If you ever see your name in the title of a movie, you know you must be pretty important. Nemo is the whole reason that we're able to go on this little ocean adventure. So, what's up with this cute little clownfish from the reef?
Sheltered Little Clownfish
When we meet Nemo, he's just your typical six-year-old clownfish who's super psyched to start school. His dad, on the other hand, is not so thrilled.
It's clear from the first few moments of screen time that Nemo's pretty reliant on Marlin. He gets stuck in some coral and his dad has to get him out. He holds his father's hand while he swims across the street. Nemo has clearly been kept in a super protective underwater bubble and he's fine with that. Better safe than sorry.
After all, the ocean is a dangerous place:
MARLIN: Now, what's the one thing we have to remember about the ocean?
NEMO: It's not safe.
MARLIN: That's my boy.
It also doesn't help that Nemo has his "lucky fin." Basically, that just means his right fin is smaller than his left one. But, Marlin has convinced Nemo that his fin is holding him back. He can't keep swim as well. He can't keep up with the other kids. Nemo's got a disability—wouldn't he be better of playing on some sponge beds with the baby fish?
So, right away we're pretty sympathetic to Nemo. Obviously, the kid loves his dad, but this whole the-ocean-is-dark-and-full-of-terrors routine is just a father-son disaster waiting to happen.
And sure enough, it happens almost as soon as Nemo gets a little taste of freedom.
Rebel with a Cause
Nemo's big turning point comes when he leaves for school. There's something about this moment that gives us the feeling that this is literally the first time Nemo's ever been away from his dad for more than thirty seconds.
And he uses his time wisely. To get into just a little bit of mischief touching "a butt" (he means "boat"):
TAD: Come on, Nemo. How far can you go?
NEMO: Uh, my dad says it's not safe.
MARLIN: Nemo, no! […] You were about to swim into open water! […] You know you can't swim well.
NEMO: I can swim fine, Dad, okay?
MARLIN: No, it's not okay. You shouldn't be anywhere near here. Okay, I was right. You'll start school in a year or two.
NEMO: No, Dad! Just because you're scared of the ocean […] I hate you.
It's important to note that Nemo is actually being really cautious here. Marlin's taught him well. But, he just absolutely loses it when his dad proves that he doesn't trust him to stay safe and he doesn't have confidence in Nemo's abilities.
The other fish dads aren't acting like this, are they? Marlin might as well be telling Nemo that he's a physically deficient dummy…in front of his entire class. No wonder the kid breaks out the big H-word. This is just too mortifying.
Of course, the first time Nemo takes a chance and does something a little bit risky, it turns out badly. Really, really badly. Nemo's scooped up by a diver on his way back to the reef and he finds out pretty quickly that his dad can't save him from every dangerous situation. Even if he wanted to.
Nemo gets whisked away to land…never to see his dad again. Or so he thinks.
Nemo & the Tank Gang
Obviously, being fish-napped and taken to a strange place would be freaky for anyone, but it makes Nemo lose it. Think about it—he's never been on his own or had to rely on anyone but his dad and now he's a stranger in a strange land. Luckily, Nemo's in this tank with some pretty cool fish that are ready and willing to help him make a break for it.
Plus, he learns some stuff along the way. One of the easiest lessons for Nemo to take away from this whole experience would be to never disobey his dad again. After all, Marlin was right, wasn't he? The ocean is dangerous. Swimming off into open water is a bad idea. Nemo could swim right back into that anemone and never take another risk again.
But that's not what happens to Nemo. During his time in the fish tank, Nemo learns he can take chances and do extraordinary things. When he meets Gill, who also has a damaged fin, he realizes that his lucky fin doesn't have to hold him back. He can swim well. He can even swim up into a filter, block it with a pebble, and come back out again. Easy peasy.
By the time he meets up with his dad again, Nemo isn't just a helpless little fish from the reef. He's done things. He's taken chances. He's proved that he can accomplish amazing things. That's why Nemo doesn't shy away from saving Dory from the fishing net when it's time:
NEMO: We have to tell all the fish to swim down together!
MARLIN: No, I am not gonna lose you again!
NEMO: Dad, there's no time! It's the only way we can save Dory! I can do this!
MARLIN: You're right. I know you can.
Nemo has a plan and he can make it happen. He believes in himself and—for the first time—so does his dad.
Dory might not have been able to remember Nemo's name, but you might recognize it from another undersea classic. Captain Nemo was the mysterious submarine builder in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea…and that's exactly who Nemo's named for.
The name actually means "no one" in Latin. But, as we know by the end of this story, Nemo's definitely a someone.