FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) — Willee Andersen remembers rushing along the streets of Fairbanks one morning four years ago, following her husband's Nissan Rogue during a busy morning of errands.
When she finally met up with him at The Diner, she jokingly mentioned that her pursuit of his Sunset orange vehicle reminded her of one of their favorite movies — Finding Nemo. The 2003 animated film follows an ocean-long search for an orange clownfish named Nemo.
"She said the wrong thing to the wrong person," Bill Andersen said with a laugh.
Andersen, 56, the vision center manager at Walmart, decided on the spot that a clownfish-themed car would provide a fun diversion. After spending several weeks convincing Willee, he ordered a vinyl wrap for his car that made it a Nemo look-alike.
That $725 investment has had a surprising influence on his life. For the past four years, Andersen's distinctive SUV has become a cult favorite in Fairbanks, resulting in countless photos, blog posts and the occasional shout of "Nemo rules!" It's reliably parked in front of Walmart, where Anderson frequently looks out to see someone taking a picture while posing by his vehicle.
"It has been the most entertaining thing," Andersen said. "The entertainment value has been off the scale."
Andersen said he can't quite believe the lasting response to the vehicle, which bears the license plate MYNEMO. He's seen motorists slowly pass by him on the highway while videotaping, or distractedly hop a curb while checking out its unusual design.
An Internet search for "Nemo car Fairbanks" pulls up dozens of results from both Fairbanksans and visitors who have seen the car while passing through town. In North Pole, where the Andersens live, gawkers occasionally stop by for a peek.
"We've actually had repairmen come into our yard and say, 'My wife has your car on Facebook,'" Willee said.
Andersen said he's thrilled with the attention. His goal with the quirky car design was to make people happy, which has been accomplished and more, he said.
"I'm not bashful," Andersen said. "I like to make people laugh. "The Nemo car has been a fun chapter to Andersen's life in Alaska. He moved north from California in 1995, seeking a new start for himself and his daughter, Amanda. He met Willee, a longtime Fred Meyer employee, while working as an optician at Vista Optical.
A sequel to "Finding Nemo," titled "Finding Dory," is scheduled for release in 2015. It's expected to follow the adventures of Dory, a forgetful blue fish who figured prominently in the original movie.
As luck would have it, Willee drives a blue Nissan Rogue. Andersen is already making plans to order a new vinyl wrap from Auto Trim Design in a few years — one that will give Nemo a familiar friend on the streets of Fairbanks.
"She doesn't have a choice in the matter," Andersen said with a grin. "She's going to be Dory."