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Finding Nemo isn't just one of Pixar's very best movies-- it's among the great road movies of all time. Yes, there's only a vast expanse of ocean in Finding Nemo instead of an actual road, but the elements are all the same-- two characters thrown together in a search for something specific, colorful and sometimes menacing characters met along the way, intriguing scenery, adventure and lessons, and a wallop of an ending that makes all that traveling worthwhile. Road movies span many genres and eras and messages (try fitting Easy Rider comfortably next to Dude Where's My Car?), but they all reach their natural end point when the journey concludes-- which makes them uniquely unsuited for sequels.
Finding Nemo is no different, which is why today's news that Andrew Stanton is returning to the Pixar fold and making Finding Nemo 2 is so conflicting and discouraging. On one hand, Stanton made both the original Nemo and WALL-E two of Pixar's most polished gems, heartfelt and funny and gorgeous and frequently revelatory in all the emotion and insight they crammed into a "children's" film. On the other hand, Nemo will mark the fourth sequel Pixar has developed in the last decade, a startling turn for a studio that often gives us the most bracingly original stories in Hollywood.
And, most importantly, Finding Nemo just isn't the right Pixar movie to get a sequel. So many of their films, from Toy Story (which led to two pretty terrific sequels) to Monsters Inc. (getting a promising sequel of its own next year) to Stanton's own Wall-E, have built worlds crammed with characters that seem ripe to be explored again, and leave the characters in a place that could easily lead to more drama in the future. And while Nemo's characters are rich and wonderful, and the film depicts the ocean as a limitless and fascinating place, the film's grandeur is in the story and the surprises it entails-- it's a journey that inherently can't be taken twice.
The road movie isn't so much a format as a license for characters to meander and find surprises, and Finding Nemo does that so perfectly-- with three characters utterly transformed by the end-- that both characters and the world feel ideally examined. Nemo can't get lost again, and the ocean can't be explored as a revelation again, and Dory can't join Marlin and find family again. New adventures are always possible, but the unique spark of the road trip will be missing in Finding Nemo 2-- and that's the very spark from the first film they're obviously aiming to recreate.
I don't like writing off movies before they exist, especially when they come from someone as talented as Stanton, a studio as reputable as Pixar, and source material as fantastic as Finding Nemo. I probably would have written this article about Toy Story 2 back in 1996, and look how wrong I would have been. But in all the years I've loved Finding Nemo I've never once wanted a sequel to it, and I can't help but wish Stanton's return to Pixar was to work on something equally as original and inventive, instead of returning to a well that seemed perfectly tapped the first time. Even if Finding Nemo 2 turns out great, I think I'll still be left wishing for whatever new thing they might have come up with instead.