18. Finding Nemo: Along Came a Barracuda
The reviews were so good. How was I to know?
So here is the thing. Pixar has a reputation for excellence that is rarely challenged. They are generally considered to be a studio worth watching despite the fact that I have yet to meet anyone who has enjoyed ALL of their output so far. You would have to walk further than Pheidippides to find an adult who enjoyed Cars 2. But the reason that a studio still in their infancy (they have released 15 films in 20 years) has such acclaim behind it is their highs are soooo high. Dreamworks and the like tried to keep up via star studded casts and straight up theft but they just couldn’t. In a very short space of time, Pixar rejuvenated the animated family film by pioneering the computer animated age of cartoons. The answer to the question how do you become the undisputed leader of the pack? Remember to tell a good story.
Finding Nemo remains one of their most successful films and I believe still holds the distinction of being the best selling DVD of all time. It tells a humours and warm hearted story of a worried clown fish named Marlin who is over protective of his young son Nemo but has to face his worst fears when Nemo is snatched by divers. He teams up with a blue tang named Dory who suffers from a tragic but hilarious case of scene stealingitis, as they journey to Sydney to locate Nemo.
Pixar is known for allowing emotional or tragic moments to play out, trusting that their audience can handle what is universally regarded as ‘mild peril.’ When you think of ‘difficult scenes to sit through’ and ‘Pixar’ you automatically think of the first 10 minutes of Up or the scene in Toy Story 2 when Jessie remembers her life with Emily or the end of Monsters Inc, or the trash scene in Toy Story 3 or in Inside Out when…Jesus. These fuckers really like to play with our feelings huh?
But there is one scene that people seem to have forgotten about. But I haven’t. And I never, ever will.
In summary, 2003 was the year of the mega blockbuster and one of the biggest was ‘Finding Nemo.’ There was a confidence to Pixar at this time that just made them seem like a safe pair of hands. Everything down to the short movies they made to open their films just screamed ‘we are making classics again and you love it!’ It didn’t seem like a film choice that could go wrong…
So one day after a long conversation about what our friendship meant and why it was important we take it slow, a buddy of mine asked me out on a date. I suggested Finding Nemo. I figured the cinema is always a good choice for dating because if you run out of stuff to say there is a movie to watch. Also, it was getting good reviews.
I want you to imagine you are me. Please. Take a minute and imagine nervously waiting in the line for tickets, sweating slightly, heart pounding, you catch sight of yourself in the reflection of the nacho machine and cringe at how unattractive you are compared to your actual real life date…you can smell her perfume, her perfume she has put on to come on a date with YOU. You feel jittery and excited and you are touched to see so is she. You know it because you know her and she doesn’t normally swallow in a cartoon gulp, like her mouth keeps going dry on her. You agree to share popcorn, you giggle at the absurdity of the whole thing, you sit down and bounce a little in those big chairs, laughing about nothing, you whisper through the trailers, your hands brush over the popcorn, you make eyes, even kiss a little once the lights are down…now your heart is going so fast you are worried your feelings for this person are making you a trifle ill…
The film starts…Awww look at the fishes! Listen to the lovely music…
Holy shit the Mummy Fish just got fucking eaten two seconds after moving into her new home and Daddy Fish is all alone, his partner having been torn to pieces for trying to protect their family and now he is left with only one trembling child to see him through his grief and, if the title is anything to go by, he is not even going to be allowed to hold onto him for very long before the kid gets kidnapped or lost or something are you kidding me?
ARE YOU KIDDING ME???
I distinctly remember gripping the edge of the chair, so taken aback by the intensity of the first 4 minutes (4 minutes!) of the film. Then I looked to my left. She was crying. Oh bollocks. As the title appeared on the screen she let out a strangled sob. Then a snort. Then she was just flat out bawling. People were looking. I felt myself almost involuntarily slide back in my seat before muttering:
She gave me a look that I still see in my nightmares. A look that said: ‘Clearly not, you stupid cunt’
You see, her Grandmother, who she reliably informed me had been like a Parent to her, had recently died. Now while I appreciate the opening scene to a nice film about the ocean depicting loss and grief was unexpected I was slightly baffled by her reaction. It was not as if her Gran was eaten by a barracuda now was it?
As far as I know. Maybe I should have asked.
But she kept crying anyway. Even the popcorn was getting wet. I pawed at her hand awkwardly, wishing that any of the rave reviews I had read had prepared me for what had just happened- ‘5 stars! Another classic! PS Nemo’s Mother and siblings are brutally killed off very early on, not a great first date idea!’
I still cringe when I watch it. In a way, if I fully engage my critical faculties here, the loss feels unearned and pretty cold. We literally have just been introduced to these characters and Coral is never once mentioned again throughout the film. In Up, the presence of Ellie is felt throughout. In Finding Nemo…Not so much. It is just nature and nature is ugly.
Plus it is really a film about fathers and sons, learning to let go and reminding us that Ellen DeGeneres is actually a pretty good actor with the right material. It is not really trying to tackle the pain of spousal death so I can’t criticise it for failing.
However what I can criticise it for is ruining my first date with a pretty girl. Damn you Finding Nemo. Curse you Pixar. Marlin may have found Nemo but I never found third base.
Yeah, keep waving dickhead.
Tomorrow…An eccentric director illustrates why less is often more…#17