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Film review: Finding Nemo

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"Finding Nemo" isn't the best Pixar animated film. It's not up there with the "Toy Story" movies, and isn't quite as well-done as "Monsters, Inc." It's more on a level with another Pixar flick, "A Bug's Life."

Mind you, that's still better than most everything else that tries to pass as family-friendly films. (Including those produced by Disney, which has been releasing Pixar's features, but whose own recent animated features pale in comparison.)

Even though "Finding Nemo" isn't Pixar's best, this animated comedy-adventure is still more imaginative and more clever in any five of its 100 minutes than most films manage in a full 90 minutes . . . or 120, for that matter.

There are times when the film is actually more suspenseful than funny, and there are at least three different scenes (showing attacks by sharks, jellyfish and a barracuda) that may be a little intense for really young ones. But it will still enthrall most of them — and older audiences as well — with its photorealistic look at underwater life.

The voices, however, are as cartoonish as the characters. Albert Brooks provides the voice of Marlin, a clownfish desperately trying to track down his son, Nemo (Alexander Gould). The two became separated in the Great Barrier Reef — and then Nemo is captured by an Australian dentist hoping to give the fish as a present to his rather cruel niece.

So it becomes a race against time for Marlin to track him down before that happens. But to do so, he must overcome his mortal fear of the unknown — and of everything in general. Fortunately, he's got a loyal ally in Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a blue tang with short-term memory problems.

Meanwhile, Nemo has fallen in with "The Tank Gang," a group of similarly aquarium-bound fish trying to help him get free of the dentist's grasp — and out of the dentist's office — before it's too late.

The computer-generated artwork here represents another great leap forward for Pixar, especially in terms of its vivid colors and three-dimensional realism. And the character designs are spectacular, each bearing at least a slight resemblance to the actors who voice them.

Brooks' work here is some of his best on the big screen in a long time (especially a couple of bits in which he sounds like he's aping Bob Newhart's stuttered line delivery). But as good as he is — and as good as the entire supporting cast is — DeGeneres manages to steal the show with her endearingly goofy effort. Whenever the film starts to bog down or get too serious, she's there to help bail it out . . . so to speak.

As with all of the Disney-Pixar releases, this one is preceded by a short film. This time it's Pixar's early classic "Knick Knack," a hilarious, four-minute cartoon about a snowman desperately trying to get out of a snowglobe. (The 1989 short has been digitally cleaned up and includes one obvious bit of editing.)

"Finding Nemo" is rated G, though it does contain animated violence (aquatic attacks and explosive mayhem), scenes of peril and some vulgar humor (all of it relating to bodily functions). Running time: 104 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com