20,000 fins under the sea

"Finding Nemo" is going to make a big splash with young children. And parents or grandparents who dive in with them are likely to have a great time, too.

This animated delight from Pixar, the makers of "Toy Story" and "Monsters Inc.," washes the screen with colorful locales and fishy characters. They play out an undersea story of love between a father and son, both of whom have lessons to learn about conquering their fears and appreciating each other.

After a marauding predator takes the rest of their family, only clown fish Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and his, son, Nemo (Alexander Gould), are left in their home inside the safety of a sea anemone. Marlin is overprotective of his only child, who's been born with one fin undersized. But little Nemo longs to explore the open ocean, and finally does so, against his father's wishes. He's captured by human divers and sent to live in an aquarium at a dentist's office in Sydney, Australia. Now Marlin must overcome his fears and swim to save his son.

Early on, he meets Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a loopy, chatty Blue Tang fish who has trouble remembering anything for more than a minute or two. Together they stumble into an oh-too-close encounter with Bruce, a great white shark (voiced with a roaring Australian accent by Barry Humphries), and his toothy mates, Anchor and Chum. Frustrated that other creatures are frightened of them, they invite Marlin and Dory to a meeting of their 12-step program. They've sworn off eating other fish - for the moment.

Further adventures find Marlin and Dory diving into the inky depths, negotiating a flotilla of stinging jellyfish, and surviving in the belly of a whale. Finally, to speed their trip, they brave the East Australian Current, a kind of undersea superhighway. There, riding the swirling stream, they meet Crush, a green turtle with the wisdom of a 150-year-old and the heart of a teenage surf dude (an older, wiser version of Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" may come to mind).

Meanwhile, young Nemo has made his own circle of friends in the aquarium, including their leader, Gill (Willem Dafoe), who bears a scar from his tough life in the sea, and Nigel (Geoffrey Rush), a friendly pelican at the window. They must help Nemo escape before he can be sent to live with the dentist's niece, a spoiled brat who's tough on pets (and everything else). For Nemo, it means discovering new courage and resourcefulness.

This is a fish tale with a happy ending, of course, and the action usually surges toward it. But director Andrew Stanton also wisely lets it ebb at times, pausing to permit us to wonder at the undulating beauty and mystery of this watery world and the amazing ability of the animators to capture it.

It all makes for the best animated underwater picture since "The Little Mermaid." And while "Finding Nemo" may lack the catchy tunes of that musical, it enchants in its own way with compelling comic characters and glorious computerized animation.

Rated G: scenes of Marlin and Dory being chased by predators could frighten very small children.

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