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Little Nemo tests its fins

Disney film dives into father-son bond and É surfing turtles?

Do you like Disney's animated movies? If so, you'll like 'Finding Nemo.'

Yes, it's made by Pixar, the geniuses behind 'Toy Story' and 'Monsters, Inc.' But 'Nemo' is a joint venture with Disney in every sense of the word, with Pixar providing the breathtaking animation for what is very much a Disney story.

A reminder of how cool Pixar can be is provided by the accompanying 1989 short 'Knick Knack,' which precedes the film.

A story of father-son love and an object lesson about not living a life of fear, 'Finding Nemo' follows a daddy clown fish named Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) as he searches the big blue ocean for his missing son, Nemo (Alexander Gould).

The tyke is fishnapped by divers when he swims out into the open sea in defiance of his dad, a fretful type who obsesses about every possible danger that might befall his son.

To set the stage at the top of the film and explain the father's fears, the folks at Disney use their favorite plot device: They tragically kill the entire family except dad and tot. In this case, a barracuda appears and eats the mama clown fish and all the recently spawned children, leaving Marlin to raise his one remaining child alone.

Surely the writers could have brainstormed a less appalling way to set up their story.

After his capture, little Nemo is transferred to a fish tank in a dentist's office, where he meets a motley crew of aquarium denizens that include, I kid you not, Willem Dafoe as a scarred veteran of the tank.

Nemo has his own adventures as he and the others plot their escape, including a dangerous trip into the filter system, which Nemo shuts down in the hopes that they'll gain their freedom when the dentist gives the dirty tank a cleaning.

Meanwhile, Marlin overcomes his terror of the ocean long enough to search for his son with the help of Dory (a very funny Ellen DeGeneres), a hyperactive fish suffering from attention deficit disorder. Along the way they encounter a trio of sharks who've formed a support group ('Fish are friends, not food!'), get help from a friendly pelican (Geoffrey Rush) and a surfer-dude sea turtle (director Andrew Stanton), and navigate the electric dangers of a jellyfish forest.

At each step, Marlin and Nemo learn important lessons and grow as people É er, fish. To be fair, this is a step above most Disney products, which don't tend to be heavy on life lessons. And the animation is absolutely stunning, with brightly colored characters swimming about in a truly beautiful undersea environment.

After the financial (and creative) disasters of Disney's 'Atlantis' and 'Treasure Planet,' it's ironic that their best cartoon in several years comes from Pixar. While not reaching the heights that Pixar previously hit with 'Toy Story,' 'Monsters, Inc.' and 'A Bug's Life,' there are enough laughs and excitement in 'Finding Nemo' to make it appealing to both kids and adults.

Just close your eyes when the barracuda shows up.