Old memories are strange. Some can exist untarnished for life whilst others can evolve from telling yourself that something happened and slowly believing it. My oldest memory (I believe) luckily sits in the former category: seeing Finding Nemo in the cinema.
This was the first time my father took my three-year-old self to the cinema, with my older sister in tow. The cinema was Canterbury’s Odeon, a reasonably sizable auditorium with a hefty screen. I’m sure my mind was blown seeing a screen bigger than the 20-inch cube that adorned my living room’s shelf. A hazy experience followed; I no doubt enjoyed the film but all I can vividly recall are two specific moments. One of them is the wide shot of Marlin and Dory calling out to a distant whale, only for the whale to slowly emerge from behind them, darkening the bright blues of the ocean surroundings with its enormous size. As a memory this has no doubt persisted because of the crippling sense of fear it installed in me. I was too young to work out what was really happening but seeing something so big and dark consume the small, funny aquatic protagonists was terrifying. The cinematic scale accentuated the shot, searing it into my brain.
The second moment I can definitely remember comes right at the film’s end, where the iconic shark trio of Bruce, Chum and Anchor arrive to save Marlin, Dory and Nemo. The content of the scene didn’t entirely matter; the point was that I remembered it because, perhaps ten years later, I re-watched Finding Nemo for the first time and was questioning my imagination when, after the shark sequence in the first act, I didn’t see the three sharks in the reef environment. But come the end of the film I was overjoyed to see that the shots I recalled of the sharks in the vibrant Great Barrier Reef environment were indeed right at the picture’s end.
I come back to Finding Nemo quite a lot; it is the memory-lane of my film collection. My father, not a big fan of animated films, often cites his surprise when he took me to see Pixar’s underwater odyssey. He was impressed with the animation and he of course responded positively to the themes of fatherhood within the narrative. According to him I was a patient audience member, neither restless or loud, and was pretty engaged with the screen. This first experience has always been accessible as a memory because of the sense of awe and fear I felt from one blue whale. On a VHS tape at home I’m certain a first watch of Finding Nemo would have been far less memorable at a preschool age. The effect of that whale shot would not have filled the room like it did in the cinema, and the subsequent feeling it provoked would not be a part of me now. If there is any defence for cinemas as being superior to watching at home, it starts with that first memory.
Finding Nemo, directed by Andrew Stanton, is on Blu-ray and DVD as well as available to stream on Disney+