In the film Finding Nemo, a young Clown Fish (Nemo) gets separated from his father (Marlin) off the Great Barrier Reef by a scuba-diving dentist looking to expand his office aquarium. Marlin, a widowed father, is determined to find and rescue his son — even at the risk of his own life. As we see early in the film, Marlin is particularly overprotective of his son because Nemo has a physical disability: due to a large fish attack on his mother and siblings that left Nemo and Marlin the lone survivors, Nemo sustained damage that led to a deformation of one of his fins. Marlin often hovers over Nemo, worried that he will get too tired from swimming long distances with a disability. When Nemo is captured, Marlin descends into a panicked frenzy. He begins swimming, seemingly without direction, asking any creature he can if they have seen his son. In a moment of tumult and confusion, he swims directly into a Blue Tang fish (Dory). This messy introduction initially leads to animosity between Marlin and Dory, who are still strangers at this point. When Dory hears of Marlin’s harrowing circumstances, she immediately vows to help him find his son. It becomes apparent very quickly that Dory does not have a good memory — in fact, she later laments that she suffers from short-term memory loss. Marlin becomes irate at this point, feeling as if he’s wasting his time with a fish who cannot help him find Nemo. Eventually, Marlin and Dory enter into a bond of trust when Dory uses her fantastic personable character to find directions and answers from an unruly school of fish. Marlin begins accepting Dory as his partner in this endeavor and they set out together to find Nemo, all the while becoming closer and closer friends as they escape death, suffer injury, and protect each other from the perils of the deep ocean. They befriend other animals along the way, including a vegetarian shark (who proclaims that “Fish are friends, not food!!”), a band of migrating sea turtles, and a gregarious pelican, who helps transport them away from hungry seagulls in his throat pouch. Without the help of these friends, Marlin and Dory would not have been able to reach their destination in Sydney Harbour.
Meanwhile, Nemo has been dropped into a tank of other ocean creatures at an Australian dental office. Although timid at first, Nemo is quickly accepted by the other fish as one of their own. With the help of their friendship, Nemo attempts to escape the tank multiple times. At the expense of their own freedom, the fish do eventually help Nemo to escape to the sewer, which leads to the ocean. Nemo’s friendship with Gill, a jaded and war-weary Moorish Idol fish, is particularly noteworthy: Gill initially brushes Nemo off as too young and destined for failure, as that is all that Gill has ever experienced. His long scar crippling his fin is a painful reminder of his own escape attempts. Nemo wins him over by bonding with him over his own disfigured fin. Gill’s hope for the future is restored as he decides to help Nemo escape. Although it means he will lose a friend, Gill tirelessly works out a plan to get Nemo back to the ocean.
Without the support, guidance, and trust in new friends made on both sides of this story, Nemo and Marlin would have never been reunited. The work of many individuals to help both Marlin and Nemo along in this journey is integral to the story of love in this film: love between Marlin and Nemo, and also love between new friends (especially Dory and the aquarium fish). The theme of friendship is prevalent throughout this exciting and heartwarming film.