By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com
Wilmington on DVDs: Finding Nemo 3D, Up
CO-PICK OF THE WEEK
FINDING NEMO (Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition, with Blu-ray/DVD/3D) (Four Stars)
U.S.: Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich, 2003-12 (Walt Disney/Pixar)
Finding Nemo, the first one, was that epic 2003 Pixar computer-animated cartoon adventure about a boy clownfish named Nemo (Alexander Gould) and his nervous father Marlin, and how they were separated on Australia‘s Great Barrier Reef, and how, they tried to find each other again, in an ocean world chockful of danger and delight.
It’s one of the most popular movies ever made, and the second Finding Nemo, the new 3D version, doesn’t do anything to dampen that crowd-pleasing or diminish that delight. Far from it. The 3D-tweaked Nemo uses the stereoptic process to take us on a voyage just as wondrous (maybe a little more) than the flat one in 2003 — a spectacular journey once more (but deeper-focussed) though waving anemone and huge coral reefs, in and out of ocean floor trenches and canyons alive with ravenous angler fish , past strangely pacific but still blood-aroused sharks (including an inevitable “Bruce,” voiced by Barry Humphries), through deadly pink congregations of poisonous jellyfish, dropping in on underwater no-beach parties with hang-loose surf-turtle-dudes (including totally awesome Crush, voiced by the film’s prime creator the totally awesome, at least here, Andrew Stanton), and from the mouth of a pelican though the belly of a whale.
The old Nemo was an already extraordinary journey through that meticulously created sea-world of anthropomorphized sea-creatures, conducted by our pleasingly heroic yet appealingly flawed and vulnerable movie hero and heroine (no actually, they’re just good friends): neurotic daddy clown fish Marlin (Albert Brooks, in the role he was born to play), and bouncy Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a thoroughly charming regal blue tang coping with short term memory loss. Their goal (something they don’t know at first), the office fish-tank of the scuba-diving Sydney dentist, Dr. Sherman (played by Aussie movie legend Bill Hunter) who captured Nemo for his wicked little four-year-old niece Darla (LuLu Ebeling)…a fish-domicile where Nemo is imprisoned. The tank is also populated by a grizzled, great-escape-obsessed Moorish Idol named Gill (Willem Dafoe) and his Tank Gang buddies. When it comes to quests, that other Disneyfied Captain Nemo (wasn’t he played by James Mason?) never had it so good. Neither did we.
I’m no knee-jerk fan of 3D — given a choice, I’ll usually opt for the flat version — but this particular story, with its spectacular underwater backgrounds, and its great cast-of-fishy-characters turns out to be prime material for the added dimension. The rippling currents and the constant movements of the water are wonderfully rendered, the fishes and mammals and humans are all exquisitely designed. And they’re modeled on the real aquatic articles, from clownfish and sharks (Great White, Mako or Hammerhead) to Pacific cleaner shrimp and blacktailed humbugs, turned into amusingly cartoony big-eyed variants. They also have great voices from a dramatis pisconae that also includes Gurgle the Royal Gamma (Austin Pendleton), Bloat the pufferfish (Brad Garrett), Nigel the Pelican (Geoffrey Rush), Peach the Starfish (Allison Janney) and Pixar touchstone John Ratzenberger as a whole school of moonfish — plus dozens of other ocean denizens swimming in and out.
What made the movie first connect so infallibly to audiences, however — and is still richly present — are the comical but beating hearts that voice actors Brooks and DeGeneres gave to all those beautiful sea-visuals. What a great dad to root for! What a great pal to accompany him — even if she does keep forgetting what you say to her. The movie touches our hearts and makes us laugh almost simultaneously — moving us more deeply than usual from the very first scene where Marlin and Nemo’s mom Coral (Elizabeth Perkins), have a reef confab over what to name their 400 eggs (he goes for Marlin, she favors Nemo), and 399 of them are suddenly prey to a shark — along with Coral. It’s a harrowing Bambi-like moment, but the movie treats it as both traumatic and part of the ongoing hazards of ocean life, which are still omnipresent. Finding Nemo is both funny and touching, partly because it has a sense of mortality from the very beginning. Marlin is a worrier — and who better for on-screen worrying than Brooks? As we watch, we worry about him (and Dory and the others) also.
Brooks is sometimes carped at as an actor who whines — which is rather like complaining that Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald were recording artists who sang. He’s a genius whiner, and anyone who thinks that his kvetching is a one-note samba, only has to look again at the great glib murderous villain role Brooks played in Drive. Conversely, DeGeneres’ bright, upbeat personality is perfect for Dory, and the animators keep their blue tang whipping around gaily (second sense) to accentuate it.
Finding Nemo, flat or 3D. was co-written (with Bob Peterson and David Reynolds) and co-directed (with Lee Unkrich) by Stanton, who first got the tinglings of the idea while taking his own kids to a California Marine World, and flashing back to a childhood memory of a fish tank in a Massachusetts dentist’s office and recalling how sorry he (the boy Andrew) felt for all the the fish trapped inside. The ultimate result of that input — the gorgeously vast and thickly detailed Ocean vision of Finding Nemo — and of Finding Nemo 3D — grew from that. And like all the best Pixars, it generates its own world, and draws us, bewitched and bemused and only slightly waterlogged, into it.
I‘ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We adults deserve more movies done with the wit and imagination, the skill and creativity, the joy and love, that Pixar regularly puts into these movies “for children.” We should all have adventures and memories (however short) like these. We should all find our Nemos — and our Corals, our Gills, our Dorys. And we should all have a dad like Marlin, for all his damn whining. (Shut up already, you carping clownfish!)
CO-PICK OF THE WEEK: CLASSIC
“Up” (Five Disc Blu-ray/DVD/3D/ Digital Combo) (Four Stars)
U. S.; Pete Docter, 2009 (Walt Disney)
Up, another prime Pixar picture, flies us right up into those realms of sky, flight and fantasy that Judy Garland’s Dorothy traveled in her Kansas twister to Oz, and to which little Pascal Lamorisse was whisked by his air armada of Parisian balloons, at the end of his dad Albert‘s The Red Balloon. Co-written and directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.), with Bob Peterson, it’s a great children‘s movie, and another strong argument that Pixar’s cartoon cadre is the strongest creative force operating in mainstream Hollywood right now.
If you have children and don’t show them this DVD, you should be ashamed of yourself. If you see it without kids, you may love it anyway. And if you’re a kid, you ought to be in heaven. Yet, in what might appear a paradox, the hero of Up — albeit with a kid sidekick — is a harsh, isolated, seemingly past-it and mean old man named Carl Frederickson, voiced with Lou Grant gruffness by Ed Asner, whose squashed grizzled features also are replicated in Carl‘s onscreen face.
In Up, we see Carl, who was once a bright and (most important) adventurous lad, with a brighter and even more adventurous partner/wife Ellie (Elie Docter), but who has now become a retired balloon-seller who lives in a shabby but homey old house: one of those hanger-on dwellings once surrounded by other, similar homes, but now all alone by itself in an area drastically torn down, replaced or modernized during his lifetime, until it (and it seems, he) are simply a couple of old relics lost in concrete and construction.
Docter’s and Peterson’s film seems initially about how the old are sadly abandoned and shunted aside, how they gradually lose their loves and dreams, and how they are forced to succumb to the world’s cruelty, indifference or smug bigotry — in other words, a kind of cartoon Umberto D. All that, and almost all of Carl’s life, are conveyed in the movie‘s sprightly, then sad, opening sections, covering Carl’s boyhood, his meeting with the plucky little lassie, Ellie (who keeps a diary of adventures and adventures-to-be), their joint admiration for the famous Movietone Newsreel star and daring South American explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer, at his plummiest), leading up to a lyrical five minute sequence, a glorious little montage that becomes one of the most beautiful and bewitchingly sad pieces of cinema in recent years.
As the score swells and the years pass, we see Carl and Ellie marry, plan their adventures, then painfully discover they can’t have children of their own, reconcile themselves to the impossibility of family, finally drop also the long-cherished childhood dream of adventure as well, and then sink into a gradual home-sweet-home but dull routine of passing years and a shifting, crumbling neighborhood that is finally, inevitably invaded by death and impending destruction.
That’s the poetic but real-life-ish story of love, resignation and loss that Docter and Peterson tell us in their mesmerizing five minute ballad of inevitable aging and dreams deferred. I loved it, and I very much liked the rest too: the slapstick, soaring, adventure movie escape-hatch that the filmmakers supply for 78-year-old Carl, who, at the last minute, dodges the wrecker‘s ball, opens up and lets loose a buoyant mantle of thousands of gleaming balloons that pull his three-story home up into the air and sail it away — from the courts, their decisions and the construction companies — and head toward, as we know it has to, South America! And the jungle mountain haunts of the disgraced explorer, Muntz! Who disappeared decades ago after a rare-bird skeleton scandal! (Ah, Night at the Museum, eat your heart out!)
It’s an astonishing movie turnabout, and a amazing emotional tone-shift. And I’m not going to tell you what happens next, with a few exceptions — because you deserve to have the jokes and the action come to you mostly fresh and unspoiled.
(Oh yeah, SPOILER ALERT.) But, of course, much of the rest of the movie takes place up there in the sky too, in Carl’s balloon house and on Muntz’s spectacular whirlybird super-dirigible-like, propeller- driven sky-ship –and there are chases and wild escapes, and the characters fight and slide all over the skyship’s body and Carl’s porch, in scenes that will either feed your vertigo or kill it dead. “Exhilarating“ is a word that was made for the likes of Up.
END OF SPOILER
Up is exhilarating though for more than mere (mere!) adventure and spectacle. This is a movie that delivers a well-earned knockout blow to the rejection, marginalization and sometimes abusive mistreatment that the elderly here — and elsewhere — suffer. And it makes you laugh, cry, get excited, feel as if you could fly! There’s one strict rule about comic dreams of blissfully happy adventure like Up. In the end, you should often give your customers what they want. Whatever your age, whatever our age, Up mostly does.