Finding Nemo
starring Albert Brooks and Ellen Degeneres
4 stars

Ah, to be a fish. Finding Nemo makes me want to grow gills and live in the ocean.; it's just so godamn gorgeous there.

That's the thing that hits you about Finding Nemo, just the sheer vivid awesomeness of the ocean, the glorious blues and greens and pinks and oranges, the dark sunlight-shafted deeps, the rolling rush of currents, and always fish, fish, fish, zooming by, a whole film set in the world of "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid.

Pixar are gods among animators, and they prove it here, seamlessly blending an almost photo-realistic underwater world with fish whose faces pop and squirm and zing with cartoon expression. But not only that, the movie really captures the fishness, the way they sit there floating, and then dart away and stop. Fish just are, they just go, and that's Finding Nemo, quick, light, fast on its fins.

The story is simple. Albert Brooks plays Marlin, a tiny clownfish widower who's classically overprotective of his son, Nemo. One day Nemo is caught by a scuba diver and put in a dentist's aquarium; Marlin has to set out into the big bad sea to find his son, conquering his fear and learning to trust himself and Nemo along the way.

That's the reason we care. The reason we have a good time is because the ocean is jam packed with sharks and whales and crabs and a million things who jabber and riff and throw out comedy material at the flickering speed of the sea. We meet sharks, but they're repentant sharks who are trying to conquer their addiction to fish, so there's a flurry of riffs on AA meetings. We run across a flood of surfer-dude sea turtles, and they actually have funny lines. We encounter with Nemo the other fish trapped in the aquarium, and they all have their own unique stir-craziness. Everywhere you look there's something popping; there's just loads to see and enjoy in this movie.

Finding Nemo is also a seafood platter of cool voice work. Albert Brooks owns the centre of the film with his urgency and earnestness. Even better is Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, the kind-hearted fish with short-term memory loss who accompanies Marlin on his quest. She's just so darn nice, and silly, and she's got the best timing of any comic character this year. And that's not even to mention the whole raft of people like Willem Defoe as Gil, the scarred general of the fish trapped in the aquarium, along some great Newsradio alumni, Vicki Lewis and Stephen Root, who voice a couple of the other fish in the tank. Despite being completely computer-generated, the whole movie is alive with flavor and character and life.

Finding Nemo offers that rare pleasure of a movie done right, where the visuals and the dialogue and the story all make sense, are all doing what they're supposed to be doing. It's almost weird to see a movie loaded with so much, so many lightning-fast bits, gags, one-liners, material and jokes, and to see all that stuff not thrown in *instead* of a story, but as *part* of a story. It really makes a difference. Sure, Finding Nemo has a couple of fart jokes, but since they don't represent the apex of the filmmaker's ambitions, when they do pop along in the flood of things that are always zooming by in the fish world, they're actually funny instead of belabored and desperate.

My only complaint is that none of the action scenes quite acheive the imaginative heights of the Door Chase at the end of Monsters Inc., but that's a pretty puny nit. Finding Nemo rules; it should be seen.