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Kids aren't fooling - they really want to find Nemo

Movies are famous for using product tie-ins to attract viewer interest and propel the momentum of a film. Star Wars, Toy Story and Pokemon are just a few that drove kids crazy. Finding Nemo, Disney and Pixar's latest animated film, is no different, hyping the movie with toys for all ages.

Nemo-themed toys, created by Hasbro, run the gamut, from stuffed animals and board games to bath toys and candy.

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But there's one thing that's different about the Nemo craze: a tie-in that executives at Hasbro, Disney and Pixar might not have anticipated. The infatuation with Disney's new animated character has created a rush to find a real live clown fish.

Finding Nemo, a colorful, humorous tale set in the depths of the ocean, opened nationwide to shining reviews on May 31. Children - and adults - have become hooked on the lovable lead character, Nemo, a clown fish who lives near the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Sydney, Australia.

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Young children are flocking to Baltimore's National Aquarium trying to find Nemo, said Charles Myers, the aquarium's director of visitor services.

"They were shouting, "Do you have a clown fish? Where is it? What is it like?' " Myers said, describing the scene at the aquarium on a recent Saturday.

Myers said the aquarium staff enjoys when popular culture stirs a child's interest in marine life.

"It becomes a neat educational experience. It's exciting for kids to come in with the knowledge of a fish," he added. "We used to have zero requests for clown fish. The emphasis has always been on our shark exhibit."

Kids are also flocking to nearby tropical fish stores, such as the Aquarium Center in Randallstown. John McAdam, a store employee, said he observed groups of children "oohing and ahhing" in front of clown fish tanks. He said some kids came charging into the store asking, "Where's Nemo?" When they found the clown fish, they screamed, "There's Nemo."

Perhaps kids are attracted to Nemo because he is a lovable underdog who overcomes adversity while trapped in a fish tank at a dentist's office; or perhaps it is because of his vibrant orange skin and puckered lips. But as kids push their noses against the glass tanks at the aquarium and local fish stores, they will find that Disney's Nemo is quite different from the real thing.

Jill Forsbacka, an aquarist at the National Aquarium, said clown fish are usually territorial and aggressive. They are an Indo-Pacific fish no more than 3 inches long.

Forsbacka acknowledges that they are popular among home hobbyists but are not the typical household fish for young children. Saltwater tanks must be at least 30 gallons, compared with a typical 10-gallon home aquarium. They also require extra maintenance.

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Clown fish are costly. At Coral Reef in Highlandtown, they sell for $8 to $12 each.

However, Benny Sacks from Coral Reef said there are many fresh-water variations of clown fish that cost $1.35 each and may satisfy a child's interest. A popular lookalike is called the clown loach.

For kids who are not interested in the real thing, Hasbro's Finding Nemo line includes Plush Nemo, Nite Brite Nemo, Aquarium Adventure Toy Set, and Memory: Finding Nemo Edition. McDonald's will also offer eight Nemo Happy Meals for each of the colorful characters.

And Pixar has created a Finding Nemo video game. The National Aquarium also sells its own plush version of a clown fish in two sizes: a 5-inch one ($5) and an 18-inch one ($15).


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