Disneys Nemo dives into a sea of splashy visuals

It's spring, the M's are winning, and there's a new Pixar movie in theaters — what more could one wish for?

"Finding Nemo" is enchanting; written with an effortless blend of sweetness and silliness, and animated with such rainbow-hued beauty, you may find yourself wanting to freeze-frame it. Not that we'd expect anything less from the team that created the "Toy Story" movies, "A Bug's Life" and "Monsters Inc." — and here they've raised the bar by moving from land to a perfect sea, with watery flickers of light and tiny particles floating by. Is there anything these guys can't do? Would they like to take over, say, a TV network or two? Or animate the next Vin Diesel movie?

This undersea story has many heroes, but at heart it's a father/son tale: Marlin (voiced with nervous, paternal fussiness by Albert Brooks), a clownfish living in the Great Barrier Reef, loses his wife and all of but one of their eggs in a shark attack as the movie begins. (It's not explicit, but could frighten sensitive children; consider a few extra minutes in the popcorn line.)

A few years later, Nemo (9-year-old Alexander Gould) is a happy little clownfish ready to start school, but Dad, haunted by loss, is anxious about letting Nemo out of his sight. For good reason — Nemo, chafing his father's protectiveness, wanders too far and gets scooped up by a diver's net. Soon he's swimming circles in a dentist's aquarium, while Marlin frantically searches for his son in a sea that now seems very, very large indeed.

Two simultaneous story lines then unfold: Nemo's aquarium mates plot a great escape (mostly masterminded by a moody angelfish, voiced with gang-leader mystique by Willem Dafoe), while Marlin teams up with Dory, an enthusiastic but forgetful blue tang (Ellen DeGeneres), to follow Nemo's trail. And while the happy ending is never in doubt — this is, of course, a Disney movie — we're treated to many surprises along the way.

A scene of Marlin and Dory's escape from an ominous sea of pink-and-purple jellyfish has a ghostly beauty; while a whale's tongue is so detailed you can almost smell its fishy breath. And the many characters are a delight.

I was especially fond of Crush, a hipster sea turtle who dubs Marlin "Jellyman," when he's not calling him "dude." (Director/co-writer Andrew Stanton, in perfect surfer tones, voices the turtle.)

A host of actors from Down Under — Geoffrey Rush, Barry Humphries, Eric Bana, Bruce Spence — add their voices to the mix. (And yes, for some reason, talking seagulls and pelicans are even funnier when they bicker and gossip with Australian accents.) DeGeneres stands out even in this talented crowd; her Dory is befuddled but gentle, wildly funny when imitating a whale or forgetting Nemo's name (Fabio? Harpo? Elmo?), but touchingly direct and simple when speaking from the heart. "When I look at you, I'm home," Dory tells Marlin, in a charming definition of friendship.

There's plenty of detail in "Finding Nemo" that will reward repeat viewings — watch for the boat named "The Surly Mermaid," or the fish who casually remarks, "I'm H20 intolerant," or the snail who speaks French. But like all of the Pixar movies, it's ultimately a story of love and friendship, wrapped in wondrous visuals.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Movie review

"Finding Nemo," animated feature with the voices of Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Allison Janney, Geoffrey Rush. Directed by Andrew Stanton, co-directed by Lee Unkrich, from a screenplay by Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds. 101 minutes. Rated G. Several theaters.