Finding Nemo

Inciting Event: Young clownfish Nemo defies his dad Marlin by swimming over the Drop. He is captured by a scuba-diving dentist. This happens very early in the movie and sets up the entirety of the conflict to follow, but in a lot of ways it also functions as the Key Event (which almost always is better positioned at the end of the First Act, near to or simultaneous with the First Plot Point). This is where Nemo literally leaves his Normal World and Marlin figuratively does so.

First Plot Point: As a result of the most dynamic moment in the story’s first half having taken place so early, the rest of the First Act is arguably the weakest part of the movie. The two-sided “door” opened by the Key Event is finally closed for Nemo when his First Plot Point has him landing in the dentist’s aquarium—his “adventure world” of the Second Act.

Marlin’s First Plot Point is less defined. He and his memory-challenged new friend Dory discover the dentist’s lost goggles and Dory reveals she is able to read the address printed on them. This gives Marlin his first clue about how to find Nemo, and he officially enters the “adventure world” of the quest, in which he sets out across the ocean to rescue Nemo.

First Pinch Point: Dory loses the goggles to the bottom of the sea. Since Dory has yet to read the address, this is a huge obstacle for Marlin. They follow the goggles down into the darkness, where they are nearly eaten by a monstrous angler fish. The threat to their lives is a good emphasis of the stakes, and they finally gain the new clue of the address when Dory reads (and remembers) the address.

Nemo’s pinch point arrives late in the movie (after Marlin’s Midpoint), when he attempts to block the filter in the fish tank, fails, and is nearly killed.

Midpoint: Marlin’s Midpoint revolves around his arrival in the East Australian Current, after being rescued from jellyfish by sea turtles. He and Dory are now on a straight course toward their goal of reaching Sydney. He experiences a Moment of Truth when the turtle Crush advises him that parents can’t hold on too tightly to their children (this is also a great example of what James Scott Bell calls the “Mirror Moment”—in which Marlin’s relationship with Nemo is mirrored back to him by Crush’s relationship with his adventurous son Squirt).

Nemo’s Midpoint arrives later in the story when, after hearing word of his dad’s heroic quest to rescue him, he decides to try blocking the filter again—and this time succeeds.

Second Pinch Point: Marlin and Dory are swallowed by a whale. The whale turns out to be friendly, so this isn’t a massively effective pinch point. But it does its duty, since the emotional reaction from Marlin and the emotional investment by the audience are both real.

Nemo’s Second Pinch Point arrives when the dentist’s scary niece shows up for her dental appointment. Nemo is intended as a birthday present to her, even though she killed last year’s present by shaking the bag too hard. This is a decidedly effective pinch point that leads right into the Third Plot Point sequence.

Third Plot Point: After the seeming victory of Nemo’s evading Darla and the arrival (via pelican) of Marlin and Dory, everyone’s hopes are then crushed flat. Marlin believes Nemo is dead. Meanwhile, Nemo realizes too late his dad was in the dentist’s office and that he just missed him.

Climax: After escaping through the drain in the dentist’s office, Nemo makes it back to the ocean. He connects with Dory—whom Marlin abandoned in despair. Just as they finally reunite with Marlin, Dory is trapped in a fishing net, and Marlin must let Nemo rescue her. As an affirmation of the theme and a bookending “after scene,” this is extremely effective. As a Climactic Moment, it’s problematic, since it basically introduces a brand new conflict that must be overcome.

Arguably, the true Climactic Moment is when Nemo and Marlin reunite, but since this new threat arrives so closely on its heels and is integrally tied in with Nemo’s escaping to safety, it’s a hard call. Either way, the rescue of Dory can’t help but feel a little extraneous (and on the nose) to the rest of the conflict.

Resolution: Now safely back home, Nemo goes to school with Marlin’s blessing to “have an adventure.”

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