Moving on from toys, bugs and monsters, Pixar went under the sea and snagged a big fish with FINDING NEMO (2003). This delightful film tells the tale of a young clownfish, Nemo (Alexander Gould), who gets caught by deep sea divers off the coast of Australia, and his father (Albert Brooks), who must brave the ocean depths to find him. As usual in Pixar films, the supporting cast vocal work is top-notch with special kudos to Ellen DeGeneres’ hysterical Dory, a fish with short-term memory loss.
One of the most beautiful of all Pixar films, the color palette for FINDING NEMO is exceptionally rich and as deep as Sydney Harbor, and at times you’ll swear the animation was real. As the studio explored new animation territory, they decided to go a different route with the music. Instead of using Randy Newman, who had scored the previous four Pixar films, they hired his cousin, Thomas Newman.
Director/screenwriter Andrew Stanton said that he wrote the screenplay listening only to Thomas’ scores, knowing full well that he wanted Newman on the project from the beginning. Gone are Randy’s trademark ragtime and blues harmonies. Instead, we get the adult, eclectic sounds that Thomas had perfected in scores such as AMERICAN BEAUTY and ROAD TO PERDITION. As is common with many Newman scores, melodic fragments prevail over long, flowing melodies. The sound is uncommon for an animated film, but the result pays off handsomely.
Of the many marvelous musical moments, one of my favorite cues remains the scene in the dentist’s office with Darla, a bad seed if ever there was one. A thrilling action cue, Newman uses sequences in the low strings and repeated notes to ratchet up the tension until the other fish come to the rescue and all hell breaks loose. The cue’s use of block chords, timpani and belching brass bears the stamp of Bernard Herrmann, including the shriek of Herrmann’s PSYCHO strings as Darla’s signature, the perfect motif for a little girl who loves to kill fish.
I thought for sure that FINDING NEMO would finally result in Thomas Newman’s Oscar, and it probably would have had it not been for the final installment of THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. Even with four more nominations, Newman still remains embarrassingly Oscar-less. I keep hoping that will change.