Is It Just Me? ... or is Finding Nemo Pixar's most overrated film?

One Total Film writer argues the case…

In our regular polarising-opinion series, Total Film writer Matt Maytum asks, ‘Is it just me? … or is Finding Nemo Pixar's most overrated film?

Don’t get me wrong, Pixar is a purveyor of quality. To my mind they’ve only made one certifiably bad film (Cars 2), and of the remaining 13 so far released, I’d probably give about eight of them five stars. But 2003’s Finding Nemo doesn’t deserve a spot in the upper ranks by a long shot, despite often being named as one of the animation house’s very best: Total Film writers and readers scored it highly in best-of-the-’00s-lists, and it’s currently the third highest-grossing animated film of all time.

It’s not that it’s a bad film as much as a by-the-numbers one. It also doesn’t show off what Pixar is truly capable of, beyond the visuals (which, as with most animated films, have inevitably aged). It’s off to a wobbly start from the get-go – the death of Nemo’s mum and his unborn siblings is dark, grim and depressing, without actually being moving. We’ve barely been introduced to his family before they’re being wiped out (when set next to Up’s magnificent opening, which sketches a lifetime of love in 10 minutes, it seems even more paltry).

And, OK, Marlin has admittedly been dealt a very rough hand, but he’s one hell of a whinger, and a bit of a slog to spend 100 minutes with. Albert Brooks’ voice is naturally steeped in personality, but he’s given no edge to sink his teeth into. His pairing with Dory (who gets sporadically funny lines) makes for one of Pixar’s weakest double-acts: one’s annoying, one’s whiny and their friendship arc feels false and unearned.

The episodic narrative also drains. The quest of the title is just one isolated incident after another – escape the sharks, outrun the anglerfish, dodge the jellyfish – until they stumble across Nemo almost by chance. Plotwise, it feels like a succession of levels from a tie-in videogame. Even when father and son are eventually reunited, one more (quickly overcome) obstacle is thrown in.

Cutting between Marlin and Nemo’s separate strands doesn’t really help the pace. The missing clownfish is crammed into a dentist’s tank with at least seven other captives, but you’d be hard pressed to name one outside of Willem Dafoe’s grizzled Gill. Some serious streamlining would’ve been welcome: colourful critters are thrown in indiscriminately, building a rich world at the cost of a baggy story. And the disconnect between Marlin and Nemo’s storylines robs us of real tension: with everything broken down into bitesize chunks, I never feel there’s a sense of danger (which Pixar has frequently proven is possible in a kid-friendly animation).

Finding Nemo is not a terrible film. It’s still a fair few steps above the crass merchandise adverts that pass for a good number of today’s kiddie flicks. But does it represent the pinnacle of Pixar’s achievements? Absolutely not. It feels like it was made for a child’s attention span, unlike the greatest animated movies, which adults can (and should) watch without apology. It’s repetitive, shallow and the storytelling’s half-hearted.

Or is it just me?

Agree or disagree? Have your say below and a selection of the comments will be printed in our next issue.


    • Hadouken76

      Sep 4th 2013, 9:29

      Probably the first time I have agreed with this feature. I didn't take to Finding Nemo, I saw it recently and I still didn't care for it. It is visually stunning but story wise forgettable, the only thing that made me chuckle was the turtle, the sharks and the Seagulls, thats it. Nothing to do with lead characters. UP as well, people only talk about the first 20 minutes, then.. oh yeah theres a talking dog in it..and nothing. Sorry.

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    • AlfredsDream098

      Sep 4th 2013, 9:32

      "just one isolated incident after another – escape the sharks, outrun the anglerfish, dodge the jellyfish – until they stumble across Nemo almost by chance." It's called taking advantage of the setting you're story takes place in and being incredibly inventive with it. Plus they don't come across Nemo really by chance, it is perfectly reasonable how they find him and not a complete and utter coincidence. The whole thing about Dory and Marlin's double act I'm not even going to touch as I think you've completely missed the point of that. I understand it's your opinion but when you say overrated in the title, i believe that's a lie because when you read the essay you are basically saying this movie is below average or bad. Or is it just me?

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    • DuncanM

      Sep 4th 2013, 10:27

      I would agree that Finding Nemo is a bit one dimensional (it is essentially an animated Lord of the Rings) but the quirky relationship of Dory and Marlin made the film, and they are two of the most developed and memorable characters in any animation. I admit that it was made to look better by the weak Dreamworks Shark Tale, released shortly after, and there is little ground or point in the planned sequal 'Finding Dory'. However there was a real sense of danger, I can well remember being on the edge of my seat for the shark chase scene. I think it is unfair to say the supporting cast were unmemorable was well- the turtle especially sticks in my mind. I think you have overlooked 'The Incredibles' as the most over-rated Pixar; a dull, predictable animation that had little appeal to adults with its cheesy one-liners.

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    • 2Dglasses

      Sep 4th 2013, 11:40

      I dont know about overrated, but fair point on mentioning the almost pure chance of Marlin coming across Nigel, and Nigel recognising who he was. There's a part where the other pelican has just spat them out, and Marlin, FOR NO REASON at all, says "I've gotta find my son Nemo!!". Not knowing that Nigel had met Nemo, who was he saying this to?

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    • dougwatsonuk

      Sep 4th 2013, 11:43

      Come on people...they are Disney films aimed mainly at kids. Stop over analysing them and just enjoy them for what they are. You are taking it all far too seriously!!!

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    • georgecomerci

      Sep 4th 2013, 22:30

      I think that this is an amazing film! Not my favorite, but good none the less

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