My Feature Favorites: Finding Nemo

      22 Comments on My Feature Favorites: Finding Nemo
All images © 2003 Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios.

Simplicity of story.

If anyone ever questions why I love Pixar’s Finding Nemo so damn much, this is my answer.

The basic story is so simple. And they do so much with it.

When planning their short films, I used to tell students there are two ways to tell a story. You can ‘enjoy the journey’ or you can ‘lead up to a great finale’.

Finding Nemo is a terrific example of enjoying the journey. Do we really think it won’t be a happy ending? Of course not. In a story like this we can pretty much assume everything will turn out just fine.

That’s not the point

It’s what happens along the way that makes it so great.

So if you are planning your own short (or long) story, remember that. If you don’t have a super satisfying ending that will knock the socks off your audience, you can always make the journey one heck of a great ride.

I’m over-simplifying things a bit, but I hope you get what I mean.

Same deal as my other feature favorites. No story summary or anything, I’m just digging in to my favorite bits of Finding Nemo.

Let’s Roll.

It’s gorgeous. Look at the image up top. The whole underwater world is so beautiful and believable. Makes you want to take up scuba diving (if I didn’t have such a nasty fear of suffocation).

Starting the film with a mass murder. Basically. Marlin’s wife and all but one of his little kid-eggs are eaten by a nasty barracuda within the first 5 minutes of the film. Horrible. And risky. But it worked…you now have our attention Finding Nemo.

Nice use of transitions. There are different kinds of transitions to get you from one scene to another. One of these is the cross-dissolve. One cool way of using a cross-dissolve is to dissolve between similar shot compositions.

We are on the close shot of Marlin holding the little cracked egg, which is the end of a very powerful sequence. We need a little time to absorb what has happened before continuing the story. It dissolves to the moon as seen from underwater, the circles are in the same position in the frame. Then it has the opening credits and touching music.

When it transitions yet again (to the sun) and a young Nemo waking up his father for school, we’re ready to be cheered up. Once you know about these techniques, you start to see them everywhere. Keep an eye out.

The introduction of ‘the mask’. The mask turns into a very important part of the story and we really need to see it. Not to mention we feel how scary this must look to little Nemo. Show the audience what it needs to see. Always.

When Marlin meets Dory. The whole sequence is a fun introduction to Dory and her short term memory loss. The line “Hmm…where are they?” still cracks me up. Great use of silence and pauses in this scene.

Our first look at Bruce the shark. Too awesome. Fantastic character design and detail on him.

When Dory says “Es-cap-eh”. (I’d type a accent but I don’t know how). This is our first glimpse that she can read. Very important to the story. Of course there’s no logical explanation of how she learned to read, but why get into all that crap? Spoils the fun.




Do not attempt this in 2D.

Creepiest. Alien-like-fish. Ever. To think things like this exist is real life, is too wild.

This double reflection shot. So real (and I assume a challenge to duplicate). Plus the aquarium scenes aren’t getting much attention. (Sorry about that Gill and company).

When Dory ‘speaks whale’. I saw this movie three or four times in the theatre and laughed out loud every single time at this sequence.

I think this single-handedly revived Ellen DeGeneres’ career. Not to mention the fantastic character animation and acting. Bravo.

The ‘trapped inside the whale’ sequence. For two great life lessons it teaches. When Marlin says he promised he wouldn’t let anything happen to Nemo. Dory (in her infinite wisdom) says that was a funny thing to promise because, “You can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.” Love that.

Then when they are hanging from the whale’s tongue and Dory says they have to let go. Marlin says, “How do you know something bad isn’t going to happen?”

Dory pauses and says, “I don’t!” This is where Marlin learns to ‘let go’ by letting go. Big moment in the story. And for us. What are you not doing because you’re afraid of what might happen?

Darla’s entrance. So perfect with the lighting and ‘Psycho’ music.

The seagull chase. Fun action sequence here.

Mine! Mine! Mine!

Darla’s maniacal laugh. Can’t quite capture it in a still shot, but oh-so-funny.

The dentist patient reaction shot. All the Darla screaming and chaos is going on in the office. Then this shot of them all leaning in, is great. How do you add comedy/action to a sequence that may not be written in the script? This is how.

When Dory says, “When I look at you…I’m home.” Makes me choke up every time. Great animation and voice acting. One of my favorite moments in the whole film.

NEMO!!! When Dory finally realizes she’s with Nemo and it goes into that fast, flashback clip sequence. It really drives it home (visually) that she remembers everything again.

When Dory kicks ass. And she holds the uncooperative crab out of the water to the hungry seagulls. Great scene and a turning point for Dory. No more Ms. Nice Fish!

The ‘keep swimming’ sequence. For the sole fact that in the commentary they said it was based on some old fisherman story this actually happened. I love that (and hope it’s true)!

The final shot. Movie is over. A few credits. Then the sequence of the aquarium fish finally escaping. It ends here with them all in bags and one of them says, “Now what?” Perfect. End credits.

Simplicity of story and being taken on a wonderful journey.

That is why I love Finding Nemo.

Thanks again, Pixar.

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22 thoughts on “My Feature Favorites: Finding Nemo

  1. Debi

    Awww Nemo!! Also one of my favorites films. It’s one of those “I’m having a crappy day-cheer up” films.

    But you forgot the turtles! Gotta love the turtles.

    Any chance any Wallace and Gromit will be showing up here?

    Also, back to storyboarding, is there any techincal diffrence between storyboarding 2d animated films and 3d or claymation films?

  2. Friar

    It was a great movie. I really liked it

    …but for some reason I can’t put my finger on, I didnt’ LOVE it, not like I did with Toy Story.

    Oh well. That’s just me, I guess. (What do you expect from a Science GEEK?) 🙂

    Will you be doing a review on “Ice Age”? (I love that desperate squirrel trying to get the acorn….he makes the whole movie!)

  3. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Debi – I had a screen cap of a turtle scene but the post was getting so long. And I didn’t have anything major to say about them. They’re awesome though. I had the shot where Dory and the turtle kids huddle in together to listen to Marlin’s story.

    There is a difference in some ways for storyboarding for the different mediums. The main thing is to know how each works and what the limitations are for each of them. I touched on it in this early post Know Your Medium.

    Could be worth an update. The main difference is how you can or can’t move the camera. Like don’t board 3D moves if you’re in 2D, you know?

    @ Friar – That’s OK, Geek Boy. 🙂
    No every film will affect everyone the same. That’s the beauty of story. I loved ‘The Incredibles’ but I didn’t LOVE it like Nemo. To each his/her own, right?

    Won’t be doing Ice Age in this series but I can always just throw these out there now and then, since I really like doing them. (And yes, the squirrel rocked it).

  4. Lorin

    What I found wonderful about Nemo in particular was the subtle nuances of the character performances and dialog.

    The scene that gets me laughing every time (one of those visual images / character reaction that pops into your head at the most inappropriate times – ie: funerals or car crashes) is when the pelican is trying to get some information out of his cohorts about Nemo, all the while the dumb seagulls are yelping “Mine!” in the bg. The pelican quickly shoots them daggers over his shoulder, then resumes his conversation, finally tossing the shrimp and yelling: “There! Happy? You’re rats with wings!”

  5. steph

    I LOVE *Finding Nemo*!! Ah, man, I totally dig these reviews of yours. I really look forward to them because i enjoy the films but also your analysis. I laughed out loud at some of the facial expressions in the pics. This is just it. Pixar’s films are sooo funny to me! Everything is just so perfect. And yes, this movie in particular was just visually stunning. I’m always so amazed; I’m always turning to Colin and saying, oh my GOD, can you believe this is animated?! WOW!

    This movie in particular hit home for me, too, because I’m too much like Marlin and not nearly enough like Dory.

  6. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Lorin – Yes, it’s all the little things that make it great. Especially when you think it was a mostly a bunch of ‘acting faces’ (and fins). Really speaks to how important the eyes are…for any character.

    I had also screen capped the seagulls from that scene you’re talking about. But used the beaks and sail one instead. 🙂

    @ Steph – I thought you’d like this one. It is just so damn gorgeous.

    And look how Marlin changed in the end. That’s what we should take away from it. I mean you wouldn’t want to be *completely* like Dory either…we’d never get any work done! (Now where did I put my computer… ) 🙂

  7. Pete

    I like what you say about journey movies or great finale movies. I agree you can pretty much assume that nemo will be fine if you remove yourself from the movie, but I still think it has a strong finale, and relies on it.

    I’m not referring to the action sequence when all the fish are swimming against the net, but the transformation that marlin has gone through, i think that’s the main thing that the audience questions throughout and really get satisfaction from at the end when marlin learns to trust nemo.

    That’s the main thing I get from the film anyways

  8. kasana

    Success is not Destination but Journey. And I don’t have second opinion about Journey of Finding Nemo. Its Beautiful. I enjoyed it a lot.
    Bruce Sequence is my favourite. This Movie is for all age group. I also liked the transitions.

    In India this movie dubbed in Hindi like other animated movies. And I have witnessed whenever movie dubbed in another language, its lose its charm. But this movie is exception. This movie is so good that I enjoyed in both Hindi & English.

    And about that Alien like Fish. This is AnglerFish. And I heard that when Pixar researching on this movie, very few Images ( like 3 or 4) were available of AnglerFish. I may be wrong on this information but I believe. Just now I googled ‘AnglerFish’ images and today also these are very less. Salute to Pixar,The amount of research they do.

    Karen, your view on Storytelling are very helpful. Now days I’m enjoying movies more and more. I guess you know
    Kung-Fu-Panda DVD is releasing on 9th Nov. with Sequel ‘Secret of the Furious Five.’
    I wish you’ll share your view about Kung-Fu-Panda also.


  9. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Pete – Yup, all good points. Like I said, I was simplifying things a bit. My little theory really works better for very short films (30 sec.-5min. kind of things). Obviously feature films will use both. There *has* to be a journey and a satisfying ending. But I think certain films will lean to one side or another for what really ‘sticks’ with us.

    You’re right…the big moment at the end wasn’t the net scene but when Marlin let Nemo go (to tell the other fish). That was the turning point for him and the net was just the vehicle.

    But when I look back on the movie it’s *not* the ending that ‘sticks with me’. It was the whole journey. Marlin came to that point from all the adventures he had and what he learned from each.

    Take a movie like (sorry for the live action reference, but it’s a good one) ‘Shawshank Redemption’. It had a journey too. But what sticks with the audience is the ending. The whole journey led up to that super satisfying ending and that’s what resonates with us when it’s over.

    I would include The Iron Giant on this side of things too. The ending stays with you even though there was a fun journey. With these two films you couldn’t quite ‘guess’ where it was going. With Nemo you kind of could, but it was fine because of the strong journey. Does that make sense?

    That’s my theory anyway (for what it’s worth). 🙂

    @ Kasana -Thanks for all the fun fish facts! I always wonder if the movies keep their magic when translated into other languages. It must not be as good when they use very ‘generic’ voices. Glad to hear Nemo was just as good.

    And yes, I probably will do one for ‘Kung Fu Panda’. Too tempting not too. I didn’t know there was a sequel…though I’m not surprised. Thanks for the info. 🙂

  10. t.sterling

    Thanks for this review and especially about making a story simple. I’m writing a story that has a journey, and now, thanks to you, I can pack up the journey with lots of fun and exciting events, with a somewhat non-exciting ending. Not that it will be a boring ending, but like you’re saying about Nemo, the journey will be what sticks with the auidence.

    As for Finding Nemo, I absolutely love Dory. I saw this movie while I was taking a playwriting class, and my playwriting teacher was just like her… except for the short term memory problem. She was just as animated and happy that it made it fun to learn from her. But Dory’s character, I just love it whenever she speaks, and Ellen was the perfect person to be cast as her voice.

    I’d also like to say that when people are stressed around me, I tend to break out in song “Just Keep Swimming.” Most people get the reference and lighten up, but whether they know it or not, they give me questionable looks. I’m glad I have this on DVD, but I haven’t watch the commentary yet. I’ll do that soon.

  11. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hey again T !
    Dory was my favorite too. 🙂

    It’s great that my story theory has helped you out a bit. Sometimes people get caught up in trying to tell ‘too much story’ and it just falls apart or they lose the audience in all the noise.

    It’s a real skill to tell ‘a lot of story’ that still has good pacing and flow. But nothing beats telling a simple story really well. Great characters make that story sing. It’s a good exercise as a storyteller. Good luck with yours!

  12. t.sterling

    This came on the Disney Channel the other day and my grandmother was in the other room watching it. It was slight torture for me because I was working and couldn’t go watch it, especially everytime I heard her laughing or even talking to the TV. At least by her doing that, I knew what was going on and could replay it in my mind. But still… I think that was her first time seeing it and she liked it a lot. Had I known I would’ve popped in the DVD a long time ago. I’d do it now but like I said in another comment, Eddie Izzard is on and I need to watch Iron Giant again.

  13. Victor Luo

    Hi, Karen, Great breakdown for “My favorite animated films”! Really, My favorite 🙂
    And would you mind if I translate your posts into Chinese and post on my blog? I just love them! Would love to introduce to more people.
    And how about Ratatouille? Hope to see your post on this one.
    Always stay tuned…
    Thanks a lot!


  14. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ T – Your Grandma makes me smile. Animation is definitely *not* just for kids (when it’s good).

    @ Victor – Hi and welcome! Your site looks very nice (if I could only read it!) 🙂

    I’m sure I’ll do other films in the future. I really enjoy doing these breakdowns.

    And as I long as you give me full credit and links, I think it would be cool to have them translated. I’d love to break the language barrier because animation is getting huge in China.

    Thanks and keep me posted about that.

  15. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Thanks Victor!
    Very cool. Now it’s not a bunch of “Boy, that Karen chick doesn’t know what the heck she’s talking about…” is it? Because frankly, I wouldn’t know the difference! 😉
    *goes to look for Google translator thingy*
    Seriously though, it looks good. Thanks for opening up that language barrier for me a bit. 🙂

  16. cheeks

    this is coo!!l it is hard to find someone like you who is willing to share her knowledge. i’m a new to this profession as a story artist, your blog really help and it give me new insights.
    how do you manage to make a scene funny when the script isnt funny at all?


  17. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi cheeks and welcome!

    Well that question is a loaded one! And I could probably write many posts about it. It’s just so hard to put here in the comment section.

    So why don’t I chock it away and make some more in-depth posts with samples and stuff. I’m just not sure when…but I will.

    The short answer is with visual gags, timing and acting.

    And scripts not being funny? Get used to it. : )

  18. Armand

    Great, very great artice about my all time fav animated movie. I was searching for the egg scene (for personal reasons) and your site was the 1st on google with the picture.

    I am eternally grateful.

    Thank you.

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