They named the storm that made its way through the Northeast on Friday night Nemo. Thousands tweeted about it. So I did the only thing I could do; I watched Finding Nemo. (It was that or wall-to-wall Snowmageddon coverage on the local news. I had no choice, right?)

This Disney-Pixar animated flick centers on clownfish Marlin, his son, Nemo, who’s been taken from the ocean by a dentist with an office aquarium, and regal tang Dory, who helps Marlin on his quest to find his son.

I haven’t seen Nemo since my pre-vegan days, but as with Lincoln a few months ago, I couldn’t help but look at it through new eyes. From vegetarian sharks fighting hard to stick to their “Fish are friends, not food” mantra to a team of aquarium fish with an escape plan to the little girl meant to be Nemo’s new owner and her ignorance in handling fish (she shakes them to death in their plastic bags), it was hard not to put a vegan spin on things. These animals wanted to live, and they wanted to live free, as nature intended.

This point was no more apparent than late in the film when Dory gets caught in a fishing net with a school of grouper fish. Nemo and Marlin rescue Dory – and the groupers – from their fate by telling them to “just keep swimming” downward, eventually reaching the sea bottom and breaking the net.

At face value, the film seems to have an animal-friendly message. Not only does it suggest that fish don’t belong in tanks, but that whole “friends not food” thing is a vegan mantra!

But here lies the rub – and another example of that disconnect we tend to experience so often. Nemo‘s popularity caused a spike in the demand for clownfish, and, according to reports, in the year the film was released, two hundred thousand fish and other marine life were exported from the Pacific Reefs, endangering the reefs’ sustainability. Why the spike? People wanted clownfish for their aquariums.

And what about parents who took their children to see the movie in theaters a decade ago and then went to a fast food joint (with the irresistible incentive of a Happy Meal toy) and ordered them a filet of fish sandwich? Even now, kids are probably watching Nemo swim for his life, down the sink drain in that dentist’s office and eventually into Sydney Harbor, while munching on fishsticks in front of the television. How many might have been doing that very thing last night as his namesake snowstorm blew through? Did any of them relate the breaded piece of meat in their hands to the orange and white fish on the screen?

Sometimes, the tools to open a dialogue can be found in the most benign places. It’s up to us to take the opportunity – like a cartoon about a fish – and make sure it’s not tuned out by the exploitative world we live in.

Find more vegan and vegan-centric movies on Vegan Flicks.

Photo: Choh Wah Ye