Study Guide

Finding Nemo Analysis

  • Damaged Fins

    Not Swimming In Circles

    Swimming around in the ocean is a dangerous business (or so Marlin likes to remind us), that's why it's no surprise that we've got some characters with damaged fins hanging around in this movie. It's hard out there for a fish.

    Nemo's right fin is his "lucky" fun, which means that it's a little smaller than the typically sized fin on his left. He hurt it while he was still an egg during the barracuda attack that claimed the lives of his mom and sister.

    Hmm. That doesn't sound too lucky to us:

    PEARL: What's wrong with his fin?

    TAD: He looks funny!

    SHELDON: Ow! Hey, what'd I do? What'd I do?

    BOB: Be nice. It's his first time at school.

    MARLIN: He was born with it, kids. We call it his lucky fin.

    All his life, Nemo's dad has told him that he's not capable of the same things as other fish because of his lucky fin. He can't swim well. He can't get out of trouble by himself. He needs dear old dad around to protect him at all times.

    But Nemo realizes this isn't quite true when he meets the take-no-prisoners Gill:

    GILL: Nobody touch him! Nobody touch him.

    NEMO: Can you help me?

    GILL: No. You got yourself in there, you can get yourself out. […] Keep calm. Alternate wriggling your fins and your tail.

    NEMO: I can't. I have a bad fin.

    GILL: Never stopped me. Just think about what you have to do.

    Here's a fish with a big tear in one of his fins…and he's swimming along just fine. In fact, he's still trying to escape from his fish tank and get back into the ocean. Nothing's going to get in his way—not psychopathic little girls with braces and definitely not some lost bits of fin.

    Gill teaches Nemo that even though he might have a disability, that doesn't mean he can't do the same things as other fish. He can actually get around better than he thinks. Marlin's always used Nemo's damaged fin as a way to keep his son from taking any risk or chances, but Nemo realizes that he's able to try new things and still come out on top.

    It's not a lucky fin at all—but it does teach Nemo that in this ocean, he's got to make his own luck.

  • Fathers

    Not since the classic song "Cat's In The Cradle" has a story about a daddy-son bonding given us such feels.

    While we know that dads can come in all varieties (although they seem to be united by a common love of cheesy jokes) classically, a father tends to represent certain ideals. Dads have authority, power, and strength. A dad provides for his little offspring. He protects them. He gives piggyback rides and kisses bruised knees…but he's also an ever-strong, ever-inspirational source of wisdom and pancake recipes.

    But that's an ideal. And here's the thing about ideals—they never really match reality.

    Marlin's struggling with the way he failed his wife and children during that freaky barracuda attack. He wasn't there for them. He didn't protect and provide. And because of this, he's hell-bent on not letting anything happen to Nemo…even if it means keeping lil' N under proverbial lock and key.

    You know the saying that parents need to give kids roots and wings? Marlin's a-okay with the "roots" part, but he doesn't really want to give Nemo wings. (Or should that be fins?)

    Of course, meeting another dad in the deep blue sea makes him rethink all this:

    CRUSH: Aw, it's awesome, Jellyman. Little dudes are just eggs, leave 'em on the beach to hatch, then coo-coo-ca-choo, they find their way back to the big 'ol blue.

    MARLIN: All by themselves?

    CRUSH: Yeah.

    MARLIN: But, dude, how do you know when they're ready?

    CRUSH: Well, you never really know. But when they'll know, you'll know, you know?

    By the end of the movie, Marlin has realized that he'll never be the ideal dad. He can't keep everything bad in the world away from his son. It's just not possible.

    But it's also not preferable. Nemo needs to go out and explore the world. He's got to try to make it on his own and swim with his own two fins. The only thing Marlin can do for his son is to love him a whole bunch no matter what. After all, that's what good dads—human or fish—do.

  • The Ocean

    Yes, the ocean is the setting for this little fish tale, but it's also a pretty important symbol in the movie, too. This big blue force of nature is pulling double duty.

    Right out of the gate, we learn that the ocean can be a terrifying place. With Coral's death, the children watching will not only cry at the thought of losing a beloved parent (Coral vs. Bambi's Mom: a debate for the ages) but also they'll learn that tragedy is always lurking around every corner of the deep blue sea.

    This view of his watery home is what informs Marlin's every moment with his son:

    MARLIN: Now, what's the one thing we have to remember about the ocean?

    NEMO: It's not safe.

    MARLIN: That's my boy. So, first we check to see that the coast is clear. We go out and back in. And then we go out, and back in. And then one more time—out and back in. And sometimes, if you wanna do it four times…

    Okay, so the ocean's a horrific thunder dome where fish must live in constant fear, right?

    Not quite. In fact, it's clear from the first few moments of the movie that water is also a magnificent world of color, beauty, and life. There are different kinds of fish all swimming together in brightly colored reefs. There's harmony. There's awe and wonder. And yes, there's danger and death and disaster, but sometimes you've got to take the good with the bad.

    In the end, Marlin has to learn to accept both sides of the ocean in order to help his son. Yes, it's a fish-eat-fish world out there, but the ocean is also a magical place where love and friendship and kindness can be found in the most unlikely of places.

    Sure, the world is a scary place, but it's also breathtakingly beautiful.

  • Hero's Journey

    Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

    About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

    Ordinary World

    Marlin and Nemo live in a sea anemone in the Great Barrier Reef. It's beautiful, but also very dangerous. Marlin knows this all to well—his wife was killed in a barracuda attack, leaving him with only his son. Needless to say, Marlin's way overprotective of Nemo.

    Call To Adventure

    On Nemo's first day of school, the little fish rebels against his worrywart father and winds up captured by a team of scuba divers while Marlin watches, powerless to stop this fish-napping.

    Refusal Of The Call

    Marlin doesn't actually refuse the call. Here you have a fish that's nearly paralyzed by the thought of the dangers that lurk out there in the big blue ocean, but he doesn't hesitate to spring into action to rescue his son. That's one brave dad.

    Meeting The Mentor

    As Marlin chases after the boat that took Nemo, he runs into another fish named Dory. Dory might be a little forgetful, but she'll eventually help Marlin come to terms with his fear of loss and his need to protect himself and his son from all the good and bad life has to offer.

    Crossing The Threshold

    Marlin and Dory are a bit of an odd couple, but they find they need each other when Marlin discovers that Dory can read the address on a mask that belonged to one of the scuba divers—P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney. Meanwhile, Nemo finds out that's he's in a whole new world—a fish tank in a dentist's office located in Sydney Harbour.

    Tests, Allies, Enemies

    Marlin and Dory go through a series of adventures together including escaping from a vegetarian shark, being attacked by an anglerfish, getting directions from a school of moonfish, surviving a sea of jellyfish, and receiving a helping hand from some sea turtles on the East Australian Current.

    Nemo also gets to know some new friends—the other fish in his tank—and identifies the enemy—a fish-killing little girl named Darla.

    Approach To The Inmost Cave

    Upon exiting the EAC, Dory tries to talk to a whale to get directions, but Marlin's really nervous about Dory's whale-communication abilities. That whale's mouth is one cave they don't want to end up inside.

    In the dentist's office, Nemo swims up into the tank filter to try to clog it with a pebble so that all the fish can escape back to the ocean.

    Ordeal

    Marlin and Dory are swallowed by the whale, but Marlin must learn to trust Dory and let go of his fears to escape.

    Nemo's mission isn't turning out so swell, though—when the pebble comes loose, he almost gets chopped into sushi by the filter motor.

    Reward (Seizing The Sword)

    Nigel the pelican lets Nemo know that his dad has crossed the ocean looking for him, which inspires Nemo to try the tank-clogging plan again. When that goes south, Nemo plays dead hoping the dentist will flush him down the toilet and back into the ocean to meet up with his dad.

    Meanwhile, the whale let's Marlin and Dory out in Sydney Harbour and Nigel gives them a lift to the dentist's office where they see that poor little Nemo's dead—or so they think.

    The Road Back

    Dejected, Marlin leaves Dory behind to head back home on his own. Nemo winds up flushed down a drain in the dentist's office and pops out in Sydney Harbour.

    Resurrection

    Nemo runs into Dory and the two fish look for Marlin together. Father and son are finally reunited, but not before one last adventure when Nemo proves to his dad that he's strong, capable, and unafraid.

    Return With The Elixir

    Back home at the reef, Marlin, Nemo, and Dory live together and everything has changed for the better. Marlin is way less overprotective. Nemo is enjoying adventures at school.

    And Dory is… well, Dory is still Dory, but we wouldn't want her to change, would we?

  • Setting

    Eastern Coast of Australia

    G'day, mate. How you going? Going right? Good on you. Sweet as.

    This seemingly bizarre and incomprehensible string of words is actually the way they speak in the Land Down Under…but not the way they speak in the Water Down Under. This is good news for us Yanks—er, Americans—because otherwise we might be in need of subtitles.

    Reefer Madness

    Welcome to the Great Barrier Reef. It's one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world, it's the crown jewel in Australia's oceanic crown, and it's where most of Finding Nemo is set.

    Why is this place called "great"? Probably because it's over 1800 miles long, making it the largest coral reef in the world. That means the reef is bigger than the Great Wall of China: it's the only living thing on Earth visible from outer space.

    You probably gathered from the movie that the reef is also extremely beautiful. Just take a gander at the scene where Marlin and Nemo swim through the coral in the reef on their way to school. You can see that down below the water there are hundreds of different kinds of coral and thousands of different tropical fish all living together in a colorful landscape of loveliness. It's like a gorgeous city, but it's all alive.

    Marlin and Nemo have made their home in a sea anemone in the Great Barrier Reef. In real life, clownfish actually do hide out in anemones, which are living things that can sting you. Fun fact: clownfish don't get stung by the anemones though because they coat their skin in a mucus that tells the anemone not to release its venom on them.

    The two species have what's know as a symbiotic relationship—the clownfish get a safe place to hide and the anemone gets food in the form of fish waste. And when you think about it, a poisonous sea anemone's the perfect place for an overprotective clownfish dad to hide out from the world.

    Into the Ocean

    While the Great Barrier Reef isn't totally danger-free (remember what happened to Coral?), it's a whole lot safer than venturing out into the open water beyond the reef… which is exactly where Nemo ends up. But when Marlin sees his son snagged by some divers, he doesn't hesitate to rush out after him.

    Out in the sea, Marlin runs into a whole bunch of über-dangerous fellow fishes. Sharks, jellyfish, and whales—all this marine life makes their home in the waters off the coast and poses a real threat to a little clownfish like Marlin. And the East Australian Current? That's totally for real, too. Every year, thousands of fish get swept up in the current and wind up in Sydney Harbour or even further south.

    Desperately Seeking Sydney

    Sydney's the ultimate destination for Marlin on his mission to find Nemo. Because of Dory's super reading skills, Marlin knows that Nemo is somewhere near 42 Wallaby Way in Sydney.

    But, Sydney's a big city. Where should Marlin head? Sydney Harbour, of course.

    Not only is this one of the largest natural harbors in the world and home to such famous sights as the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it's also just outside of the dentist's office. How convenient. (And how expensive. We're guessing renting out office space with a view of a gorgeous, world famous harbor is pretty pricey.)

  • Point of View

    Two Points of View

    Finding Nemo has a pretty simple narrative structure. We start with a flashback from when Nemo was just a little egg and then jump ahead to his first day of school. From then on out, things pretty much happen one right after another. Marlin panics. Nemo gets captured. Marlin swims after him.

    Where the movie does change things up a little is that it starts to tell both Marlin and Nemo's individual stories once they're separated. We get to see Marlin hunting for his son and Nemo adjusting to life in the fish tank at the same time. This is effective for two reasons.

    First, it lets the audience know exactly what's going on with both our main characters. We're not left wondering if Nemo's been served up on a fish sandwich as Marlin makes this dangerous trip across the ocean. We know that Nemo is alive and well and that Marlin just has to keep swimming to get to him.

    It's also effective because the split narrative is giving us—the audience—information that the characters don't have, thus creating super dramatic moments. This works especially well during the climactic scene in the dentist's office. Nemo's playing dead to escape just as Marlin has arrived. We know that Nemo's faking, but his dad doesn't. We understand the stakes in this scene, but Marlin and Nemo don't have the full picture yet.

    Even though it all turns out okay, we can't help but feeling that a simple misunderstanding is going to keep father and son from getting back together—a testament to the power of multiple points of view.

  • Genre

    Computer-Generated Animation; Adventure; Family

    Basically, film genre is a way to categorize movies that have similar styles, themes, ideas, or moods. And while some folks would say that animation is a genre, this makes animators really mad.

    And believe us when we say that animators are a bit like Bruce Banner. They seem like mild-mannered dweebs, but they're actually superhuman. You wouldn't like them when they're angry.

    For them, animation is more of a medium or technique for telling a story, just like live-action filming. In fact, sometimes a simple cartoon can be a whole lot more powerful than real actors on the screen. (Just compare Beauty and the Beast to Plan 9 from Outer Space and you'll see what we mean.)

    That's why Finding Nemo also fits in well with other non-animated movies as an adventure film. After all, Marlin and Nemo do go on a pretty epic adventure to get back to each other. They explore new worlds and experience daring escapes and rescues. It's one big long heroic journey.

    And just because it's animated doesn't mean it's any less heart-pounding than live-action adventures like Star Wars or Indiana Jones. We'll see your Captain Jack Sparrow and raise you one little fish called Nemo.

    Of course, since Finding Nemo is also fun for all ages, we've also got to classify it as a family movie too. Not only does the film deal with all kinds of important family issues (like how parents are a drag and kids never listen), it's also a movie that young and old can both enjoy. Feel free to break out the ocean epic at your next family reunion.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    This movie is called Finding Nemo because—drumroll, please—it's all about a dad who's trying to find his son named Nemo.

    But it's also a little more complicated than that (because everything is, right?). After all, the movie is split almost equally into scenes with Marlin and scenes with Nemo. This tells us that it ain't just a movie about a dad finding his kid…it's also about a kid finding out about himself.

    Sure, Marlin finds Nemo. But you know who really finds Nemo? Nemo himself.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    Could this movie wind up any happier? Unless the other fish elected Marlin mayor of the reef, we don't think so. Here's the end of the very last scene just to refresh your memory:

    NEMO: Love you, dad.

    MARLIN: I love you too, son.

    NEMO: Uh, dad, you can let go now.

    MARLIN: Sorry! Now go have an adventure!

    […]

    NEMO: See you after school, Dory! Bye, dad!

    MARLIN: Bye, son.

    Oh, man, so many changes, so little time. Father and son are back home again, but this time Marlin's excited for all the adventures his son is about to experience. This is one fish who's turned over a new fin.

    And Nemo has a new appreciation for his dad. He's not desperate to get out of the anemone—in fact, he actually goes back to hug Marlin before heading off with his schoolmates. How much more aww-inspiring can you get?

    Both father and son have learned something and their relationship is stronger and better than before. Plus, Dory's hanging around, so you know the future's going to be hilarious.

  • Shock Rating

    G

    Finding Nemo is rated G. That means it's safe for the young and the young at heart alike.

    Even though it contains hair-raising episodes like the death of a beloved parent (yikes), big toothy sharks (yikes), or fish being held prisoner against their will (also yikes), Finding Nemo is fun for the whole family.

    And we mean it when we say that. This is a Pixar movie, so it's actually 100% enjoyable for everyone…unless you're a relative of the pre-Whoville Grinch.