St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

'Nemo': Little fish, big star

BILLY NORRIS
Published November 3, 2003

Following the highest grossing opening weekend of all time for an animated film (more than $70-million), Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studio's Finding Nemo went on to reel in nearly $339-million since its release on May 30.

Tuesday, they hope to bring in even more with the much-anticipated release of the blockbuster on DVD and video.

The success of the film was due in no small part to the youngest actor in the studio: Then-7-year-old Alexander Gould provided the voice and personality for the headstrong title character.

Now 9, Alexander is touring to promote the release of the DVD and video. Though a youngster, Alexander was no stranger to acting going into this role, having appeared on television and in movies since he was 2.

The concept of recording without interaction between actors (since each character's dialogue was recorded separately) took some getting used to for Alexander. "It was confusing at first because I was waiting for my cue," he said in a recent interview. "I was waiting for someone else to say a line so I wouldn't do my line. But after I did it one time I was fine."

The story takes place in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks) is a clownfish with one son, Nemo, who was born with a deformed right fin. Since losing his wife and all of their other babies to a hungry barracuda, Marlin has been overprotective of Nemo.

When Nemo is captured by a scuba-diving dentist who brings him back to his office as a gift for his niece, Marlin begins an incredible journey to rescue his son. With the help of Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres), a friendly but forgetful blue tang, and some other exceptional sea creatures, Marlin tries to reach his son before it is too late.

The film forged new boundaries in the world of computer-generated animation. The project encompassed the work of a large team of animators over the span of five years who set out to create an undersea masterpiece.

The general idea for the look of Nemo had been somewhat predetermined, as the storyboards are put together early on in the whole process, but the minute facial and expression details of the character were modeled after Alexander. There are numerous similarities in the way he carries himself and Nemo's bubbly, expressive screen presence.

He spent 11/2 years recording his lines, which would take its toll on any actor, especially a 7-year-old. But Pixar made the work seem like fun. Alexander referred to the studio as "a giant playground."

"It's so fun there. Everybody is so nice, and everything was just cool - they have foosball, pool, pinball," Alexander said. "This one time I was in the studio in the middle of recording a line, and I burped. Everybody started cracking up and they said "keep that!' "

Although fame has struck Alexander at an early age, he is grounded and unaffected by it. He is a typical kid who likes to play GameBoy and swim.

Alexander is working on another Disney project, Bambi II, as the voice of Bambi. He's a little older now, so the experience is different. In Finding Nemo, director Andrew Stanton (who also was the voice of Crush the turtle) was in the recording booth with him.

For Bambi II, Alexander is on his own and the expectations are higher. He's able to use more of his own ideas and gets his direction from a distance.

Alexander has great aspirations in addition to continuing his acting career. "I want to be an inventor, and invent a flying car," he said. "I also want to be a marine biologist and work with whales and dolphins." His interest in marine life was there before he got the role as Nemo.

The DVD comes with numerous special features, including a short documentary about the Great Barrier Reef, which features surprise appearances by Marlin, Nemo and Dory, and is narrated by French oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau.

So, is there any hope for a sequel to this Disney classic?

"Not yet," Alexander said. "We're hoping, though. I'd really like to do it!"

- Billy Norris, 15, is in 10th grade at Seminole High School and is a former member of the Times X-Team.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.