It used to be that Disney would rerelease its old animated features on a regular schedule into theaters, reaching a new audience every decade or so with sure-fire quality entertainment that made parents cheer and kept kids entertained.
That equation was upset with the rise of home video -- but Disney has found a way to go back to the well on a new path: 3D.
So the studio rereleased its Oscar-winning Beauty and the Beast in a retro-fitted 3D version that didn't really solve the problem of turning two-dimensional drawings into three-dimensional images.
But with this week's release of Finding Nemo 3D, that equation has been solved as well. Nemo, after all, is a fully digital production, a Pixar computer-animated marvel that won the Oscar in 2004. One has to assume that the translation of digital images from two to three dimensions is a lot less challenging than trying to add a third dimension to flat drawings.
Nemo features Albert Brooks as Marlin, a nervous clownfish on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia. He's a single parent, having lost his mate to a barracuda shortly before their sole remaining egg hatched. Now he nervously attends to his offspring, Nemo (Alexander Gould, whose childlike voice has obviously matured into what it is as Shane Botwin on Weeds), who wants to spread his, um, fins and go to school.
Then on his first day of school, on a dare from classmates, Nemo ventures out into the open ocean -- and is promptly captured by a scuba diver, who pops him into his boat and heads back to Sydney. The distraught Marlin sets off in pursuit, eventually teaming up with a blue tang, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), good-natured but with a short-term-memory deficiency, to track Nemo down and rescue him.
The rest of the film is divided between Marlin and Dory's trek -- with sharks, jellyfish and other underwater hazards -- and Nemo's escape efforts from a dentist's aquarium in an office near Sydney harbor. It is Pixar perfection, an energetic blend of exciting action, photorealistic visuals, well-written jokes and outstanding voice casting (including, among others, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney and Geoffrey Rush).
Ten years later, it holds its own. Its director, Andrew Stanton, may still be licking his wounds from his latest film, John Carter, but he can hold his head up proudly for this film (and, of course, his subsequent Pixar output, including WALL*E, another Oscar winner).
Did Finding Nemo require 3D-ification? (Or should that be deification?) Not really. The 3D gives the images a little more depth but they already had heft and weight. The 3D is a money-making gimmick, nothing more.
On the other hand, this blatant money-grab does offer one of those rare chances for a family to see a Disney classic on a big screen. So there's that.
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