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|Kevin Krock, editor|
If there is one creative team in the world that seems to have found the best way to touch the collective nerve of the public, it has to be John Lasseter and his fellow creative suupahh-geeeniuses at Pixar Animation Studios. With story, story, story as their mantra and stunning computer animation as their artistic tool of choice, this studio has now put together a string of five major family hits it a row over the last several years, with little sign of stopping. In fact, with each release the stories and animation get better and better.
Their fifth and biggest outing to date, Finding Nemo, follows a father and young son pair of clownfish after the son, Nemo (Alexander Gould), is separated from his father, Marlin (Albert Brooks, The In-Laws), in the midst of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Nemo ends up in a dentist's fish tank, and Marlin, a tragically widowed, overly cautious father who has vowed to take care of his only son at all cost, begins his journey to recover his son.
Marlin joins up with a memory-challenged fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres, TV's The Ellen Show), and the two embark on an adventure that leads them to encounters with sharks, pelicans, sea turtles, whales, and other perilous animals of the deep. Meanwhile, Nemo and his new fish tank friends, the Tank Gang, hatch a plan of their own to escape from the tank and return to the sea.
The ride from the beginning to the end of the movie is a pretty wild and visually stunning sequence of events, and for a dad with two young, independent boys, the whole movie is particularly relevant. Although, I think the movie addresses universal truths that everybody can emotionally connect with and appreciate.
As has become standard for Pixar DVDs, this set is packed with cool behind-the-scenes extras and tons of eye-candy. Being a DVD enthusiast, I found Disc 1 a bit more interesting than the other, but I was impressed by the balance of material between the two discs.
Disc 1 features the anamorphic widescreen version of the movie as well as the bulk of the behind-the-scenes material. First, there is a very cool 25-minute documentary called Making Nemo, and it really highlights the personal side of the people behind the movie. In it, we get a rare glimpse of some of the ways that this team worked and played together, like the Ugly Contest and the roaming mariachis, which truly help you to appreciate how these artisans stuck together for three years to produce this remarkable film. It also provides a great insight to how Writer/Director Andrew Stanton developed the story from his personal experiences as a father of a young son.
Complimenting the documentary is the great filmmakers' visual commentary. Like a standard audio commentary, Andrew Stanton, Co-Director Lee Unkrich and Co-Writer Bob Peterson provide a humorous and interesting behind-the-scenes running commentary on the film's challenges, changes, and serendipitous successes. However, to accentuate a particular point or illustrate a challenge, the video track cuts away to a brief clip or featurette directly related to the audio point. It is definitely not the way to see the movie for the first time, but it makes for an interesting hybrid between bonus material, the commentary, and a documentary. The extra video amounts to about 31 minutes, and you can watch it as individual clips or as a sequentially played featurette. The latter option, though, is not as helpful or interesting, as there is no context for the clips.
The final two items of interest on Disc 1 are the virtual aquariums and a narrated gallery of movie art. The aquariums are fully animated environmental set pieces from the movie, most of which double as the menus. They are not something that I would routinely use, but they are sure beautiful to watch for a few minutes. The Art of Nemo is a still art gallery that is narrated by three of Pixar's artists, and the art ranges from preproduction work to final computer imagery.
Disc 2 not only hosts the reframed, full-screen version of the film but it also features a bunch of fun stuff for the whole family. The first item of note is the very funny Pixar animated short, Knick Knack, about a frustrated snowman trapped in a snow globe, which was theatrically run before Finding Nemo. In addition to the short, there is an optional commentary featuring the short's director, John Lasseter and technical director, Eben Ostby.
Another cute goody is a seven-minute featurette about ocean reef life with Jean-Michel Cousteau and appearances from Dory, Nemo, and Marlin. As Cousteau attempts to explain the fragility of the world's reefs, he becomes increasingly vexed by the antics of the movie's stars. And while educational, it was nice to see Cousteau be such a good sport about his appearance.
There is also an audio-visual encyclopedia about the various sea creatures depicted in the movie. This seven-minute segment is hosted by Mr. Ray, the sea school teacher, and each animal is covered in about 30 seconds to one minute. It is by no means comprehensive, but for children unfamiliar with many of these animals, it is a great place to start. Personally, it actually made my 5-year-old more curious about some of the animals, so it provided us with an opportunity to do a bit of additional research to learn more about them.
Like most family-oriented DVDs, this set also features a set-top game and read-along. The game is a fun adaptation of charades called Fisharades. Much like the scene in the movie when the school of fish makes shapes for Marlin and Dory, a school of fish slowly makes a shape on the screen, and the viewer must select from four possible shapes before the timer expires. As for the read-along, the story is a new adventure which follows Nemo as he meets his teachers at school. It is cute, but depending on your children, it may not get viewed very often.
The disc also sports a fun but very short tour of the Pixar Animation Studios hosted by the voice of Nemo, Alexander Gould. The premise is that Alexander gets left by himself in the studio as Andrew Stanton is whisked off to a meeting, and he begins to explore by himself. As Alexander goes around the studio, he meets folks in many of the departments involved in the production, all of whom are goofing around until they think that Andrew is right around the corner. The tour does not go into the level of detail like the one on Monsters, Inc., but it is perfectly suited for young children.
Finally, there are a few other minor things on Disc 2 that are worth taking a look at. There are several Nemo trailers which are always fun to have access to, including the teaser trailer, theatrical trailers, and a few television spots. Then, there are more virtual aquariums, but the ones on this disc highlight the dentist's fish tank. Lastly, the funny theatrical teaser trailer for Pixar's next movie, The Incredibles is available, so now you no longer need to watch a little QuickTime window on your computer.
Overall, the bonus material on these two discs is an outstanding mix, and there is enough material to keep everyone in the family happy and involved well after the movie is over.
The Video, Audio, and Interface
Pixar makes it so easy to evaluate its video and audio DVD transfers. Every DVD Pixar has produced so far has almost perfectly maintained the impressive theatrical qualities of the film. As with Pixar's predecessor DVDs, the Nemo transfers on these discs are top-notch and reference quality. Both the anamorphic widescreen and full-screen video transfers were taken directly from the digital data files, and they are jaw-droppingly gorgeous on a TV screen.
The colors are wildly vibrant and beautiful, and the subtle textures on every object on land or at sea are exquisitely detailed. Even on a relatively small screen, like my computer, the translucency and texture of the fish scales and anemone tentacles look perfect, and the detail of the floating, glimmering particulate matter in the ocean scenes is maintained and adds to the environmental believability. If you are looking for eye-candy, this is the perfect disc to use.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 EX soundtrack is also right on target. The dialog is clear, well-balanced, and tracks the characters around the sound field. Additionally, there are a bunch of dynamic sound effects that work very nicely on a surround sound system. Even though the surround aspect is not quite juiced-up as much as the Home Theater audio mix on the Lion King DVD, this transfer sounded great on everything from my computer headphones to my rather modest Dolby Digital home theater system.
As for the user interface, I don't think it can get much better than the menus on these two discs. Each of the menus on the discs open with a brief video sequence that immediately immerses you in the environment, and then most of the menus use the animated virtual aquarium audio and video as the backdrop. In fact, many of the menus have an option that lets you turn off the menu so you can sit and appreciate the aquarium aspect. It is a very cool little addition. The theme of Disc 1 is the open sea, and Disc 2 features the dentist's office fish tank. It is pretty impressive when the menus are almost as cool to watch as the movie.
The Final Evaluation
There are no ifs, ands,or buts to this set. Pixar has done it again, so just go get it.
Disc One - Filmmakers' World
Disc Two - Family Fun
Kevin Doc Krock is been a long-time animation buff and home theater fan. He's been following the rise of the DVD format in the home market since its introduction, and he hopes to help you make the most of your family's home theater viewing time and video collections.
You can contact Kevin here.
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