“After his son is captured in the Great Barrier Reef and taken to Sydney, a timid clownfish sets out on a journey to bring him home.”
Finding Nemo is a film that seemed to scoop the world up in its fins when it was released in 2003. It was a massive hit and after reading the screenplay written by Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, and David Reynolds, one can see why.
Here are three lessons I learned from reading the Finding Nemo screenplay:
- Craft distinct character quirks…and use them to serve the story.
- Audiences want to see characters overcome fears.
- Play with your world and setting in the details. Have fun on the page.
#1. On the following page of the Finding Nemo screenplay, Marlin finally gets fed up with Dory and comes to a realization:
CRAFT DISTINCT CHARACTER QUIRKS…AND USE THEM TO SERVE THE STORY — Dory’s short-term memory loss is a hilarious and memorable feature of Finding Nemo, even spawning her own sequel Finding Dory. Marlin freaking out is not all that interesting but when you add lovable Dory and her goofy forgetfulness and a shape-shifting school of Moonfish imitating Marlin, well, that’s rock-solid entertainment.
It is also very human for characters to say things like, “No one is helping me!” or “I don’t have anybody!” often directly to the people who are there, who are helping. A very real reaction in an overwhelming time of fear and stress. These kinds of outbursts effectively humanize the underwater creatures we come to know and love.
#2. In the following scene, Marlin relays the story of what’s happened and the story is passed on from creature to creature, putting into perspective the great feat Marlin has already achieved:
AUDIENCES WANT TO SEE CHARACTERS OVERCOME THEIR FEARS — Stories survive when they resonate deeply with the human experience. When they give us hope. We want to see people with the same fears as us overcome them onscreen. We root for people who are like us. A parent losing a child — as is the case with Finding Nemo — strikes a primal chord. We want Marlin to overcome his fear of the unknown and reunite with his son and spoiler alert, he does!
In the opening, Marlin is established as an exuberant young fish in love. Then, when that is taken away, we see him become overbearing. A fish living in fear. Brings to mind the quote by Henry David Thoreau, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Many can relate to a fear of taking risks. Fear of what’s out there. Of what could happen. And then Marlin is driven to action when his son is taken away. Marlin swims into the open ocean, through jellyfish fields, all the way to Sydney, Australia to rescue his son. On the journey, Marlin learns from other parents how to let go and how to lead without being overbearing. A beautiful lesson for parents everywhere.
#3. This page of the Finding Nemo screenplay shows Dory speaking whale while Marlin argues with her in Dual Dialogue and then, “Oh, look! Krill!” Such a fun moment for all ages. They are swallowed up and we cut back to Nemo’s storyline in the dentist’s fish tank. Jacques is caught cleaning in an adorable moment:
PLAY WITH YOUR WORLD AND SETTING. HAVE FUN ON THE PAGE — Dory speaking whale was an element of the film that people imitated for months after the film’s release. It was a hilarious mix of Ellen DeGeneres’ perfect voice acting as Dory, the suspense of the moment heightened by danger, and Marlin’s growing anxiety / shouting… All of it gets the heart racing and viewers giggling. Fun.
At the bottom of the page, we see a French-accented shrimp named Jacques get chastised for cleaning the glass. “I am ashamed.” Hehe. Adorable. Then the starfish character, Peach, “waves her arms, smearing the algae” and proclaims “Hey look! Scum angel!” How could the writers not have had a blast dreaming up these moments?
Finding Nemo feels like the writers shared many laughs while crafting the story and that shines through to the final film.
That’s all for today. Thanks for reading. Come back soon.