The eponymous MIA is Nemo, a young clown fish snatched by a pair of divers right from under the perpetually dilated pupils of his manic, overprotective single father, Marlin (Albert Brooks). Nemo soon finds himself in a dentist's office aquarium, coached on the best means of escape by his fellow inmates (hilariously voiced by the likes of Allison Janney and Willem Dafoe). Marlin, meanwhile, finds himself venturing out into the great unknown to find his kid with a little help from an entire ecosystem of newfound friends, from surfer-dude sea turtles to recovering fishoholic sharks.
Brooks is at his blathering best playing his trademark cuddly nebbish. As genuine and likeable as he is, much of Finding Nemo's buoyancy comes from New Orleans' own Ellen DeGeneres. The comedienne voices a blue tang named Dory, a memory-challenged fish who provides the sweet to Brooks' sour. Marlin and Dory's colliding life philosophies (is the pool half full or half empty?) generate some of the film's best laughs -- and most charming lessons. For all its technical wizardry, Nemo ultimately succeeds because it has a heart full of joy, a giddy sense that the world, wet or otherwise, can be as welcoming as it can be scary.
Like the whimsical friendships of Toy Story, the adventures of Marlin and Nemo are the flip side of our own. Disney-Pixar projects have an innate smartness in their postmodern, inside-out views of the world; these kings of the feature-length cartoon re-earn their royal status with each narrative innovation, whether it be the perspective from the toy box, a bug's eye view or a fish school of hard knocks.