Finding Nemo is kind of a big deal. Financial success. Critical acclaim. Industry recognition. Merchandising longevity. The alpha grandpa has Finding Nemo keys. Our toddler got a Finding Nemo sticker after staring down the phlebotomist’s needle with steely Clint Eastwood eyes. It was pretty much inevitable that we’d watch it. It was a family first.
Finding Nemo is crisply animated and brightly colored. That along with the brand recognition made identifying and empathizing with Nemo relatively easy. Still, the similarity between Nemo and Martin made differentiating them somewhat difficult. I had to remind our toddler that Martin wasn’t Nemo for about half the movie. By the end, though, it seemed sorted. The separated environments had done their jobs. Nemo’s underdeveloped fin was probably more necessary visually than it was in terms of the story. Nemo’s trials are really those of a child learning to act on his own.
Those moments where he struggles to break free from Martin or overcome a challenge alone resonated, unsurprisingly, with a two year old enduring the same experiences.
There’s a scene where Nemo gets stuck in an intake tube. This is the scene that hooked our toddler. Make no mistake, this was hella scary. Mom’s lap scary. Hand wringing scary. Even absurdly cute foot wringing scary. But when Nemo finally wriggled free, a long held breath released in a yell. “Yay! He did it! Nemo did it, Dada!” That was when I knew we’d be watching this one again. And, as of this writing, we’ve almost made it through a second time.
None of the frightening parts have lost their impact. Finding Nemo is a terrifying movie. It opens with a body count that makes Rambo and Terminator 2 technically tame by comparison. Alongside the animation standard loss of the mother, three hundred and ninety nine infants are apparently massacred. There are boats, sharks, explosions, anglerfish, jellyfish…
…whales, pelicans, seagulls, and Shermans. The ocean is a vast gauntlet of monsters and deathtraps. The movie was a cycle resulting repeatedly in a tiny tense ball of wide eyed vibration inching toward one parent or the other. “No.” “No way.” “No no no.” Out loud. Inaudible. Somehow inexhaustible.
Finding Nemo is beautiful and terrible in all the right ways. The searching parent and the struggling child touched something primal and wonderful in our toddler’s imagination. The reunion of the two was a joyous occasion that netted me an unearned hug.
The near constant terror tended to inspire empathy rather than outbursts or a desire to turn away. So that’s cool. It’s a kettle of fish, but it’s a fine one.