20 years ago today, Finding Nemo first arrived in cinemas (internationally at least – the UK had to wait until October before it graced our screens).
It was an immediate sensation, becoming the highest grossing animated film in history – beating the record The Lion King had held since 1994 – and causing a massive increase in demand for pet clownfish.
The film was Pixar’s biggest success at the time, but it almost wasn’t to be, as Michael Eisner, Disney’s CEO at the time, thought it would be the animation studio’s first massive flop. This led to some dramatic changes that helped reshape the movie into the classic we all know and love.
Making Marlin “Less Dramatic”
In that early cut Eisner saw, Nemo’s overprotective dad was voiced by an entirely different actor: William H. Macy. However, while we know he has impeccable skills as a comic actor from films like Fargo, he wasn’t deploying them here, which is why the character didn’t fully connect with audiences in early screenings.
Yes, Macy had recorded almost all of his dialogue, and the film was nearing completion. As reported in the book DisneyWar, Eisner told the studio’s board of directors that: “This will be a reality check for those guys.
“It’s OK, but nowhere near as good as their previous films. Of course, they think it’s great. Trust me, it’s not.”
That comment got Eisner into hot water with Steve Jobs, one of Pixar’s owners, with Disney’s board of directors later citing this incident as one of the reasons they voted to remove him as the studio head.
With Macy’s performance slated for not being comedic enough, director Andrew Stanton resumed his search for a new Marlin, eventually settling on Albert Brooks. Stanton would claim that the actor “saved the picture” on the film’s DVD commentary.
This helped bring the project back on track, as Stanton had always cited Brooks as his number one choice for the role. By all accounts, the actor didn’t have the best time making the film – his only previous animation experience was The Simpsons, and this differed because he was alone in the booth for his entire recording process.
Elsewhere, Stanton had claimed that he initially conceived the character of Dory as a man, changing his mind when he saw an episode of Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom where she changed the subject five times within a single sentence. He realised this was perfect for a character with memory loss, and she came on board the project soon afterwards.
These changes all helped the movie become instantly beloved amongst audiences – and 20 years later, it remains one of Pixar’s most beloved efforts.