As I grow older, I find some films don’t hold up quite as well as the first time I saw them when I was a kid. The cheesy dialogue and bad storytelling is more apparent and you were pretty forgiving back then of the bad acting. We found ourselves distracted by other interesting elements such as action, special effects, unpredictable scares, or ridiculous pratfalls. None of these are bad to have in a movie, but once you reach a certain age you start to demand more in your favorite genre. Animated films tend to get a pass with regard to developed characters and a script that has more levels than just slapstick humor. It’s because they are almost always intended for children and it doesn’t respect them or ask anything from them except their parents’ money. Which is why I admire the work Pixar has done for the last 20 years. They not only respect their audience by taking years to flesh out a compelling story, they challenge them to explore worlds inhabited by nuanced characters and complex family dynamics. When there’s weight behind a character’s emotions and how they perceive their life, you hold onto those moments and project your own life onto them. It’s not about being dramatic or too serious, but showing life in all its facets. Every emotion, every flaw, every sincere gesture, every terrible decision, and every heartfelt embrace. Pixar showcases all of this and makes it entertaining at the same time. It’s an amazing run they are on and why I am so excited to see them revisit one of their now classic films.
In Finding Dory, directed by Andrew Stanton, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is living happily with Marlin and Nemo in their cozy little eco system. After a field trip with Nemo’s class, Dory begins to have flashbacks of her parents and ends up going on an adventure to track them down. Marlin (Albert Brooks) is obviously weary of this quest, but he eventually relents and all three of them set off for what turns out to be a marine research institute off the coast of California. Along the way, they seek the help of several old and new friends, including an octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill). Their trip is no less dangerous than the first time around and, as the movie progresses, we grow to understand just what makes Dory so endearing.
What I found charming about this movie is how it maintains the same thematic heart of the first movie, but still manages to carve its own path. We get several of the original characters and they help to bind the stories together, but then we begin to have an examination of Dory’s life. The memories of her childhood paint a picture of a child always lost without a reminder of the familiar. She is taught, much like Nemo, to never stray too far from home. Only when faced with extreme danger does she lose her way completely and that’s when she must rely on the help of her friends or summon the confidence to stand on her own too fins.
One of the challenges a movie such as Finding Dory faces is keeping the story fun, while also addressing the serious topics of loss, anxiety, short-term memory, and hopelessness. It helps to fill the movie with quirky animals, but there’s a nuance of emotion among the main characters that brings out a high quality of storytelling. The talented actors behind the aquatic creatures are also what makes this so enjoyable.
Without spoiling any of the fun moments, I should say that one of the things I found enjoyable about the first movie is how it always seemed like a completely unique world from our own, but still familiar in many ways. The characters had mannerisms and personalities we could relate to, but it always existed outside our specific reality. With this new movie, I found they were making more of a connection to modern, pop culture references that sort of took me out of that Pixar world. It wasn’t a complete distraction, but it definitely felt unnecessary and when you see the movie you’ll know what I’m referring to. Also the first movie had it’s silly, off-the-wall moments, but the sequel amps that silliness up to eleven near the end of the film. Almost to a logic-defying conclusion. The transitions from one scene to another require a suspension of disbelief that far exceeds Finding Nemo. How exactly do sea creatures in different parts of the world reach out to each other and do the humans ever follow up on what are some pretty public escapades? You can’t worry about these details, nor should you, since it is after all an animated film, but Finding Dory does such a great job with the emotional elements of the movie; so you kind of want the rest of the movie to be better constructed from a scientific and narration point of view.
Finding Dory is a wonderful tale of a forgetful fish and the life she’s created since separating from her family. I enjoyed seeing Dory, Marlin, and Nemo together again, getting lost myself in the magnificent scenery, and meeting new characters with interesting abilities. I found the side story with the octopus Hank to be a fun compliment to Dory’s adventure. Ed O’Neill has real depth in his performance as the tentacled escapee. In fact none of the actors held back in their roles. Albert Brooks’s Marlin and Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory make a terrific pair on-screen. Also Dory and her friend Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a vision-impaired whale, and the flashback scenes of Dory’s parents, played by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy. I recommend seeing this in a theater, if only to immerse yourself in the colors of the ocean and marine life. Pixar’s environments are beautiful beyond compare and the 3D element specifically makes it a worthwhile expenditure. While Finding Dory doesn’t quite match the story and wonder of Finding Nemo, it makes up for it with plenty of charm, heartwarming humor, and clever sight gags.
FINDING DORY:[usr 4]
About Finding Dory
Synopsis: The friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish reunites with her loved ones, and everyone learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Writer: Andrew Stanton
Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Kate McKinnon, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver
Runtime: 1 Hour, 37 Minutes