“Finding Nemo” has to be one of the most-anticipated Blu-ray releases—especially after this year’s theatrical re-release of the film in 3D. The 2003 animated adventure has now grossed over $900 million at the worldwide box office and sold more than 8 million units as a video game. And of course you can’t go to a Disney theme park without seeing “Finding Nemo” characters. You can even buy a shot glass with those territorial, fish-hungry sea gulls squawking “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!” No wonder fans and families have been waiting impatiently for “Nemo” to make it to Blu-ray combo and 3D Blu-ray combo pack.
Nemo, you may recall, captained the submarine in Disney’s first sea story, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” and that playful allusion sets the tone not only for this lighthearted film (in which there is a sunken submarine), but for all the bonus features as well. The Disney-Pixar people have come a long way with their CGI animation since “A Bug’s Life.” What’s almost frightening is a demonstration on one of the extras showing how the studio actually replicated undersea reality, then backed off because they wanted to emphasize that this was a cartoon world. Everything looks so amazingly realistic, even if some of the elements are slightly cartoonish. Movie Met’s John J. Puccio wrote that while he thought it “may be the most beautiful and detailed animated movie ever made,” he was underwhelmed by the story and the lack of music. I’m with those who think this one is a world-class classic, and with a narrative that does work.
“Finding Nemo” stars two clownfish—Marlin (engagingly voiced by Albert Brooks) and his gimpy-finned only child, Nemo (Alexander Gould), who live somewhere along the colorful Great Barrier Reef in Australia. If Marlin is an overprotective parent (like so many of the helicopter sort), you can’t really fault him. A barracuda ate his wife and all of the eggs of his unborn except for little Nemo, who, like any adolescent, wants to do more than his father will allow. After Nemo is snatched by a scuba-diving Sydney dentist seeking more color for his waiting room aquarium, the plot splits. Nemo finds himself one of two ocean fish in a tank otherwise filled with pet-store refugees. The other scarred sea veteran, Gill (Willem DaFoe), has dreamt of leading an escape, and Nemo’s arrival gets Gill going again. Marlin, meanwhile, is determined to somehow rescue his son, and with the help of Dory, a blue tang with short-term memory loss (Ellen De Generes, who plays off Brooks in hilarious “Burns and Allen” fashion), he has an even greater adventure than his son.
Pixar broke new character ground with this film. The Children’s Television Workshop has been featuring various children and adults with disabilities over the course of Sesame Street’s long run, but can you recall a single Pixar or Disney hero with a physical disability? Finally, here comes Nemo, with one short fin deformed by a barracuda attack before he was born. Over the course of the film, Nemo’s “handicap” proves not to be one at all, and this message of not letting any shortcoming get in the way of success is as positive for children as the message about believing in your children, no matter what flaws you perceive in them, is for the parents. “Finding Nemo” is one funny and beautiful family film, and it looks absolutely terrific in both standard and 3D Blu-ray.
If music drove Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” it’s humor that propels this narrative forward—character humor, to be more precise, because the jokes seem written with each character in mind, rather than handed out indiscriminately. But detail is what holds your attention from frame to frame: the panorama of soft and hard corals, the different textured sea bottoms, the undulating seaweed, and the schooling sardines that look flashy and real as can be. Light is Pixar’s strong suit, and their great achievement in “Finding Nemo” comes as they capture with precision the gradations of light in the ocean, which grows dimmer and casts a different pallor on everything as you descend. I’m guessing it’s enough to hold the interest of even the most jaded adult.
A word of caution, though for parents of very young children. After we saw this years ago in the theater, our two-year-old daughter woke up several times in the night screaming, “Nemo, NO!” This is yet another Disney outing that plays upon children’s fears of separation and abandonment, which parents will need to address. Though the film is rated G, the opening death of the mother clownfish and a chase scene with sharks (hard to believe that the ringleader is played by the actor who gave us Dame Edna!) are intense enough that parents may want to shield smaller children, or at least reassure them that everything turns out okay in the end.
“Finding Nemo” has so much vibrancy and visual “pop,” whether you watch on Blu-ray or 3D Blu-ray, that you find yourself gasping in amazement throughout most of the film. Other than one brief flash of horizontal banding that I noticed, the AVC/MPEG-4 and MVC/MPEG-4 transfers seem flawless, with no other compression artifacts. There’s a great depth of field in both versions, though of course there’s more pronounced depth and edge delineation in the 3D presentation. But the colors, the level of detail, and the level of NATURE detail that makes you realize how closely the Disney-Pixar folks came to recreating an undersea world, with all its fluidity and bubbles and nuances of shading and light on creatures and the sea floor. It’s an outstanding achievement in animation, and both HD transfers rise to the level of the material. Both films are presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio, with the 3D version offering enough break-the-plane pop-outs to make it worth wearing those cumbersome glasses.
On their mega-titles Disney has been going with a 7.1 soundtrack, and the English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio is as stunning as the visuals. It’s an “immersive” track that makes you feel as if you’re scuba diving in the midst of it all, with great sound directionals and movement across the sound field. And while the LFE channel isn’t full of boom and bluster, it captures the pulse of undersea life so that you don’t just hear the sound, you FEEL it. And everything is wonderfully clear and precise and full-toned. Additional audio options are in English, French, or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, with subtitles in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.
Some of the best features were ported over from the DVD, with Disney swimming off into new territory via poke-fun-at-the-process extras. Example? Jean-Michel Cousteau tries to narrate what appears to be a serious short subject on reef life (7 min.), but the cartoon fish keep swimming into his picture and interrupting in a way that will have the kids splitting their sides. Same with a five-minute studio tour in which child-actor Gould wanders from place to place and catches the entire Pixar crew goofing off.
But this is also a serious bunch, and director Andrew Stanton required everyone who worked on the picture to learn scuba diving. Nemo was three and a half years in production, and a 26-minute “making of” documentary offers an excellent overview. Missing, though, is the full-length commentary from that 2003 DVD release, replaced by a full-length picture-in-picture tutorial from Stanton, co-director Lee Unkrich and co-writer Bob Peterson that incorporates segments on pre-viz, concept art, storyboards, and other pre-production and production clips and stills. Also new to Blu (and available on the standard Blu-ray disc) is “Finding Nemo: A Filmmaker’s Roundtable” (18 min.), which features Stanton, Unkrich, Peterson, producer Graham Walters, production designer Ralph Eggleston and supervising technical director Oren Jacob sitting together and talking “Nemo” in a 10th anniversary roundtable retrospective. Both of the features are entertaining and informative.
Though the games from the DVD didn’t make it onto Blu-ray, Mr. Ray is back to narrate an “encyclopedia” of sea creatures in the film, and an early Pixar cartoon (“Knick Knack”) and roughly a half-dozen screensaver-style “virtual aquariums” also made the cut. The virtual aquariums are available on the Blu-ray 3D as well.
A separate Blu-ray disc of bonus features contains a nine-minute “Old School” collection of mini-features on “El Capitan Pitch Selects,” “School Progression,” “MA Reference,” “Whale Mouth,” “International Mine,” “Pelican Animation,” “Glenn McQueen Tribute,” and “Aquascum 2003.” Then there are six minutes of deleted scenes, another two minutes of outtakes, four trailers, and three TV promos. On the Blu-ray disc you’ll also find a nine-minute “Art Review” featuring production designer Ralph Eggleston, character art director Ricky Nierva, and shading director Robin Cooper talking about an art gallery of pre-production drawings and sketches. Also on the Blu-ray disc there’s “Reinventing the Submarine Voyage,” a 15-minute preview of an overhaul at Disneyland’s popular Tomorrowland ride, and “A Lesson in Flashbacks,” an eight-minute “confession” from Stanton about the biggest challenges he faced with the film, and how he resolved them.
All in all it’s a very nice bundle of extras.
“Finding Nemo” is a grand achievement from Disney-Pixar, and the much-anticipated HD release is stellar enough to make the wait worthwhile. It’s flat-out one of the best video-audio presentations on Blu-ray and 3D Blu-ray this year.