Finding Nemo. Dir. Andrew Stanton. Disney Pixar. 2003.

Finding Nemo. Dir. Andrew Stanton. Disney Pixar. 2003.

Finding Nemo. Dir. Andrew Stanton. Disney Pixar. 2003. 150 150 Lucy Bailey

Finding Nemo is a fantastic animated film, directed by Andrew Stanton. It tells the story of an overprotective clownfish, Marlin (Albert Brooks), whose son Nemo (Alexander Gould), is captured by a diver in the Great Barrier Reef and is taken to a dentist’s fish tank in Sydney. Timid Marlin, who usually will not swim more then two feet from his sea anemone, must now set out on a journey to bring his son home. Along the way Marlin meets Dory, (Ellen DeGeneres) a regal tang suffering from short-term memory loss, and they where they then work together to search for Nemo. Their journey proves challenging in several parts, including a frightening confrontation with Bruce (Barry Humphries), a great white shark and a journey across a field of jellyfish. However, through their exposure to other under water species, Marlin and Dory learn to brave all sorts of obstacles that are thrust upon them, both learning to take risks, relax and to trust others.

The film focuses on environmental consciousness, presenting animals in the film to pin point human intervention on wildlife in the ocean and the negative effect this has. For example, this includes the fact Nemo is taken by a diver (therefore taken away from the wild and his natural habitat), also the explosive mines which are placed underwater (creating danger for marine wildlife), and the capturing of thousands of fish from the ocean; all damaging animals lives through human interference. Ultimately, Finding Nemo provides a great entertaining blend of childlike sweetness and adult wit, and certainly doesn’t resist the temptation to add some fundamental morals about the value of friends and family.

Although Finding Nemo contains comic elements and revolves around a story of adventure, as a genre I would have to categorize it primarily under animation. The real reason we go and see a Pixar film is to see the animation, right? Finding Nemo is a superb visual movie and Pixar seem to have excelled tremendously; the aquatic animation almost looks like a real life photo! Animation is primarily aimed to captivate children who are the target audience. A key feature in animation is anthropomorphism, this being the ascription of ‘human behaviour’. Oana Leventi – Perez states, “[In animation] Animals and their behaviours are replaced with sanitized expressions of human traits”[1]; we can see all of the characters are brought to life by being given a voice and human characteristics. As a society we seem quite distanced from nature, so by creating animals we are not always familiar with, such as underwater species, like Nemo, and presenting them in cartoon form possessing familiar traits, such as Marlin’s fear when Nemo is taken, stimulates children’s emotions making it easier for them to identify.

One of the first incidents that take place in the beginning of the film is Nemo’s abduction. It is his first day of school, and his teacher Mr. Ray (Bob Peterson) a stingray takes Nemo and several other fish to the ‘Drop Off’ (the edge to the deep sea abyss – indeterminable beyond the norms of the fish community). It is at this point, we see Nemo and two others swim away from the rest of the class and head out into open water. Nemo is soon dared to swim out to touch a boat they can see in the distance. Marlin follows Nemo and in a moment of frustration Nemo disobeys his father, and consequently is captured by a diver.[2]

Obviously, this is what drives the plot but when looking at ideas expressed earlier, the diver taking Nemo isn’t right as it causes such a disruption, unbeknown to the diver who takes him of course. “I found this guy struggling for life out on the reef, and I saved him”, is the response we get from the diver (Bill Hunter) who is also the dentist in the film, as to why he captured Nemo. It’s lines such as this one where we suddenly stop and think, wait a minute, he wasn’t struggling at all but rather doing what ever other child does; disobeying their parents!

Similarly to this, the dentist again warns off Nigel (Geoffrey Rush) the pelican from the fish tank, saying “No, no, no, no! They’re not your fish. They’re my fish”, here, the dentist points to the major theme I am focusing on which is the way humans can affect the natural world (perhaps innocently or ignorantly). The dentist is “a clear critique of human’s interventions on behalf of nature; in fact, it is an anti-colonialist critique of the way that humans treat nature as in need of protection when often what nature needs protection from is actually humans”[3]. Rather than understanding the disruption to wildlife the dentist may have caused, we only witness his view as seeing the ownership of the fish as a good thing.

When watching the film, the fish inside the dentist’s tank allows us to see (although it be very comical at times!) a demonstration of the effects being kept in captivity has on the fish.  For example, Deb (Vicki Lewis) imagines she has a sister, Flo, yet it is just her reflection from the glass inside the tank.[4] Although I find it rather funny myself it only compounds issues of the effects human intervention has on marine life by removing them from their natural habitat and placing them in a fish tank.

The film is filled with the presence of so many different types of animals, but a great moment that sticks out for me has to be when Dory and Marlin come across the three sharks, Bruce, Chum (Bruce Spence) and Anchor (Eric Bana). Dory and Marlin are invited to an ‘AA style’ meeting, where the sharks tell one another how long they have gone without eating a fish. The director, Albert Brooks makes the sharks vegetarians, quite comical don’t you think? The meeting the sharks have takes place in an old sunken submarine surrounded by explosive mines (this just provides another example of the way humans can affect nature).[5] After Dory suffers from a slight injury causing her to bleed, Bruce can no longer withhold his desire to eat fish, and as a result chaos breaks out causing the mines to explode. Ultimately, this causes damage to a large section of the seabed. I think by having this moment with the three sharks, including the submarine and mines sends out an environmental message, making the audience aware of the destruction that can take place due to human interference.

The sharks are certainly tamed by the AA related jokes, such as: “Fish are friends, not food” and “It’s been three weeks since my last fish”. The fact the violent, meat-eating sharks are vegetarians, perhaps tames them to a certain extent. I can only think that by presenting these predators as ‘friendly’, who don’t eat fish, and the fact they are trying to ‘do the right thing’, perhaps we should do that too? I find that we are distanced from this type of nature and the animals presented on screen, and through animation, I think the sharks are deliberately represented as a kind, gentle version of nature to restore the tainted image we have of them. Perhaps this is hinting we should have more sympathy for these predators we are always trying to avoid and kill, despite the fact danger only strikes when we enter their territory.

I think when searching for meaning within this film, the representation of all the animals is epitomized by one thing in particular. Aside from the beautiful aquatic imagery of the reef and animals, underneath all this I feel the action is to emphasize that there is no room for human interaction with animals without causing harm. The film provides a distinction between nature and humans and therefore it proves humans are not really a part of nature until they impose themselves on it, like the dentist does capturing Nemo or the scene involving the fishing net being placed under water capturing hundreds of fish.

At one point Marlin tells the sharks, humans took his son, and Chum replies with “humans, think they own everything”, I think on top of the wonderful tale of father taking a journey across an entire ocean to be reunited with his son, the fact this has to be done in the first place, no thanks to human intervention proves the most important aspect of the film.  Christy Tridwell comments on how Finding Nemo goes “where few animated features have gone before, to the depths of the sea to portray fish as feeling creatures who deserve to swim in the freedom of the vast oceans and not the confines of a 4 X 4 fish tank”[6]. In relation to animal presences in the film, I think they are created to focus the viewer on ideas that animals should be ‘born free’ and left in their natural habitat. The film ultimately uses the animals to position humans as the greatest threat to the ocean and its inhabitants.

A comparison I thought of when looking at my ideas on human intervention and whether this is right, was James Hill’s film Born Free. Although it is not an animation, the film questions whether the possession of wild animals is ok. I think by George Adamson (Bill Travers) going and shooting a lion and lioness, leaving three cubs as orphans, provides us with a similar stance to Finding Nemo. Although it is out of water, the morals seem similar.  The three cubs would not be orphans if it weren’t for the gamekeeper going into their territory, just as Nemo wouldn’t have been separated from his father if it weren’t for the scuba diver. I think both of these films provide questions concerning whether it’s right to interfere with the wild and an animal’s natural habitat.


  • Hill, James, Born Free, (USA, 1966)
  • Stanton, Andrew, Finding Nemo, (USA, 2003)


Primary Sources:

  • Leventi – Perez, Oana, ‘Disney’s Portrayal of Non Human Animals in Animated Films between 2000 and 2010, (2011), Communication Thesis (accessed 11th April 2013)
  • Tridwell, Christy, “Fish are like people, only flakier”: Environmental Practice and Theory in Finding Nemo, Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-Present), Vol. 8, Issue 1, (accessed 11th April 2013)

Secondary Reading/ Further Suggested Reading:

[1] Oana Leventi – Perez, ‘Disney’s Portrayal of Non Human Animals in Animated Films between 2000 and 2010, (2011), Communication Thesis, Paper 81,

[2] (accessed 11th April 2013)

[3] Christy Tridwell, “Fish are like people, only flakier”: Environmental Practice and Theory in Finding Nemo, Americana: The Journal of American Popular Culture (1900-Present), Vol. 8, Issue 1, (accessed 11th April 2013)

[4] (accessed 11th April 2013)

[5] (accessed 11th April 2013)

[6] Christy Tridwell, “Fish are like people, only flakier”: Environmental Practice and Theory in Finding Nemo (See reference 3)