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Reminding us what superlatives are for - R.H. Joseph

How shall I praise "Finding Nemo?"

Dazzling? Nah, too glitzy.

Let's make it spectacular. Yeah, spectacular.

I ask you, what good is a film about the ocean that is unable to communicate fluidity? What good?

Conversely, how unique is an animated feature film that is capable of inducing a visceral response to the voluminous swelling, the magical cobalt-blue immensity of a surging sea?

Clearly the techno-geniuses at Pixar Animation Studios got their computers running just as fast as their little thingamajigs could go so the innumerable zillions of micro-motions that define fluidity appear as one graceful oscillation.

Dazzling! Yeah, dazzling!

This is particularly advantageous since the main characters, Marlin and his son Nemo, are clownfish. Clownfish, you see, dwell in anemones (pronounced an-em-o-knees), each one a magnificent, semi-translucent collection of undulating fingers.

Clearly those responsible for the film's imagery are experienced divers for not only have they effectively communicated the extraordinary life forms of the Pacific, they make their love and admiration for Nature's spectacle palpable.

Their attention to detail is equaled by their computer's ability to incorporate the results of this attentiveness.

All divers are aware fish bear the physical evidence of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: a torn fin here, a missing chunk there. So it is that the fish in "Finding Nemo" wear their badges of reality, their scarred integument, without comment.

Cleverly – dare I say brilliantly – the writer/director Andrew Stanton has incorporated myriad subliminal messages into his animated film. This one, that physical perfection is an illusion, provides his magisterial rainbow of a film with a plausibility to which the young will respond unwittingly.

Make no mistake, however, "Finding Nemo" is not exclusively a kids' flick; no adult should miss this extravaganza. Yeah, extravaganza!

As wonderful as it is, "Finding Nemo" is also a pedagogic film. To view it is to learn significant lessons about life, lessons about our frailties, our physical flaws, character flaws, and flaws of perception.

As to the physical imperfections of life, Stanton makes the boldest of statements (and perhaps the most profound of impressions on the young) when he makes our little hero, Nemo, the bearer of a shrunken limb (in this case, a fin).

More importantly, the film does not treat this deformity as a handicap; it simply acknowledges its existence.

The indomitable spirit of the tot only manifests in his desire to flower as an individual, to grow intellectually and experientially despite an overprotective father. (They got Albert Brooks, the neurotic du jour, to play Marlin. He's perfect.)

As Marlin typifies character flaws, Bruce, a great white shark with more teeth than Jimmy Carter, is present to correct a gross misperception. Neither Bruce nor the writer/director want people to continue to imagine sharks as threatening predators lurking just beneath the glistening surface of a silent sea patiently awaiting your presence.

As with everything in the film, this is accomplished with a great deal of humor and charm. In this case Bruce is part of a 12-step program, so concerned is he with his rapacious appetite for little fishies. This bit may be over your kids' heads but adults will find it quite amusing.

Keep in mind, however, the writer/director has taken care to keep his creation from being one long warm and fuzzy love fest. There's some really scary stuff in "Finding Nemo."

Near the beginning there's a stunning bit of animation featuring a barracuda on the hunt. Later, in establishing exactly why Marlin will go to the ends of the earth to find his missing son, the film embraces the contemplation of tragedy. And throughout, there are innumerable life-threatening situations out of which Nemo must employ all his wiles to escape.

One of these is capture by ever-acquisitive humans. Here again the writer/director's love of the seas manifests. "Fish don't belong in a box with glass walls!" proclaims one of Nemo's fellow prisoners.

Coming on the heels of the hubbub surrounding the announcement of the construction of an aquarium in Atlanta, one can only wonder if those who are entranced by the film will view the intended entertainment complex from a new and more enlightened perspective.

I can never forget landing on the island of Palau in Micronesia (about 10 hours by jet south of Hawaii) and seeing stacks and stacks of Styrofoam containers loaded with "tropicals" plucked from the reefs to reappear in dentist's offices everywhere.

The writer/director has some side-splitting fun with one particular dentist's office, the one containing Nemo and his new-found friends. Also, you will howl with delight at the depiction of the dentist's niece, a nightmare with a retainer and the demon for whom little Nemo is intended.

"Finding Nemo" is a marvelous film. Its attention to detail, its brilliant colors and magical imagery, its ability to engage both with tension and warmth, all these are the marks of superlative film making.

Further, as a learning tool that teaches by example rather than pedantic articulation, it should enrich the lives and impressionable minds of the millions of children (and lucky adults) that deserve to see it.

Celluloid memories: Two exceptional animated features directed by the Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki (with English dialogue) are spectacular to look at and guaranteed to provide enriching family fare. Start with "Princess Mononoke" (1997). Qualitatively similar to "Finding Nemo" but considerably more phantasmagoric, it is a magical tale of spirits overcoming humanity's lack of concern for nature. The same may be said of "Spirited Away" (2001). When pundits suggest prodding little Fescue and Butterbean to read a good book, attend the symphony or the art museum, they might add, rent a copy of Miyazaki's work for they epitomize refinement.