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).
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.
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]