Decade-late spoiler alert: In “Finding Nemo,” little Nemo winds up found. But then, the film was never really about surprises, even when it originally played theaters, in 2003, and established itself as the first bona fide Pixar classic outside of the “Toy Story” franchise. It was about the familiar, the comfortably reassuring, a lost-fish tale of parental attachment and the difficulty and inevitability of letting go. We might not have all been using the term “helicopter parenting” then, but the concept had been around.
The new draw is seeing the movie in 3-D, part of the catalog-leveraging conversion push that Pixar started a few years ago with the first two “Toy Story” chapters, and continues in December with “Monsters, Inc.” (Secondary “Nemo” selling point: a lead-in “Toy Story” short, “Partysaurus Rex,” offering a new cast of amusing tub-toy characters, in keeping with the aquatic theme.) With its mesmerizingly fluid, tropical-seas vibrancy, “Nemo” is even better suited than the rest to getting the technical makeover. There’s a simple reason that ocean imagery has always been a go-to for demo TVs and screen savers: It looks great. And it’s exponentially more dazzling with state-of-the-art multiplex presentation.
Part of what grown-ups will notice is how rich the movie’s depth of field looks throughout. Sure, there’s the sequence in which Nemo’s fretfully searching dad, Marlin (Albert Brooks), and flighty sidekick, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), have that off-the-wagon shark lunging at them. But even Nemo’s view of the dentist’s office where he lands has an enveloping, dimensionalized feel – layer upon receding layer of the aquarium environment, the fish-tank glass, the dentist’s chair, and immediate work space. Overall, there’s an impressive balance of visuals that pop, sprinkled among others that follow the “Avatar” model of more subtly immersive 3-D. It’s hard to figure where the animators might have designed shots any differently if they had rendered the movie in 3-D in the first place.
Other fresh “Nemo” perspectives have everything to do with the talent that worked on the film, and what’s happened in their careers – or hasn’t – in the time since the initial release. You wonder, for one thing, why DeGeneres’s hilarious performance didn’t translate into more movie work. With a few deftly delivered short-term memory gags, she almost effortlessly seemed to put all the statement-making of late-run “Ellen” behind her, not to mention some past movie miscasting. Maybe she just enjoys her talk show too much.
Then there’s writer-director Andrew Stanton, who won an Oscar for “Nemo,” and went on to win another for “Wall-E.” With both films, Stanton demonstrated an unsurpassed gift for simple, elegantly touching storytelling. (The brilliantly unconventional, nearly silent first half of “Wall-E” was slightly undercut by its conventionally chase-driven second half, but still.)
But then came Stanton’s ill-fated shift to live-action with this year’s “John Carter.” For everything that botched marketing had to do with “Carter” bombing at the box office, the sci-fi vehicle also had a busy narrative approach that, indirectly, makes the wonderful simplicity of “Nemo” all the more striking. Hopefully, Stanton will return to form with “Finding Nemo 2,” reportedly ramping up now for a 2016 release.