At the center of Finding Nemo is one big lie: it's impossible for a clown fish to be a single dad. Once mom is eaten by a barracuda, the species' slippery sexual identity would make pops transform from a male to a female. Now that I'd like to see in 3D. But if Disney isn't prepared to explode gender boundaries in the third dimension, at least they're offering this masterfully done 3D re-release of their second biggest hit. Last September, The Lion King 3D rounded up an extra $94 million at the box office. Four months later, Beauty and the Beast 3D made just half of that. If audiences haven't soured on Disney revamping their old classics, they'll make Finding Nemo 3D—the best-looking of the bunch—the biggest hit of all. Director Andrew Stanton failed to strike box office gold this year with his live-action debut John Carter, but at least this resurrection of his Oscar winner will remind Hollywood that he's still the king of family fare.
What was tricky about giving heft to Simba and Belle is that they were drawn by hand and designed flat. But thanks to computers, Nemo has always been 3D. And the ocean couldn't be a better fit for the immersive technology. Going underwater is all about depth and space: when a pufferfish bloats, you can see the curves shading around him like a ball floating in air. Grok the way the light plays against the sand, the sheen on a fish out of water, the deceptive softness of the pink jellyfish draping their tentacles across the screen. Creatures pop up and skitter away, bubbles from a boat's propeller flood the frame. Even if you ignored the plot, this is pure eye candy with the bizarre junk drawer biology of the oceans giving rise to all shapes of life forms from narrow blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) to the dappled width of Mr. Ray, the stingray schoolmarm. And when the blunt head of Bruce the shark slams into the screen like a hammer, everyone—adults included—gasps.
That's the peril of 3D: what's scary is scarier. And not only does Finding Nemo happily spoof Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and The Birds, it also plunges headlong into frights—literally, like when Dory and Marlin (Albert Brooks) dive into the blackness of the ocean floor in order to retrieve a ski mask. The kid to my left was confused by the sudden shock of the theater going dark. Then he started crying. It might have been panic at the fanged, zombie-eyed anglerfish who wants Marlin for dinner. Or it might have been because his dad put away the M&Ms. But as this might be some childrens' first viewing of Nemo (nine years after it was released, it's wholly possible a then-8-year-old is now a teen mom taking her own tyke to see her former favorite flick) the 3D might be intense—prep them ahead with a 2D rental.
Oddly, the 3D also serves to underscore the original's fantastic sound design. When we're trapped next to Dory and Marlin under a sinking ship, the rusted weight of the sub rattles the room. The continuous swishing of the fins doesn't distract from the dialogue, which remains great. Jokes about helicopter—make that amphibious aircraft?—parents have only gotten more relevant, and I wager it's mere months before an over-cautious mom declares her mammalian child "H2O intolerant." But the greatest feat of Stanton's writing remains its double-talk. This story of a lost boy and the searching father who also finds himself speaks to two audiences at once: the parents who need to accept that it's okay to let go, and the kids who leave Nemo quietly understanding why they can't.
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