Marlin the clown fish (voiced by Albert Brooks) is a fussy little anxiety machine. When he learns he’s to be a father of 400 babies, he fidgets: “What if they don’t like me?” But he’s right to be concerned for his brood in the fish-eat-fish world of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. A shark devours Marlin’s wife and 399 of her eggs. That leaves little Nemo (Alexander Gould) — the one survivor, handicapped by an underdeveloped fin — and Marlin, burdened with an overdeveloped sense of dread. When Nemo is old enough to go to school (of fish), Dad’s pessimism is again validated: the lad defiantly swims into open water and is kidnapped. Marlin must conquer his own fear of the great wet world, that “swirling vortex of terror.” But he has a companion in his search: Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a blue tang with a sunny disposition and a short-term-memory problem.
The Pixar pixies always fashion funny, poignant stories to match their gorgeous computer images, and this time they hit the jackpot, in a lost-child saga told from the searching father’s point of view. With its ravishing underwater fantasia, Nemo trumps the design glamour of earlier Pixar films. The dramatic set pieces — Marlin and Dory eluding jellyfish stings, Nemo’s claustrophobic panic in a plastic bag — are realized with assured energy and balanced by the voice artists’ deft comic performances. Writer-director Andrew Stanton provides artistic and political resonances galore: he alludes to favorite movies, from Pinocchio to Psycho, and fearlessly takes on the powerful pet-shop and aquarium lobbies. There is also the secret insignia of any Pixar feature: a G-rated fart joke. Nemo was the highest-grossing CGI feature of its time and is one of two animated features on the All-TIME 100 movie list. It was, and remains, a serene marine enchantment.