Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Pixar Edition. Finding Nemo

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Finding Nemo

Year: 2003

Budget: $94 million

Box office: $940.3 million

Plot: Two clownfish, Marlin and Coral, admire their new home in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, and their clutch of four hundred eggs. They spot a barracuda staring at them. Coral tries to save the eggs but the barracuda attacks, knocking Marlin unconscious. He wakes up to find Coral and all but one of the eggs have been eaten by the barracuda. Marlin names this last egg Nemo.


On the first day of school, Marlin embarrasses Nemo during a field trip. While Marlin talks to the teacher, Mr. Ray, Nemo sneaks away from the reef towards a boat and is captured by a scuba diver. As the boat departs, one of the divers accidentally knocks his diving mask overboard. Marlin chases after the boat and meets Dory, a blue tang fish who suffers from short-term memory loss.


The two encounter Bruce, Anchor, and Chum, three reformed sharks in “recovery” from eating other fish. While at their meeting, Marlin discovers the diver’s mask and notices an address written on it. However, Dory and Marlin fight over the mask, giving Dory a bloody nose. The blood is inhaled by Bruce, who becomes hostile as he tries to eat Marlin and Dory. They narrowly escape by blowing up the old ship where the meeting took place.


Nemo is placed in a fish tank in a dentist’s office, where he meets the Tank Gang, led by Gill. The gang learn Nemo is to be given to the dentist’s niece Darla, who has killed every other fish given to her. Gill devises a plan to escape: jam the tank’s filter with a pebble so the dentist will put the fish in plastic bags to clean the tank, then roll out the window and into the harbor. Nemo attempts to jam the filter but fails.


The mask falls into a trench in the deep sea, where Dory reads the address as 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney. To her own disbelief, Dory remembers the address despite her short-term memory loss. Dory and Marlin receive directions to Sydney from a school of moonfish. On the way, they encounter a bloom of jellyfish that traps and nearly stings them to death.


Marlin loses consciousness and awakens on the back of a sea turtle named Crush, who shuttles Marlin and Dory on the East Australian Current. Marlin tells the story of his journey to a group of young sea turtles led by Crush’s son Squirt. News of his quest spreads across the ocean.


Near the harbor, a pelican named Nigel flies to the dentist’s office and brings news of Marlin’s efforts. Inspired, Nemo makes a second attempt to jam the filter. He succeeds, but the dentist installs a new high-tech filter before the Tank Gang can escape. Marlin and Dory exit the East Australian Current and are engulfed by a blue whale. Dory communicates with the whale, which carries them to Sydney Harbour and expels them through his blowhole. They meet Nigel, who helps the pair escape from a flock of seagulls and takes them to the dentist’s office.


Darla has just arrived, and the dentist is handing Nemo to her. Nemo plays dead to save himself as Nigel arrives, terrifying Darla and throwing the office into chaos. After Nigel is violently thrown out by the dentist, Gill helps Nemo escape into a drain that leads to the ocean.


Having mistaken Nemo for dead, Marlin thanks Dory and starts his return journey. Dory meets Nemo when he reaches the ocean, but she has lost her memory. Eventually, Dory’s memory returns when she reads the word Sydney on a drainpipe. She reunites Nemo with Marlin, but she is caught in a fishing net with a school of grouper. Nemo enters the net and orders the grouper to swim downward to break the net and escape.


Later, having returned home, Marlin and Dory proudly watch Mr. Ray carry Nemo and his friends to school.

Background: Andrew Stanton started writing the script to Finding Nemo when he was finishing A Bug’s Life. He was inspired by visits to the dentist as a child to see the fish tank, assuming that the fish were from the ocean and wanted to go home.


”When my son was five, I remember taking him to the park. I had been working long hours and felt guilty about not spending enough time with him.As we were walking, I was experiencing all this pent up emotion and thinking ‘I-miss-you, I-miss-you,’ but I spent the whole walk going,’Don’t touch that. Don’t do that.You’re gonna fall in there.’ And there was this third-party voice in my head saying ‘You’re completely wasting the entire moment that you’ve got with your son right now.’ I became obsessed with this premise that fear can deny a good father from being one.With that revelation, all the pieces fell into place and we ended up with our story.”

In an interview with National Geographic magazine, Stanton said that the idea for the characters of Marlin and Nemo came from a photograph of two clownfish peeking out of an anemone:

“It was so arresting. I had no idea what kind of fish they were, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them. And as an entertainer, the fact that they were called clownfish—it was perfect. There’s almost nothing more appealing than these little fish that want to play peekaboo with you.”

The artists took scuba diving lessons to study the coral reef.


Early on, we took a diving trip to Hawaii with some of the film’s key players.Then we looked at every Jacques Cousteau, National Geographic and ‘Blue Planet’ video we could find.We also studied every underwater film from ‘Jaws’ and ‘The Abyss’ to ‘The Perfect Storm’ to understand what the filmmakers chose to caricature. We came up with our own idea of what audiences expect to see with water and developed our own ratios and proportions.” – Supervising technical director Oren Jacob

Animation: Animators had to take creative license with animating the fish. Fish can only articulate their jaws, so they are incapable of making facial expressions, however since the characters couldn’t gesture with their bodies, they had to only use the faces. They also had to consider how the characters propel themselves through water.

Jacob and his team identified five key components that suggest an underwater environment – lighting, particulate matter, surge and swell, murk, and reflections and refractions.

David Batte wrote a whole shading system we called ‘transblurrency.’ Transparency is like a window and you can see right through it.Translucency is like a plastic curtain that lets light through but you can’t see through it.Transblurrency is like a bathroom glass; you can see through it but it’s all distorted and blurry.” – Lisa Forsell


The waving strands on the anemones on the seabed move about using the same computer program, called Fizt, that animated Sully’s hair in Monsters, Inc.



Finding Nemo was the first Pixar film not to be scored by Randy Newman. The film was scored by Thomas Newman, his cousin. The son of legendary film composer Alfred Newman, he composed the scores for Scent of a Woman, The Shawshank Redemption, Little Women, The War, Unstrung Heroes, The Horse Whisperer, American Beauty, Meet Joe Black, The Green Mile, Erin Brockovich, In the Bedroom, The Salton Sea, Road to Perdition, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events , The Good German, WALL-E, Towelhead, Revolutionary Road, Brothers, The Help, The Debt, The Iron Lady, The Adjustment Bureau, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Skyfall, Side Effects, Saving Mr. Banks, The Judge, Get on Up, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and Passengers. He has fourteen Academy Award Nominations.

Voice Cast:

Albert Brooks as Marlin. He received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Broadcast News. He has directed, written, and starred in several comedy films, such as Modern Romance, Lost in America, Defending Your Life andDrive. He also voiced a role in The Simpsons Movie. Ellen DeGeneres as Dory. 1 She started as a stand-up comic in the early 1980s, including an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. As a film actress, DeGeneres starred in Mr. Wrong, EDtv, and The Love Letter. She starred in two television sitcoms, Ellen 2 from 1994 to 1998, and The Ellen Show from 2001 to 2002. She has hosted her syndicated TV talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, since 2003. DeGeneres has hosted the Academy Awards, Grammy Awards, and the Primetime Emmys. She has won 30 Emmys and 20 People’s Choice Awards. In 2016, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Alexander Gould as Nemo. Gould made his television debut in Freaks and Geeks and feature film debut They. He played Shane Botwin in Showtime’s Weeds. Willem Dafoe as Gill. He is a founding member of experimental theater company The Wooster Group. He had his first leading role in The Loveless. He appeared Streets of Fire, To Live and Die in L.A., Platoon, 3 The Last Temptation of Christ, Mississippi Burning, Born on the Fourth of July, Wild at Heart, Light Sleeper, Body of Evidence, Clear and Present Danger, The English Patient, Speed 2: Cruise Control, The Boondock Saints, Shadow of the Vampire, 4 Spider-Man, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, XXX: State of the Union, Antichrist, The Fault in Our Stars, John Wick, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Great Wall, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Florida Project 5 Dafoe has also had voice-over roles in Fantastic Mr. Fox, John Carter, and Death Note.

Allison Janney as Peach. Her breakthrough role was C. J. Cregg on The West Wing, for which she received four Primetime Emmy Awards. She won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for Masters of Sex. She won two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Mom. Her film roles include Private Parts, The Object of My Affection, Primary Colors, Drop Dead Gorgeous, 10 Things I Hate About You, American Beauty, Nurse Betty, The Hours, Over the Hedge, Hairspray, Juno, The Way, Way Back, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Tammy, Get on Up, Spy, Minions, The Girl on the Train, and Tallulah. In 2017, she played LaVona Golden in I, Tonya. 6 Stephen Root as Bubbles. He is best known as Jimmy James on the TV sitcom NewsRadio, as Milton Waddams in the film Office Space, and as the voices of Bill Dauterive and Buck Strickland in the animated series King of the Hill. His other roles have included appearances in Star Trek: The Next Generation, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, DodgeBall, Get Out, Idiocracy, From the Earth to the Moon, The Path to 9/11, Ice Age, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Tripping the Rift, Batman: The Brave and the Bold, True Blood, Pushing Daisies, The Men Who Stare at Goats, 24, Justified, The Conspirator, and Boardwalk Empire.

Austin Pendleton as Gurgle. He made his Broadway debut in Fiddler on the Roof and has since become a respected theatrical director and acting coach. His film appearances include What’s Up, Doc?, The Front Page, The Muppet Movie, Short Circuit, My Cousin Vinny, Searching for Bobby Fischer, and The Mirror Has Two Faces. Vicki Lewis as Deb/Flo. She is best known for her role as Beth in the NBC sitcom NewsRadio. Her film appearances include roles in MouseHunt, Godzilla, Pushing Tin, California Dreaming, Den Brother. Her voice acting career includes characters in Mission Hill, Justice League Heroes, Rugrats Pre-School Daze, King of the Hill, Hercules: The Animated Series, An Extremely Goofy Movie, Finding Nemo, Phineas and Ferb, and Justice League: The New Frontier.

Geoffrey Rush 7 as Nigel. He made his breakthrough performance in Shine, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. He appeared in Les Misérables, Elizabeth, Shakespeare in Love, 8 House on Haunted Hill, Quills, 9 the Pirates of the Caribbean series, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, 10 Munich, and The King’s Speech, 11 Rush made his Broadway debut in a re-staging of Exit the King, earning him the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play. 12 Elizabeth Perkins as Coral. Her film roles have included About Last Night…, Big, The Flintstones, Miracle on 34th Street, and Avalon. She is known for her role as Celia Hodes in the Showtime TV series Weeds, for which she received three Primetime Emmy nominations and two Golden Globe nominations.

Barry Humphries as Bruce. He is best known as his aler-ego Dame Edna. His other appearances includeBedazzled, Shock Treatment, Spice World The Movie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.

Eric Bana as Anchor. He began his career in the sketch comedy series Full Frontal. He appeared in Black Hawk Down, Hulk, Troy, Munich, The Other Boleyn Girl, Star Trek, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Lone Survivor and Deliver Us from Evil. Bruce Spence as Chum. He is best known for his roles in Mad Max 2, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Legend of the Seeker, Stork, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Matrix Revolutions, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and Inspector Gadget 2.

Bill Hunter 13 as The Dentist. Some of his most notable movie roles include Newsfront, Gallipoli, The Dismissal, Scales of Justice, Strictly Ballroom, Muriel’s Wedding, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Australia. He also provided the voice of Bubo in Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. Erik Per Sullivan as Sheldon. He is best known for his role as Dewey, the younger brother to middle child Malcolm, on the Fox series Malcolm in the Middle.

Brad Garrett returns as Bloat, Joe Ranft returns as Jacques, Bob Peterson returns as Mr. Ray, and director Andrew Stanton plays Crush and the seagulls.

Where in the World is John Ratzenberger? : John plays the school of moonfish.


Pizza Planet Truck When Gil is thinking ahead about how he and the fish will escape, as the camera pans toward and out the window, the Pizza Planet truck can be seen on the outside.


A113: The dentist’s camera’s model number is A-113.


Critical Reception:

  • Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars, calling it “one of those rare movies where I wanted to sit in the front row and let the images wash out to the edges of my field of vision”.
  • Broadway star Nathan Lane, who was the voice of Timon the meerkat in The Lion King, has said Finding Nemo was his favorite animated film.
  • Ed Park of The Village Voice gave the film a positive review, saying “It’s an ocean of eye candy that tastes fresh even in this ADD-addled era of SpongeBob SquarePants.”
  • Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune gave the film four out of four stars, saying “You connect to these sea creatures as you rarely do with humans in big-screen adventures. The result: a true sunken treasure.”
  • Hazel-Dawn Dumpert of LA Weekly gave the film a positive review, saying “As gorgeous a film as Disney’s ever put out, with astonishing qualities of light, movement, surface and color at the service of the best professional imaginations money can buy.”
  • Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald gave the film four out of four stars, saying “Parental anxiety may not be the kind of stuff children’s films are usually made of, but this perfectly enchanting movie knows how to cater to its kiddie audience without condescending to them.”

Finding Nemo won the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture

Legacy: Finding Nemo has inspired numerous attractions:


  • Turtle Talk with Crush, which opened at Epcot, Disney California Adventure Park, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Tokyo DisneySea
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage in Disneyland 14
  • The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot
  • Finding Nemo – The Musical, in Disney’s Animal Kingdom
  • Crush’s Coaster at Walt Disney Studios Park.

Video Games:


A video game based on the film was released in 2003, for PC, Xbox, PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, and Game Boy Advance. A Game Boy Advance sequel, titled Finding Nemo: The Continuing Adventures, was released in 2004.

My take: This is such a gorgeous film, they really outdid themselves. Dory never gets old, and Degeneres’s enthusiasm really makes it work.

Next Week: Brother Bear. It’s going to get rough for a bit