The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and just in case you were hoping Walt Disney Pictures wouldn’t add to the burden on your wallet, I hate to, but have to disappoint you. With three more shopping weeks left until Christmas Day, they’ve got two new Blu-ray/DVD combos for our perusal, The Odd Life of Timothy Green and Finding Nemo, both of which were among their big early-fall releases. Of course, the Pixar entry was getting a 3D re-release after its original 2003 release, but still, it’s a notable release because now you can finally claim ownership of every Pixar feature film.
I almost feel bad for not wholeheartedly loving The Odd Life of Timothy Green, an extraordinarily sincere and earnest family film about a childless couple who, one night, discover that their wishes and prayers to become adoptive parents has come true in the form of a boy named Timothy who grows out of the ground during a torrential and very localized rainstorm. Writer-director Peter Hedges (who worked from a story by Ahmet Zappa) wanted to follow in the footsteps of such classics as Field of Dreams and It’s A Wonderful Life, as he states in the audio commentary on the Blu-ray. I don’t think he succeeded completely, but the movie does have its charms. At the very least, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, which has a great cast of character actors like Dianne Wiest, David Morse, Rosemarie DeWitt, and M. Emmet Walsh, is more like the Disney live-action films from the early 1990s and before. The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a family film, one that is legitimately appropriate for everyone in the brood. Perhaps this movie will find new life on home media; I can certainly see it getting some kind of polite, if passionate cult fanbase.
The Blu-ray doesn’t offer many special features, but all of them have the exact same sincere tone as the movie itself does. I’m a naturally cynical, skeptical guy, but I have to believe that everyone involved in the film was infected by Hedges’ almost teary-eyed level of open-mindedness. The biggest feature is the aforementioned audio commentary, with Hedges as the sole participant. He’s a fairly low-key commenter, and doesn’t provide a lot of insight, but he does walk through the process of what appealed to him about the story and how it played into his warmhearted sensibilities as a filmmaker. There are also a handful of deleted scenes, accompanied by commentary by Hedges. Clocking it at just under 6 minutes combined, these scenes probably could’ve made their way into the final cut, but none of them are particularly illuminating. The music lovers among you may get a kick out of the Glen Hansard-led music video for “This Gift” as well as a behind-the-scenes look at how the score was composed by Geoff Zanelli. I’ll be honest: I don’t remember much about the music in the film, but the dedication these folks have really is inspiring. (And again, I feel kind of embarrassed for not recognizing the soundtrack in the movie.) Last, there’s a 10-minute featurette with talking-head interviews from stars Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton, as well as the other major cast members. Nothing groundbreaking here, but The Odd Life of Timothy Green is at least worth checking out.
It’s fair, however, to say that Disney’s big release of the week is all about a little clownfish looking for his son. After having its 3D re-release in September, Finding Nemo is on Blu-ray for the first time. Why it took Disney this long to deliver one of Pixar’s very best films, a thrilling, funny, and emotional adventure that I have new appreciation for (let’s say I’ve gained some wisdom in my years), to high-definition is beyond me. But no matter. Finding Nemo is now no longer just one of Pixar’s best films, it’s one of Disney’s best Blu-rays. If you’re a fan of the movie, you’re either going to buy this as soon as you can or beg someone to buy it for you for Christmas, Hanukkah, your birthday, or…well, any other special occasion you can think of. If you’re a little iffy, though, it can’t be emphasized enough that Pixar doesn’t skimp on its home-media releases. No matter what version of the film you buy, 3D or 2D, you’re getting your money’s worth.
The 3-disc 2D Blu-ray combo pack, for example, is packed to the gills with fascinating special features, as well as the movie itself. You won’t be shocked to learn that Finding Nemo has transferred to Blu-ray exceptionally well. Having seen the film a number of times over the last decade, what I kept focusing on as I watched the movie now were the easily ignored details. People rightly praised Pixar for its animation of the Pacific Ocean in this movie, but what I noted now were the floating specks of dirt present in the ocean and the fracturing of the light on each character residing in that environment. There’s no doubt that Pixar has continued to challenge itself, in an attempt to get better than perfect. Still, I’m partially convinced that, in the minute aspects of the animation, Finding Nemo is technically Pixar’s best. (As soon as I watch another Pixar film, I’ll probably change my tune. They’re that good.)
Each of the discs on the 3-disc combo pack (with 2 Blu-ray discs and one DVD) has something to offer, a mix of old and new features. The Cine-Explore option on the first Blu-ray disc, which is a mix of an audio commentary with co-writer and director Andrew Stanton, co-director Lee Unkrich, and co-writer Bob Peterson and some pop-up behind-the-scenes featurettes, is certainly illuminating and a fun diversion. Its only flaw is that it appears to have been recorded for the DVD release—as proof, I submit Stanton’s praise of Eric Bana, who he says we all know now as the Hulk. That being said, the three men get into the nitty-gritty instantly, transporting you into the long road of making this film. Among the new-to-Blu-ray features are a Filmmakers’ Discussion where Stanton, Unkrich, Peterson and a few others sit down for a 17-minute conversation about the making of Finding Nemo, from their in-person research to going back and forth on story points. My favorite part of this is a quick bit of Albert Brooks, who voices Marlin, in the recording booth biffing a line. Maybe there’s an Easter egg just of his recording sessions somewhere here. One can hope.
Other notable features on the Blu-rays include an alternate opening scene with commentary from Stanton, as well as A Lesson in Flashbacks. Both of these focus on how Finding Nemo could’ve been a much different film, and was at the outset. Stanton wanted us to find out in dribs and drabs what had happened to Marlin’s wife and the rest of his many children. In the finished film, that information is revealed in the opening scene, but Stanton wanted to wait, to jump back and forth in the timeline before he dropped the hammer on moviegoers. Wisely, though, the finished film avoided these flashbacks, giving us all the emotional weight of Marlin’s journey before the opening titles had appeared. Theme-park junkies may get a kick out of the 15-minute supplement chronicling how the Submarine Voyage attraction at Disneyland was transformed from being specific to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Finding Nemo after the latter film did enormously well at the box office in 2003. Watching how the Disney Imagineers reinvented the attraction is, for this fanatic of the parks as well as the movies, endlessly absorbing.
There are also a number of other, slighter features, including many from the DVD release. Still, even with this older supplements being ported over from the older, standard-definition release, Finding Nemo is a must-own if you’re a fan of filmmaking in general. (Any such fan should also be a fan of animation, which has its own massively difficult process of creation.) Both of these releases are, at least, not totally inessential, though I reserve that more for The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Finding Nemo is the standout here, and one of Disney’s best releases of the year. When they put in the effort to show the audience high-quality films and the painstaking, detailed process of how those films are made, everybody wins. One only hopes they’ll continue to do so with future releases of older and newer movies.