The reissue of Finding Nemo in trendy 3-D, which makes the whole film look niftily like it’s happening in a fish tank—which, of course, it partly is—comes as Pixar’s once-sterling stock has been on an apparent decline. With their last two pictures—the cynical and superfluous Cars 2 and the “merely” perfectly adequate (though at least interesting, if still simply off) Brave—the mix of comedy, heart, thrills and first-rate technology has finally gone wobbly. When it came out in 2003, Nemo seemed, from the ads, like it could have been the company’s first bum note. Instead, its rather obvious excellence proved doomsayers wrong. Today, it reveals a brand that has ever so mildly lost its touch and likely won’t get it back with its next project: another cash-in sequel, this time for Monsters Inc. (And further down the docket, one for Nemo itself.)
Then again, Toy Story 3 was only two pictures ago, so perhaps it’s not yet time to pen the Pixar obit. Still, seeing Nemo again, it’s hard not to find oneself reminiscing on a collective that may not shine so bright again. One trusts it’s not too blasphemous to say the “Pixar touch” isn’t too terribly inferior to the “Lubitsch touch,” the term that signified the magical stamp, difficult to put into words, that director Ernst Lubitsch pounded onto his charming films. Emotional without being maudlin, sentimental without being trite, actually, Nemo leans a touch too heavily on sentiment, even if it does that to remind us not about the importance of family or some swill, but about the importance of chilling out and not being a super overprotective monster parent. It also has cinema history’s only respectable fart gag. (Certain less respectable ones are fine.)
Even moreso than other Pixars, Nemo is a machine, and once it gets going—and it does take some time—it’s a treasure trove of lovely, oft-hectic sequences: the meeting with the vege-sharks, the deep ocean riffing between Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres, performed over a black screen; the crazed crew of a dentist’s aquarium, who’ve become diehard dental nerds. Back in the day, this was the acme of mainstream animation. Today, Pixar can’t even best so-so Aardman outings like The Pirates!