Study Guide

Finding Nemo Themes

  • Family

    Family's a gift…one you've probably wished that you could return more than a few times.

    Marlin starts out by trying to protect his son from all the dangers in the big bad ocean, and Nemo responds with some classic child defiance. Of course, we think he's a rebel with a cause.

    Through Marlin and Nemo's adventures, both these fish eventually learn what parents and kids really need from each other. They also get to make up their own improvised families along the way, too. Hey, when people (or fish) care about each other, it's a big deal. Maybe we won't go looking for that family gift receipt after all.

    Questions About Family

    1. Does Dory get something out of her family-like relationship with Marlin? Why would she offer to help a total stranger cross the ocean without a second thought?
    2. How would Nemo's time in the dentist's fish tank have been different if the other guys from the Tank Gang didn't accept him into their makeshift family so easily? Why does he need their support to escape?

    Chew on This

    Family doesn't just include your relatives. It's anyone who loves and cares about you.

    Gill is initially motivated to help Nemo for selfish reasons, but he gradually backs off his escape plan when he realizes that he's put a member of his adopted tank family in danger.

  • Fear

    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    That quote could be Marlin's life motto. After the death of his wife, Marlin sees danger around every corner in the Great Barrier Reef. He's determined to protect his son from these terrors by insulating him from anything even slightly panic-inducing.

    But eventually Marlin learns that you can't let your fears control your life. Yes, the world is a scary place sometimes…but if you don't take some risks, you'll never get to experience the good stuff, either.

    Questions About Fear

    1. Are Marlin's fears really irrational? Or was he kind of right about the ocean being a super dangerous place?
    2.  Compare and contrast Marlin and Dory. Why is one of them scared of everything, while the other has no fear at all? Who do you think has the healthier attitude?
    3. Do you think Marlin ever told Nemo what happened to Coral and his brothers and sisters? Or do you think he would have tried to protect him from that, too?

    Chew on This

    Fear isn't always a bad thing. It's actually our brain's way of letting us know to be a little more careful. Marlin is probably right to be terrified of sharks, jellyfish, and an approaching whale—all those things could mean death.

    In the end, Marlin learns that it's okay to be afraid sometimes, but that you can't let your fears (or your fears for your kid) totally paralyze you.

  • Memory & the Past

    You've probably heard that certain fish only have a three-second memory span. Of course, this isn't true. Fish can remember stuff.

    Just not fish named Dory.

    See, Dory suffers from short-term memory loss. It's a problem, especially for Marlin. On one hand, we've got a fish who can't forget about his wife's death and another who just constantly forgets everything. But, this underwater odd couple will eventually learn that they don't need to hang onto the past to achieve their goals. Memory can be a powerful thing, as long as you never forget to just keep swimming.

    Questions About Memory & the Past

    1. Do Marlin and Dory make a good pair because of their differences in memories? Or would Marlin have been better off with another fish helper?
    2. Why do you think Dory remembers the address from the diver's mask so clearly? Why does she start remembering things once she meets Marlin? Do you think something like this has ever happened to her before (and she just doesn't remember)?
    3. How do our memories (or lack of memories) shape us into who we are?

    Chew on This

    Marlin and Dory are set up as foils in terms of their memories. Dory hardly has any and Marlin can't let go of his bad ones.

    Dory is presented as kind of stupid throughout the movie, but she actually has a lot of very important skills that help her and Marlin survive out there in the ocean. Forgetful? Yes. Dumb? No way.

  • Perseverance

    I Won't Back Down. We Shall Overcome. I Will Survive.

    There's something about perseverance that just makes us want to sing. That's why the determined fish in Finding Nemo really get us rooting for them.

    You've got Dory and Gill…who just aren't going to let any setbacks get in the way of their plans. Then there's Marlin: a fish that's hopelessly devoted to finding his son.

    In the end, everyone comes out on the other side of the ocean a little bit more tenacious and a whole lot stronger. Cue the Beyoncé.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. Which characters do you think exhibit the most grit and determination? Which characters learn it as they go?
    2. Why do you think the Tank Gang goes along with Gill's plans? They've never been to the ocean, so are they just trying to support their friend?
    3. Is there an instance in this movie where determination is not a good thing?

    Chew on This

    Dory's motto—"just keep swimming"—fits her perfectly. Since she has trouble remembering what she's doing at any given moment, the safest thing for her to do in any situation is to just keep moving right along.

    Marlin's so determined to keep Nemo safe that he doesn't see the contradiction in his promise to not let anything happen to him. It's takes empty-headed Dory to point it out (proving that she's pretty smart after all).

  • Transformation

    A wise person once pinned, "If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies."

    There'd also be no movies. One of the most satisfying things about sitting down to watch a film is seeing people change for the better. Marlin may start out as an overprotective parent and Nemo might hate his dad's worrying ways, but, by the end of the film, this father and son have really come around. They've realized that they do love each other, but that love means letting go, too.

    That's some pretty powerful transformation in under two hours. If only real life change were so simple.

    Questions About Transformation

    1. What does Nemo learn about his dad during the movie? What does Marlin figure out about his son?
    2. Which character do you think changes the most? Which characters stay the same?
    3. Is change always a good thing? Can people sometimes change for the worse? Or do most people tend to get better as life goes on?

    Chew on This

    Marlin's biggest hurdle is learning to trust other fish. Once he gets that down, the transformation to becoming a way better dad is well on its way.

    By the end of the story, Marlin and Nemo's relationship has evolved into a healthier father and son dynamic—they love each other, but aren't so totally co-dependent.