Wednesday, July 1, 2009
So we've made it to my number one favorite Pixar film of all time. What is it about this movie that so enchants me? I've talked a lot with Rish about it, and, as we've said on the podcast a lot, it's the heart that makes it so great. I think Finding Nemo has the most heart of all the Pixar films.
I rounded up the kids, and, once again, we sat down to watch the next DVD. The first thing that strikes me with this film is the absolute beauty of the film's score. After Coral is killed, and Marlin holds Nemo's egg in his...uh...fin, Thomas Newman's theme swells. Everytime I hear that music, I feel an unusually strong emotion. I don't really know how to describe it. I'm willing to bet that it's the same kind of feeling that an artist gets as he looks at the works of Van Gogh or Rembrandt or the feeling a soccer player might get as he watches the video highlights of Pele or Ronaldinho. That piece of music is sublime in its beauty. All the emotions that Andrew Stanton subjects us to through the course of this film are summed up in that 30 seconds or less of music.
I've always been susceptible to the power of music. So it's no surprise that Newman sucks me in right away, but it doesn't stop there. "First Day," the song that accompanies Marlin and Nemo's journey to school is magical, "Field Trip," the song that accompanies the schools trip through the reef makes me feel the same wonder that Nemo is feeling, "Mr. Ray, Scientist," is a memorable tune, "Lost," really evokes the terror that Marlin is feeling as he desperately tries to follow the trail of the motorboat. I could go on and on (that's generally what I do), because there are something like 30 tracks on the soundtrack, and I haven't even passed number ten yet. I'm sure you get the picture.
The soundtrack to Finding Nemo (and later Wall-E as well) inspired me to go out and get other soundtracks that Thomas Newman has done. The very well known theme to American Beauty is also by Newman. As well as the simply gorgeous music for Road To Perdition. But I've even got the soundtrack to movies that I don't even particularly like, like Meet Joe Black, because Newman penned the music. These days, Thomas Newman is my favorite composer. John Williams may have more great scores to his credit (I own ten times the number of soundtracks by him than any other), but when Newman reaches a similar age, they may well be equal.
Finding Nemo is a smorgasbord for the eyes. The backdrop of the coral reef is rendered with loving care, and art, to rival any that has been created in...hell in human history is put on the screen. I know we have a tendency to venerate things from the past while downplaying the worth of things from the present, so I'm sure most people reading this blog will consider what I just wrote to be hyperbole at its finest, but I really do believe that. Michaelangelo's paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are no more beautiful than the images rendered by the animators behind this film. This is not your average lowbrow cartoon here. Anyway, I said it, and I won't take it back.
Now, Finding Nemo probably had the worst trailer of any Pixar film. Let me sum it up for those who don't recall it or never saw it. Marlin and Dory talk a little about their predicament, and they decide that they need to ask for directions. Since Dory is forgetful, Marlin decides that he'd better be the one to ask. He goes and finds the school of fish that likes to form themselves into shapes and do impressions. As they start to give him directions, Dory comes swimming in and scares away all the fish. She laughs, oh it's so fun, and Marlin is frustrated. He begs for a bigger fish to swallow him.
I saw that trailer, and groaned. First of all, I'll admit I'm not a big fan of Ellen DeGeneres. I'm not a hater, by any means, but I don't think she's very funny. This trailer only reinforced that for me. Ugh, every line she spoke was irritating. I saw this trailer and thought, "Oh no, I think this movie may not be for me." I don't know what it is about Pixar's ad campaigns, but it seems like every time I see their promos, I fear that the film will be that first Pixar dud.
I went to the movie anyway, of course, because, well, I was already a hopeless fanboy by this time. Monsters, Inc. had ensured that I would be there for Finding Nemo on opening weekend. I remember going with my kids, and my daughter, who was only about two at the time, threw a fit in the middle of the jellyfish field crossing. I was so irritated to have to carry her out and miss part of the movie, because it had been so good so far. I gave her to a stranger and said, "here, you can have the kid, she's yours," and went back to my seat. Just kidding, but I might have considered it. Pixar is an obsession, you know.
Ellen DeGeneres was actually great in this film. She didn't grate on my nerves at all. The stupid lines that she uttered in the trailer were not a part of the film. Her character, which seems like the kind of character that could be off-putting, was loveable instead. Short term memory loss is not, in my opinion, a good flaw for a character to overcome. It's not something that people can relate to. It's a rare thing, like Narcolepsy or Abetalipoproteinemia. And, on top of that, it's a disease, basically, not a character flaw. It's not something you can change by your willpower alone. But they made it work. The friendship that she forges with Marlin is what it takes to change her from a complete scatterbrain to a somewhat useful companion. And, on top of that, her memory problems make her seem child-like, so she makes a handy stand-in for Marlin's son.
One of my favorite moments in the movie belongs to Dory. It's when we near the end of our journey, Marlin thinks it's the end of the line. He saw Nemo floating upside-down in the bag, and is certain that he is dead, and all this epic quest he's been on was for naught. He says goodbye to Dory, but she realizes what their friendship means to her, and is desperate for him not to go. She explains his importance in her life, and begs him not to go, but he is unmoved, and leaves her behind. Marlin may have been unmoved, but I definitely wasn't. I was totally impressed by the level of emotion that DeGeneres put into those lines. Her pleading and desperation was so moving to me. It wasn't the first time that the film brought tears to my eyes, but it was one of the many.
As a parent, I relate a whole lot to this movie. Dads get an awful lot of abuse these days. It seems to me that nobody in the world likes their father anymore. Fathers are all deadbeats anymore...or maybe that's not true, but they just play it that way on TV.
But being a father is hard. It's gotten surely a little easier as times have changed and we're to the point that most mothers are working as well as fathers, but it's still a hard job, and it's not a job you can be fired from (well, not really). Here you are, nothing more than a big kid yourself, but now you have beautiful, innocent helpless children that depend on you. They rely on you to supply them with their needs. Seeing the disappointment in their eyes when they are told that they can't get a toy or even a little candy bar because there isn't enough money, is a really hard thing to watch for the person who is supposed to be the one who provides that money.
I feel like I'm living in fear every day of letting the people I love most down. There are men out there who are ultra-capable. Men who will always have great jobs, and never lose their self-confidence. Men who know that their children will never lack for anything. I'm most definitely not one of those men. I can't do a lot of things well, and with the economy getting sourer and sourer, I live in constant fear of losing my job, and having to come home and look in the big eyes of my children and tell them that they're going to have to tighten their belts, because we'll be out of food soon.
It's hard to be responsible for someone. My wife could get by, but my children need me, they depend on me one hundred percent, without even knowing it. It's no wonder that there are so many deadbeat dads out there. It's so much easier to quit and run away than to keep going sometimes. It seems like that's all we hear about in the movies anymore, so it's nice to see the (almost unheard of) father who never quits on his child and will do anything for him.
As a father that lives in constant fear of failure and its consequences, the most resonant scene in the film to me is when the pelican, Nigel, is talking to Nemo about the adventures his father has been going through to find him. Nemo; who has never had a very high opinion of his father, considering him timid and overprotective; hears Nigel say that his father took on a shark. "It couldn't be my father," he says, "my dad's afraid of sharks, he would never have taken one on."
Then Nigel looks at Nemo, and with a flair meant to put the same respect that he feels for Marlin into the heart of his son he says, "I heard he took on three." Every man wants to be that father that is idolized by his child. Marlin already deserved it for having brought this kid up on his own, but his feats of bravery in the search for his missing child are what finally convince Nemo just what kind of a father he has. It's a beautiful moment, and my eyes mist up everytime I see it.
I could go on and on, I suppose, (this is already nearly as long as my last short story) and talk about the lesson that Marlin, the father of the film, learns. You have to let go and allow your children to grow up. It's a hard lesson to learn. Especially these days, when your child could be kidnapped by a psycho, or hit by a driver who's texting her friend about how awful the dress that Celine Dion wore to the Grammys was, or get buried in loose dirt at the construction site he was playing in, or get involved in any number of society's ills from drugs to sexual promiscuity to skateboarding. The news has stories every night about children dying in this accident or that accident. I remember the freedom that I had growing up, and compare it to what my children have to deal with, and it makes me sad. As Sting told us, "If you love someone, set them free," but when are they old enough to do that? Anyway...oh shoot, I wasn't going to go on and on about this.
So, now you know that Finding Nemo is my favorite of all the marvelously clever and creative Pixar films. To be the best of Pixar, it really has to be a great film, because every Pixar film so far has been a triumph. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend you do so. You may not have the same reaction to it that I do, but you'll still not be disappointed, no matter what. It's a great film.