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Finding Nemo

Seen: 2003.06.03   ¶   Reviewed: 2003.06.07

Right. So it’s better than Stoy Tory, they told us, a film that really should have been called Boy Toy Story due to its mythologizing of typical American boyhood. (I had Tonka trucks and GI Joes and not only didn’t I treat those inanimate objects sadistically, I ended up – how does one put this? – vegetarian.)

I thought the film’s much-played trailer inauspicious, actually, but apparently they only showed the OK bits and not the really excellent bits. I found the trailer’s joke “What is it with men and asking directions?” beyond trite: It’s familiar because I’ve heard it before, not because it’s an old truth put into new words. And the gulls-on-the-water fart joke (water bubbles to surface, bird flutters wing in surprise, other bird looks over and mutters “Nice”) is actually caused by something altogether different in the film. Only high-budget movies remix their own trailers that way.

À la recherche de Nemo perdu is yet another boy-centric Pixar movie, though they’re femming it up a little with the addition of Ellen DeGeneres, who can always be relied on to deliver the femmes. They’re trying to improve their rep, of course, casting (drawing, rendering) a sadistic young girl instead of a sadistic young boy. For good measure, they drew her super-ugly, too, with braces to make Tom Cruise wince. Why do I care? We need to battle stereotypes, you see. He (indeed he) who fails to heed the lessons of Vito Russo shall only repeat them.

Now, when it comes to animated stories revolving around anthropomorphized beasts, I prefer straight-up vegetarian propaganda like Chicken Run (and there I was thinking it was Mel Gibson’s voice in both movies – no, Gill is performed by W. Dafoe).

I seem to recall that Barry Humphries, Dame Edna herself, insisted that Pixar use actual Australian actors, rather than feeble American analogues and their feeble twee accents. Why, exactly, are Americans incapable of credible accents? Why do the Irish, English, Scottish, and Australian actors excel at it? At any rate, if the film’s entire ecosystem sits off the coast of Australia, why do only a few sharks speak Australian? (The concept of the vegetarian shark – the logical outcome of the sharks’ twelve-step “Fish are friends, not food” AA simulacrum – is of course one I want to hear more about.)

Remember, in this document, at all times read “vegetarian” as also meaning something else.

The disabled fish Nemo, with his overbearing father and absent mom, is a Hollywood-whitewash mash-up of mirror-world archetypes. Rather akin Pixar’s not quite fixing its films’ androcentric trend through the mechanism of including a single ugly girl sadist, Finding Nemo tries to solve the wrong set of problems and muffs it. With a family like that, what’s Nemo supposed to end up like – a gutsy overachieving lesbian with a heart of gold?

Pixar is strong on connected set pieces, short on narrative. But that’s OK; narrative is overrated. (Really, so much of classical cinema is.) Finding Nemo is actually well-suited to the new way of watching films: On DVD. [William Gibson: “It may be that he’ll have to be taught to watch films, in the way that we watch them (or watched them, as I think DVDs are already changing that, not to mention changing the way you approach making them).”] It’s just right for remixing and rematching all your favourite moments. – or, to make it more personal, all your fave moments and “Mine!

So help me, putting a single word into the mouths of seagulls (“from out of the mouths of gulls,” etc.) will be Steve Jobs’ filmic legacy, even if he didn’t write or direct the picture. (Why does no one care who did? These pictures do not come into the world through parthenogenesis.) It’s right up there with offhand usage in Monty Python (“Wankel rotary engine”) in permanently rewiring my reactions. And living close to the water, I deal with a lot of gulls.

(Speaking of Python, multiple Australian sharks all uttering “Hello, Bruce” simultaneously has to be a Python allusion. “ ‘That’s a strange expression, Bruce.’ ‘Well, Bruce, I heard the prime minister use it. “It’s hot enough to boil a monkey’s bum in here, Your Majesty,” he said, and she smiled quietly to herself.’ ‘She’s a good sheila, that, and not at all stuck up.’ ”)

My ISSUE with computer-animated comedies is not a creeping naturalism, as has been claimed. It’s that they don’t move fast enough. Creators feel obliged to prove they can reproduce lifelike or simply convincing movement, particularly movement of fur, fin, and water, hence they miss the cardinal lesson of The Simpsons: You got to stack the jokes one on top of another, all in the span of one and a half seconds. Like Gill’s Mission: Impossible-esque escape plan: That was 60 seconds of combined jeremiad and cinematic allusion (which in fact went by too fast to be described for the blind). And what I’m saying is that’s the minimum speed I want my computer animation to run at!

If it’s good enough for Homer Simpson, it should be good enough for Steve Jobs.

Theatre experience

An astonishingly superspecial Movie Night! A fellow met in a captioning-related context just that very day, Mr. M, turned out to have a gf unit living with visual impairment, Ms J. He had already been to the movies with audio description. Amazing, huh?

Even more amazing: M got J on the blower and they arranged to come to the movie that very night!

Thus, while Mr. Y was still out of town, Mr. X showed up, and the two of us were joined by another nondisabled person and an actual blind person. Hence, from left to right as seen from behind in the auditorium, sat: Person living with hearing impairment, two nondisabled people, and a person living with visual impairment. Among them, three caption reflectors and two headsets. (Mr. M had never seen Rear Window captioning before. He sat a mere one seat over from the exact centreline – i.e., one seat over from the best seat in the house – and found even that degree of angular distortion discernible and bothersome. Some of us are visually attuned, you know.)

Ms J mentioned that she found the latter Harry Potter movie somewhat overdescribed, but enjoyed the few movies she’d seen so far.

My Guy at the Guest Services Desk™ was on duty, so he just asked for a count of what we needed and handed the stuff to us. I’m beginning to like that system.

I believe some of the kids a few rows down looked back at us with curiosity before the movie started, then looked up at the display, and, as usual, immediately figured out what gave and that was that.

Trailers before the film began were not MoPixed, even though they were run after the FEATURE PRESENTATION bumper when CC and DX usually start. (Actually, they start after the requisite commercials for THX and/or Dolby sound.) Pixar’s first featurette, Nick Nack, is tick-tacked to the opening of Finding Nemo and was fully MoPixed, though the descriptions were unusually hard to follow.

Caption quality

A toughie. I know they usually get a spotting list or an as-delivered script, but there was still a load of technical vocabulary in this picture, 1/3 of it related to kingdom, class, and phylum in marine biology and 2/3 related to dentistry, everyone’s ongoing horror, and boy, does this movie ever stoke the nightmares. (We could retitle the movie Marathon Nemo.)

But Marlin: No, it’s But, Marlin. Comma in vocatives. That mistake was not otherwise seen in the picture. Why Ted here’s got relatives in Sydney: Also needs a comma.

♪ Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming ♪ requires a j, not a J, in the second utterance.

He’s just boy: Just a boy, shurely?! (Pixar’s problem in a nutshell.)

Multiple cases of multiple simultaneous speakers were handled about as well as they could be given the limitations of the crappy LED display.

We still need a space after the dash, but in a case like this, then you get into absurd Captions, Inc.–style contortions like - Mine !  - Mine !  - Mine !  - Mine !

End-of-movie bumpers for Pixar and Disney had their many sound effects captioned in ways that, if I recall correctly, were not captioned at the beginning of the film.

Description quality

More sexist writing. “A shiny plastic blonde in a plastic bikini” and “The blonde turns his way and waves”: She’s a doll, that blonde, but I remind the Media Access Group at WGBH that boys can be blond, too. The terminology assumes a straight male gaze. “A blonde female doll.” Or, if referring to a human, “a blonde woman.”

“Pixar” (rhymes with “Rick’s car”) is once mispronounced as “Pixer” by our narratrix, Gaille Heidemann. I seem to recall that the signature Pixar bumper (desk lamp hops out, pile-drives the I in Pixar, then turns and looks at us) was described differently at opening and closing.

“Pearl, an octopus”: We pre-identify.

Baleen is an anatomical feature a typical blind person could be assumed never to have seen, so it is briefly explained (“which lines its mouth like teeth”).


No problems.

Exit interview

Also no problem. We handed in the gear and off we went. A superexclusive eetcarstray ride was shared with Mr. M and Ms J, who might have found that degree of togetherness a bit much for so early on.

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