After Reading This, You’ll Never Watch ‘Finding Nemo’ In the Same Way Again

Photo via Shutterstock.

Pixar’s Finding Nemo told of a touching bond between a clownfish father and son. But according to this fascinating excerpt from Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi’s new book The Extreme Life of the Sea, Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton bypassed the most intriguing trait of clownfish, which is that they can change their sex. Had Pixar stayed true to clownfish biology, they would have ended up with a quite different story:

The 2003 Disney film Finding Nemo formally canonized the anemone dweller’s adorability. The eponymous clownfish vanishes from his home anemone, forcing his widowed father to take off after him. Finding Nemo gets many things right—the anxiety of leaving home and the obnoxious yelping of seagulls—but it punts away the most fascinating aspect of clownfish. As sequential hermaphrodites, they lead unique home lives. All are born male, with the ability to change sex. Like a wild card, it’s only good once: once males turn into females, they can’t turn back into males. The film supposes a lifelong romance for Nemo’s parents, but genuine clownfish live only as part of larger groups. A handful of fish share each anemone, all beginning their lives as immature males. The largest and most dominant male turns into a female; the next-largest develops functioning testes. She lays eggs, he fertilizes them. The others bide their time, defending the anemone and the family’s precious eggs. One of the mated pair will eventually die, to be swiftly replaced by someone down the ladder.

If the matriarch dies, the fertile male who was #2 now takes her place as #1, metamorphosing into a female himself. A simply hierarchy of size and strength determines the family’s whole structure, conflicting with the acceptable social norms for children’s movies. Finding Nemo painted a simple picture for more than just the sake of simplicity: a real clownfish father who lost his mate would not develop a psychologically complex system of grieving and overprotection. He would simply become Nemo’s new mother. Nemo (the only other fish remaining in the anemone) would rapidly develop mature gonads. He would become his own father while his father became his mother, and they would raise little incestuous Nemos together without a drip of sentimentality. In retrospect, the producers at Disney probably made the right call.


  • http://www.fooksie.com/ Fooksie

    Mother Nature is truly a maaaaaaaaad scientist.

  • Sweetness

    Well if anyone ships Finding Nemo characters, they will be thankful for the factual plot bunny. XD

  • Mesterius

    Oh well, they always have the upcoming sequel to make things scientifically right.

  • Mike

    On the upside, if they’d made THAT movie we probably wouldn’t have had a sequel to worry about.

  • Derreck Garcia

    I knew about the clownfish can change its gender. I just thought Pixar didn’t know about this one, but now I know they know.

  • Tril

    The way Disney is going, it wouldn’t surprise me if in the next movie Marlin changes his name to Marlina.

    • Fried

      I’m not sure what this is in reference to. Disney’s princess line-up booming as of recent because of Frozen or something else?

  • sonice

    The liberal Hollywierd LGT agenda should be all over this one.

    • jonhanson

      This sure makes it look like nature has an LGBT agenda.

      • Paul M

        Danged Nature! Read the Bible sometime, why dontcha.

  • Richard Burgauer

    I trust all scientific literature that uses phrases like, “gonads.”

  • siskavard

    “He would simply become Nemo’s new mother. Nemo (the only other fish remaining in the anemone) would rapidly develop mature gonads. He would become his own father while his father became his mother, and they would raise little incestuous Nemos together without a drip of sentimentality. ”

    This is just fan-fic ripped from Deviantart.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Hopefully you didn’t give someone a good idea there! :-P

  • http://the-animatorium.blogspot.com/ Natalie Belton
    • Chris Sobieniak

      As a kid, I recall learning about clown fishes because of PBS in one of those “instructional programs” they use to play during school hours (long before PBS Kids spoiled it all, so nobody gets those 15 minute wonders anymore).

      • nevilleross

        What did PBS Kids ‘spoil’? Nothing; the shows still teach the same educational stuff that PBS is known far and wide for (and it’s the only animation block still on TV with new shows as opposed to The CW’s Vortex and what ABC and CBS used to have.) I don’t get your hate.

  • Mister Twister

    Oh look, cartoon animals are not the same as the RL ones! News at 11!

    • BlueBoomPony

      Wait, clown fish can’t actually talk?

      No wonder I got all those weird looks at the fish store.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      It’s like I’m 6 years old again and it’s all a lie!

    • Fried

      If Pixar had stayed true to sealife biology and not made them talk or form carnivore-rehab groups, the film would have also been very different.

  • jhalpernkitcat

    That sounds like an X-rated parody–Grinding Nemo.
    Sea life is especially strange and wonderful though.

  • antoine tous

    There is an adorable video about this very subject on the youtube channel called Smarter Every Day
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYCd5BEREf8

    • Ian Fyffe

      I was in the process of posting of posting a link to the video before I saw your comment.
      At first I thought cartoon brew posted the video.

  • MaskedManAICN

    And now you know… the rest of the story.

  • jonhanson

    I remember this being quite the shock to find out when I was young. Part of it was because I was raised to believe that transgender humans are unnatural and that these fish were intelligently designed. If there really is a God behind this scenario He’s certainly a lot more open minded than most people give Him credit for.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      We all have our awakening!

  • Chris Bennett

    funny, but nowhere near as bad as when Nickelodeon gave a male cow udders in that Barnyard movie.

    • SarahJesness

      I just imagine that the cow in that movie was born female but identifies as male, and all of the other animals in the farm are super progressive so they refer to him as male.

  • http://pickledperfection.blogspot.com/ Andrea K Haid

    It’s not the first time that makers of animated movies decided to ignore the true social lives of animals. Take The Lion King for example. Prides usually consist of one or two males and 5-6 females. Mufasa had his one on-screen partner, Sarabi. But really, every lioness in the pack should be his mate. (And every lioness is sister or cousin to the other lionesses.) So either Nala is Simba’s half sister, or if Scar is Nalas dad, then Nala would be Simba’s cousin. And male cubs get booted out of their pride when they reach maturity so Simba would have been kicked out at maturity instead of raised as the next leader.

    • SarahJesness

      And unless Scar was Nala’s father, he would’ve killed her after he took over the pride. (unless her mother did a damn good job of hiding her until she was mature)

  • Adzl33t
  • Frank

    Oh cartoon brew, you’re such a mixed bag.

  • Capital_7

    Just the kind of cutting edge animation news I was looking for.

  • nw

    You ruined the sequel.

  • SarahJesness

    Interesting facts, but it’s really no surprise that the movie isn’t accurate. How many animal-centered kid’s movies are accurate about the animal lives?

  • SCROB TV

    And that penguin movie didn’t have any stone based prostitution. Lame!

  • Steve Henderson

    This is heartbreaking. You’ll be telling me toys don’t really come to life next.

  • SarahJesness

    Pretty much. When you have a movie about talking animals, it can be difficult to make it totally accurate while still having the animals be so humanized. (at least if you want the movie to stay family friendly, anyway)

    • Chris Sobieniak

      That’s true. I remind myself of the features by Martin Rosen, Watership Down and The Plague Dogs, which while having talking animals, plays it pretty serious in the way those stories are told and acted. Characters are very anatomically correct and you don’t really get any real humanization at all outside the voices heard. Certainly these were not family-friendly to say the least, though Watership Down often was the victim of being placed in the children’s section of many video stores, simply out of not being able to classify what genre to slide it in. The market for animation of this sort didn’t really exist yet (much in the way Japanese anime had to find a road to travel down later on).

  • AMZart

    Orrrrrr it’s a goddamn cartoon and fictional story. Last I checked clownfish don’t talk either.

    Lions also mate for something like 30 seconds at a clip for 13 hours. Disney must have overlooked that too in The Lion King. Would have given Scar a whole new character angle when he took over the pride, no?

    • Chris Sobieniak

      Just be thankful animals in films like this usually lack any sort of definition between their hind legs! :-P