Finding a Clue

It’s been an interesting summer at the Guppy household. Lots of adventures and time to play with friends. But also, a lot of down time. Jack is currently memorizing the entire script of Finding Nemo during his quiet hours, and I’m totally okay with that. In fact, I’m watching along, most of the time. I’ve always loved this movie. I love the rich colors and the story, the characters, but most of all the message.

The message, as I get it, is this: Let your kids live. Let them live their lives and make mistakes and get bumps and bruises, because that’s how they learn. That’s how they grow. It’s really a message for the parents who take their kids to a movie like Finding Nemo. A friend of mine said, “That’s the only way to get the message to parents, is to make a kids’ movie about it, so they’ll take their kids.” She was talking about Nemo, but also about Inside Out, which has recently come out, and which I think every American should see. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll say that the message of that one is that we need all of our emotions to be a fully functioning human being, and that it’s actually not beneficial for anyone to be happy all of the time.

But I digress. Nemo is my little boy’s jam. And as I watch with him, I’m learning a lot. For instance, the title character is not, in fact, the hero. If you read it closely, the title is actually Finding Nemo. And whose job is that? The dad’s, of course. From a writer’s perspective, Nemo’s Dad, Marlin, is the real hero of the story. He’s the one who changes. And that’s what our protagonist needs to do, in any good story. He or she has to change.

Marlin is scarred by the death of Nemo’s mother, at the opening of the film. And he tries to pass on his fear of loss to his son. But here’s the catch. Nemo hasn’t really lost anyone. He never knew his mother. He’s just a kid. And he wants to learn and explore his world. It’s Marlin’s overbearing behavior that drives Nemo to rebel, which leads to his capture by a diver (P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney),  which is why Marlin has to find him in the first place.

I won’t recount the entire film for you, though I think Jack probably could, if you asked him. Suffice to say that Nemo’s capture is really the only thing that could ever propel Marlin into action, driving him away from the safety of the anemone, out into the open water. And through his various confrontations and struggles and triumphs, he becomes stronger and braver, and he eventually *gets* that Nemo needs for him to let go a little and let him grow.

As I’ve watched the film, I have realized the wealth of material that would be great to teach in an elementary classroom. I have found a bunch of lesson plans out there covering Nemo‘s content, but most if not all focus on the fields of science and marine biology. But I can see a whole unit of information: vocabulary (Mr. Ray alone could give us a month’s worth of vocab), math (How far is it from the Great Barrier Reef to Sydney? How many days do they have to get there?), geography (Where is Australia?), history (Are their underwater mines in the Pacific? Sunken battleships? Where did they come from?), art (Papier mache jellyfish, anyone?), creative writing (What would have happened if the divers never came? Imagine a conversation between Nemo and his school friends after the big adventure.), and even drama (scene studies, etc.). Then, maybe with older kids, you can talk about the change in Marlin and the life lesson he learns during his adventures.

In my Pinterest searches for other lesson plans, I found one for younger children that included the “life lesson” of the story, which, according to this plan, was that children should obey their parents, because their parents know better. Um. What? Were you watching the same movie I was watching?

This is where the finding a clue part comes in. We think of kids’ movies as just that: for kids. We think they’re fluffy and light and cute and entertaining. But we don’t take them or anything they might have to say very seriously. And that’s to our detriment. Because obviously someone took the story, the animation, the graphics, the characters very seriously. They invested millions of hours and millions of dollars in them. The people who created Nemo (and Inside Out) are, you know, adults. Professionals. Drawing Nemo is their day job. It pays their rent and feeds their families. This isn’t a joke to them.

Why should it be a joke to us? What would happen if we sat down and actually watched and listened to these films? How would we change as parents? As people?

Because, well, here’s the real thing. Jack starts Kindergarten in a month, and I sure could learn to let go, along with Marlin. Jack needs to live and learn and grow, and I need to let him. There. I said it. So help me, Disney.

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