Inevitably, computer animated films will be compared against each other. I don’t normally like doing that, but here a small bunch of films vie for the same market with the same qualities (technical excellence, anthropomorphic comedy and adult/kid crossover appeal) so it is a very easy thing to do.
On that basis, Nemo ranks well down the tables; behind Shrek, Monsters Inc and either instalment of Toy Story.
No quibbles technically. Extraordinary. But then again, the films in this bracket are all extraordinary, so it’s not such a big deal. In any case technical virtuosity by itself does not great cinema make.
As a child placator, it can’t match any of its Pixar predecessors or the brilliant Shrek. In fact, Nemo isn’t really a kid’s film at all. Our Monsters Inc-mad 3 year old, whose tastes are admittedly somewhat eclectic (also a big fan of Blade Runner, for some reason), was simply terrified and now refuses point blank to watch the DVD. I can see his point: Nemo is quite violent in places – it may be cartoon violence, but given the technical achievement, these cartoons are now so realistic that the very idea of cartoon violence begins to lose its meaning.
As a parent placator, Nemo isn’t a great deal better. One of the truly shining qualities of the earlier Pixar releases is their rewatchability factor – since you are forced to endure them over and over at your children’s behest, this is an inestimably vital quality. Every pass at Monsters Inc. reveals a fertile crop of partially buried cinematic references, visual gags and cheeky quips from background characters. Nemo is stonier ground. Nor is the script as funny – there are some nice touches, to be sure (Barry Humphries’ Bruce the Shark is a cracker, but gets precious little screen time) and while Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory is funny enough, in her I think the production doesn’t have quite the same calibre of comic timing offered by a Billy Crystal, Tim Allen or Eddie Murphy.
The overall vibe of the picture – a cloyingly redemptive weepy, basically – is so Disney it hurts. In case you were wondering, I mean that in a bad way. The earlier Pixar movies largely avoided this, and were all the better for it. Nemo charts a course straight back into Bambi territory.
Apparently Pixar has nixed its relationship with Disney (I wonder if this sort of editorial influence in part brought that about), and it would do very well to go back to the anarchic post-modern comedy and lay off the maudlin moralising next time.
Lastly a couple of points on the DVD: as seems to be Disney’s wont, the pre-menu stage is jammed with advertisements for other Disney pictures you have to actively avoid (though at least now you *can* actively avoid them – in Toy Story you have to cue through the blighters) and the making-of documentary reveals a horribly self satisfied bunch who were openly of the opinion that they were making one of the best movies of all time – which is a sure recipe for a stinker.
As it happens Nemo isn’t a stinker, but it isn’t a great film either. We’re still in full-frontal Disney hype at the moment, of course, but I suspect time will come to judge Nemo rather more harshly than has the box office.
Watch those sale bins.
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich
Stars: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould
Runtime: 100 min
Country: Australia, USA