Pixar’s Finding Nemo’s Heartbreaking Opening Scene Was Almost Completely Different, And I’m Glad They Made The Change They Did

 Nemo and Marlin in Finding Nemo.
Nemo and Marlin in Finding Nemo.
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When it comes to making audiences cry over animated characters, Pixar Animation Studios deserves all the awards. The company's been doing it from the very beginning with Toy Story and will continue to tug on audiences’ heartstrings when the highly anticipated 2024 movie release Inside Out 2 hits theaters in June. While some fans might argue that Up’s opening montage is the saddest scene in the studio’s history, I’d argue that honor actually goes to the heartbreaking start in Finding Nemo.

Anyone who has ever seen the movie will remember the gut-wrenching sequence where Marlin watches his wife and nearly every one of his children get eaten by a big fish in the first five minutes of the movie. It was shocking to watch, but it helped set up the rest of the movie and explained why the clownfish was so overprotective when it came to his son, Nemo.

However, the opening sequence almost looked a lot different. In a recent interview with UNILAD, Pixar animator Jason Deamer opened up about what it was like working on the 2003 animated film which continued Pixar’s streak of iconic storytelling. While the heartbreaking sequence was always a part of the movie, the character artist explained that it happened much later in the movie:

Originally you found out [about Nemo’s mom’s death] through flashbacks.

It seems Finding Nemo almost made the same mistake I believe Disney's Encanto made when it came to Abuela’s story by not revealing the true motivation behind these overprotective characters. Thankfully, the Pixar team realized their mistake after a test screening that left them questioning if they had just made their “first bad movie.”

Deamer said that when they returned to the office, legendary Pixar animator Lee Unkirck rearranged the sequence of events so that the flashback became the start of the movie. While he empathizes with fans who find the opening scene hard to watch, he stands by the studio’s decision, saying:

I know it’s heart-wrenching, but otherwise you just didn’t empathise with [Marlin’s] overprotective behaviour.

It’s hard to imagine what Finding Nemo would have looked like if the movie started with the scene of Nemo being excited to go to school while Marlin grapples with his fears. Still, I think it’s safe to say that Deamer and the rest of the Pixar animators were right to assume that it would have skewed how viewers interact with Marlin. We wouldn’t have seen him as a caring father, but rather one who is trying to hold his son back for some unknown reason.

While the way fans watch movies might have changed a lot since 2003, Pixar isn’t ready to completely abandon the formula it has created; at least, not when it comes to the heartbreaking moments that have become synonymous with these movies. Deamer has a theory on why that is too, reassuring fans that they’re not “trying to hurt your feelings,” but rather:

They’re trying to make you understand where characters are coming from.

As much as I hate crying when I watch movies, I will take the heartbreak if it means we get well-rounded, complex characters like Marlin. I’ll just make sure to always have tissues on hand when I’m getting ready to watch a Pixar movie.

With the iconic studio gearing up for a summer filled with Inside Out 2 promo, dozens of other movies are being celebrated as part of the months-long Pixar Fest over the Disneyland Resort. Not only can fans see new decorations and meet some of these beloved characters, but they can also enjoy themed foods and check out new entertainment options, like the Better Together parade and fireworks show that all celebrate these iconic characters.

If you can’t make it to the celebration, you can stream all of Pixar’s movies with an active Disney+ subscription. And don't forget to catch Inside Out 2 in theaters on June 14th.