Finding Nemo is the latest Disney movie to be retrieved from the vaults and given a 3D rerelease. Although the conversion was unnecessary, as it has been for most of Disney’s rereleases over the past year, it still benefits greatly from the process. I believe there are two reasons for this. One is that, even after the passage of nine years, it remains the most beautiful-looking of the Disney/Pixar lineup. There’s nary a moment in any of its 100 minutes when the screen isn’t awash in bright colors and highly detailed computer renderings, ranging from the believable underwater flora and fauna to the large assortment of sea characters. The latter are clearly of a heightened reality – their eyes are a little too big, their faces express very human emotions, and of course, they can talk – and yet they’re also given uncannily convincing textures, from their scaly skins to their tissue paper-thin fins.
The other reason is that the 3D process simply works better when the visuals are submersed in water (even if said water happened to be digitally simulated). I haven’t quite figured out why this is, although I do have a theory, one that applies to all movies that involve underwater footage. I think it has to do with the fact that, unlike air, even the clearest water has a certain degree of murk to it. Murk translates as texture on a theater screen, and texture is much more visible if the film is in 3D. You don’t merely see fish swimming into your field of vision; you see the fish surrounded by a slight haze with particles floating in it, sometimes far away from the camera while at other times close to it. It’s not as immersive as films like Hugo or Avatar – it is, after all, a post-conversion 3D film – but it certainly is more prominent than it has been for most of the other Disney rereleases.
The one notable exception is Beauty and the Beast, which truly was a sight to behold during its limited released this past January. However, the 3D was prominent in a way quite different from Finding Nemo. That’s because the conversion was applied to images that, for the most part, began life as 2D animation cels; because the characters and backgrounds were rendered with pencils, ink, and paint, they came across less like dimensional beings and more like theater flats. It gave the film a wonderfully dreamlike storybook quality. In the case of Finding Nemo, the characters and settings were created on a computer. They were therefore intended, even with a 2D projection, to appear as if they had depth. It isn’t quite as storybook-like to bring computerized characters into the third dimension. But then again, Finding Nemo wasn’t supposed to look like a storybook.
But the decision to see Finding Nemo 3D should not be based on the addition of an extra dimension, which will set you back a few extra bucks at the box office and isn’t always reliable. It should be based on the movie itself. It’s just as much of a winner now as it was in 2003, the graceful visuals, the charming plot, and the memorable characters accessible to the entire family and not just really young children. It hits all the emotional marks; we cringe at the tragedy Marlin the clownfish (voiced by Albert Brooks) losing his wife and all but one of his eggs to a voracious barracuda, we smile at the absentminded antics of his companion, Dory the regal tang (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), we laugh at the ludicrous idea of sharks forming an anonymous society of recovering fish eaters, and our hearts melt as Marlin journeys to find his son, Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould), who was kidnapped by a scuba diver and now swims in an aquarium in a Sydney dental office.
Since there’s no need to describe the plot in detail, given the fact that we all pretty much know it by now, I’ll wrap things up with a few random observances. Let me start with the seagulls, who still crack me up despite the fact that I’ve seen this movie several times now. They all fulfill their duty as hilarious, scene-stealing incidental characters, a must for an animated film. As they bob their heads and disharmoniously chant, “Mine! Mine! Mine!” we sense that director/co-writer Andrew Stanton understands real seagulls all too well. If you’ve ever fed one – or, more likely, a whole group of them – at a beach or pier, then you know what I’m talking about. I swear, you’ve never seen animals work so hard at being so greedy. These characters belong on the same shelf as the minions from Despicable Me, the pigeons from Bolt, the dogs from Up, and even some of the cats from Puss in Boots.
Currently, the last two films on Disney’s 3D rerelease roster are Monsters, Inc., due this December, and The Little Mermaid, due this time next year. Is it safe to assume that other beloved films will eventually be added to the list? It’s hard to say. But considering that many of their new releases are given the 3D treatment, I think it’s a distinct possibility. Having grown up on these films, I’ll be the first to admit that seeing them again on the big screen is a great deal of fun. However, they have yet to convince me that a 3D conversion makes it essential viewing. Yes, it worked well for Beauty and the Beast and Finding Nemo, but that doesn’t mean I would have enjoyed them any less had they been rereleased in standard 2D. These movies are by and large animated masterpieces, meaning there isn’t much that can be done to improve them. Don’t see Finding Nemo only because it’s in 3D. See it because it’s a wonderful family film.