Study Guide

Finding Nemo Hero's Journey

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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.


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.


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?

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