Why Finding Nemo Should Have Been a Mother-Son Story Instead

Finding Nemo is a touching tale of the lengths a father will go to rescue his kidnapped son. But part of the reason Nemo ends up captured in the first place stems from Marlin's over-protective nature, which only started because Nemo's mother and his siblings were devoured before he hatched. Not having a mother to temper Marlin's helicopter-parenting propelled Nemo to touch the butt boat that led to his eventual capture. Perhaps if he'd had a mother, the movie would have turned out differently.

Well, as it turns out, Nemo should have had a mother all along. In fact, his mother should have been his father. Yes, you read that right.

In their book The Extreme Life of the Sea, Stephen and Anthony R. Palumbi use Finding Nemo as a way to talk about one of the most interesting biological aspects of the clownfish — that they can change their sex at will once in their life. Here's an excerpt that explains in detail.

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.

I'm inclined to agree with Palumbi. While it would have certainly made for a more interesting story, there would have been a lot of confusion on the part of the kids who watched it. And maybe the audience.

[via Cartoon Brew]