Freeing Nemo: A Whale Of A Tale

Pixar's "Finding Nemo" is without any doubt the best film ever made about a single-parent clown fish and his son. It also offers the best performance this spring by Albert Brooks, who does daddy Marlin's jittery, neurotic voice. (He seems a lot more at home in the undulating depths of a computer-animated ocean than he does in the supposedly three-dimensional world of "The In-Laws.") The orange-and-white-striped Marlin is in a state of high anxiety, for this overprotective father's worst fears have come true. His young son Nemo (voice by Alexander Gould) has fallen into the clutches of human beings, who have spirited him away to a dentist-office fish tank in Sydney. The ordinarily risk-averse Marlin sets out, against all odds, to find him.

Compared with, say, "Toy Story," this may not sound like the most remarkable premise for a movie. But the madly inventive folks at Pixar may just be the most dependable storytellers now working in Hollywood. The Wachowski brothers could learn a thing or two about suspense, economy, humor and pithy characterizations from the script by director Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds, which has the wit to dream up a 12-step program for sharks trying to kick their fish-devouring habits, and the ingenuity to have Marlin accompanied on his quest by a blue tang named Dory, whose eagerness to help is canceled out by her acute case of short-term memory loss. Ellen DeGeneres, hilarious and poignant, gives a tour de force reading.

The Pixar animators have outdone themselves in creating their luminous underwater world where everything is in constant motion. Much of the movie is like a hallucinatory scuba dive, but it's equally eyepopping above the surface and within the superreal confines of the dentist's tank, where Nemo and his fellow prisoners plot their high-risk escape. It all makes for a more satisfying adventure than "Monsters, Inc." A visual marvel, every frame packed to the gills with clever details, "Finding Nemo" is the best big-studio release so far this year.