truly revolutionary for the still-young studio.
It was also the studio's most boundary-pushing film in terms of visuals, with a lush underwater world conjured from whole cloth. What makes this even more amazing is that "Finding Nemo," with a budget of less than $100 million, was something of a "low budget" movie for the team, after a whole lot of money was spent developing fur and other textures for "Monsters Inc" (most of which wasn't even used in the final film). There's a reason you don't see water actually moving (or, you know, waves) all that often in "Finding Nemo" – it's because they couldn't afford it. Still, underwater life seemed particularly well suited for computer-generated imagery - all of the colors and phosphorescent hues of various saltwater creatures were rendered with singularly vivid aplomb (rule of thumb: the computer always does hard shiny things better than soft fluffy things).
"Finding Nemo" has a relatively simplistic and straightforward story, which is probably one of the reasons it has remained such a profound and resonant favorite. Marlin (Albert Brooks) is an overprotective clownfish, still traumatized by the death of his wife Coral (Elizabeth Perkins) and their brood of eggs. The one egg to survive, Nemo (Alexander Gould), has one gimpy fin and yearns for adventure. On his first day of school, Nemo, egged on by classmates, swims out to a touch a boat, and is promptly scooped up by a diver. Marlin then starts out on an epic quest to retrieve his son, aided by Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a blue tang plagued by forgetfulness. Marlin encounters sharks, turtles, and jellyfish, while Nemo is cooped up in the aquarium of an Australian dentist, surrounded by the Tank Gang, a motley crew of fish led by Gill (Willem Dafoe), a father figure who pushes for adventurousness a little too hard.
As directed by Andrew Stanton, a longtime Pixar vet who would go on to direct "WALL-E" and "John Carter" (Lee Unkrich, another Pixar lifer, co-directed), "Finding Nemo" is perhaps the most openly emotional film Pixar had ever made up until that point. It's not saccharine, it's just very in touch with its emotions, and by the time Marlin and Nemo finally reconnect, you really do feel like you've been put through the ringer. There is still plenty to goggle at, almost a decade later: the way that Stanton crosscuts between the two scenarios; the abundance of deeply lovable secondary characters, like the pelican played by Geoffrey Rush; DeGeneres' Oscar-worthy performance as Dory; and the way that the movie, save for a few saggy bits, moves like lightning.
Newly dimensional, "Finding Nemo" might be the best late-game conversion yet, with the characters suspended right in front of you, like you're staring into a widescreen aquarium. (This isn't the first time 3D versions of the characters have popped up in recent years – there are attractions at both California's Disneyland and Florida's EPCOT and Disney's Animal Kingdom – that put you up close and personal with these fishy friends.) Sequences like the one where Dory and Marlin accompany a group of sea turtles through the whirlwind-like East Australian Current, are genuinely breathtaking, with bubbles whooshing all around you.
This presentation of "Finding Nemo" also has a huge plus in the form of "Partysaurus Rex," the brand new "Toy Story"-themed short, from director Mark Walsh and the studio's Canadian campus. The "Toy Story" shorts so far have been absolutely brilliant and oddly obsessed with identity ("Hawaiian Vacation" dealt with Barbie and Ken going on a phony tropical trip; "Small Fry" involves a self-help group for Happy Meal toys) and this one is no different. It concerns Rex (Wallace Shawn), our favorite neurotic plastic dinosaur, who gets picked by new owner Bonnie, to be involved in bath time. After Bonnie leaves, the bath toys are sad because they want the party to continue but none of them have arms. Rex, seizing this as an opportunity to reinvent himself far from his stick-in-the-mud image, decides to throw a bathtub rave, basically, complete with music from electronic artist BT. It's an absolute blast and an appropriately aquatic companion piece to "Finding Nemo." There's never really been anything in the history of Pixar like this brief, music-themed piece, but it totally works and gets you super pumped for the feature to follow. Well done, guys.
But ultimately what makes this presentation of "Finding Nemo" so special is "Finding Nemo" itself. The movie is just as beautiful, heartfelt, and involving as it was in 2003. Stanton, one of Pixar's true visionaries, knew how to make these fish totally identifiable despite all their gills and fins and whatnot. And the story, both epic and intimate, endures. It's a story of a father and son, about memories and emotions, and the extraordinary lengths we're willing to go to reconnect with those we love. It already had plenty of dimensions to begin with. [A]