As we stand at what looks like the end of Pixar’s extraordinary run of classics (though hopefully a new streak will start soon), it’s hard to focus on any single work as their best. The steady beat of the Toy Story films set the pace, The Incredibles helped the superhero movie mature, and the stunning triple punch of Ratatouille, WALL*E and Up proved that brilliant stories could be found far from Hollywood’s beaten paths. But if I had to pick one film of theirs as my favorite – one movie that summed up what so many of us love about this extraordinary studio – I’d probably pick Finding Nemo, their fish-out-of-water story that perfectly encapsulates everything we’ve come to expect from them. Hit the jump for my full review of the Finding Nemo Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray.
It starts with character. Directors Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich crowd the screen with funny and delightful figures who endear themselves to us with deceptive ease. A trio of vegetarian sharks. A extreme sports sea turtle. A gang of aquarium fish tricked out like the gang from The Great Escape. And at the heart of it, Albert Brooks’ nervous clownfish Marlin and Ellen Degeneres’ blissfully dippy blue tang Dory. The pair travel the wide ocean in search of Marlin’s missing son, abducted from his reef home by a Sydney dentist and now plotting an impossible breakout.
The script’s emphasis on personality gives it an episodic quality, as Marlin and Dory run into scene after scene of quirky characters and dangerous situations. It never gets tired because Stanton and Unkrich constantly find new ways to shake it up… all of which involve the personalities onscreen. The humor – and the danger – stem from richly developed figures, whose concerns and desires are writ large before us. The animation is spectacular, particularly the use of water, which represented a major technological breakthrough at the time. But it’s not the purpose of the exercise. We watch because we love the figures onscreen; though straightforward, their goals are anything but simple, and through them, we can see our own struggles and triumphs.
Pixar always knew how to tap into that accessibility, which hit critical mass here after the first two Toy Story‘s showed them the way. The suspense carries plenty of humor, but not enough to derail our sense of danger. The jokes are universal – emphasizing a lot of physical comedy – but never descend into the lowbrow. The more serious elements, too, don’t skimp on emotional legitimacy: we feel the pain as much as the laughter, and when we find ourselves growing misty-eyed, it’s because the filmmakers have earned our investment. They take nothing for granted, infusing each stray corner of the screen with their energy and polishing every word of dialogue until it rings true. The emotional beats move in perfect synchronization, pulling us through the story’s paces without stumbling over each other.
It’s a pretty simple equation, really: tell a good story as well as you can, and don’t stop until you get every element right. They could do that because of the studio’s development process, and top brass who want the story to be just right before they go flying forward. That well may finally be running dry… or at least moving over to Disney as John Lasseter and the Pixar brain trust pick up stakes for Burbank. But Finding Nemo demonstrated the triumph of their work ethic, and what kinds of wonderful things can appear on screen when you give your audience a chance to connect on their own instead of cramming your ideas down their throats. It’s no coincidence that this was the first of their movies to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar… or that so many other awards followed with their other films. Pixar truly changed the game, and with Finding Nemo, they made it clear that one or two great films simply wouldn’t be enough.
And of course, Disney doesn’t skimp on the bells and whistles when it comes to a Blu-ray release. The five-disc set includes a Blu-ray 3D copy, a digital copy and a DVD, as well as the Blu-ray itself and a bonus Blu-ray full of special features. The bonus goodies include a great picture-in-picture commentary with the directors and writers, a short round-table with the major creative voices, a discussion on the use of flashbacks from Stanton, an art review, a making-of featurette, a look at real-world coral reefs, deleted scenes, outtakes, a look at the remade submarine ride at Disneyland (which got a Nemo makeover a couple of years ago), one of Pixar’s award-winning shorts, publicity material, an interactive encyclopedia and a passel of screensavers. Some of them appeared in the 2003 DVD, but all of it is solid gold. And it goes without saying that the sound and image quality are absolutely top-notch: an upgrade absolutely worthy of the term.