Finding Dory

What once was lost...

By Louis Balzani
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  • You’re skeptical about Pixar’s ability to create a worthy follow-up to Finding Nemo.
  • You watched the original film.
  • You need something bright and shiny to distract the kids for an hour and a half.

WARNING: Plot spoilers for Finding Dory follow. Read at your own risk.

It’s risky to place the words “Pixar” and “sequel” together in the same sentence. Outside of the exceptional Toy Story follow-ups, the animation studio has yet to successfully translate the magic of their original features to the stories that follow in their wake. Monsters University didn’t exactly light the world on fire, and the less said about Cars 2, the better. With that in mind, I was especially nervous for Finding Dory; I consider Finding Nemo nothing short of a masterpiece, and I wasn’t convinced that the sequel would do the original any justice. I’m happy to report that I was wrong.

The plot is relatively light, for what it’s worth. One year after the events of the first film, Dory lives a happy and carefree life alongside clownfish Marlin and Nemo. One day, Dory is suddenly struck with memories of her past and a family she had more or less forgotten, and this changes everything for her. Convinced that her parents are still out somewhere, she lures Marlin and Nemo out of the anemone one more time and another high-stakes adventure ensues, one that takes them into the bowels of a marine institute and lets audiences explore public aquariums from the fish’s perspective.

Appreciably, Finding Dory doesn’t simply rehash the original film, and one of the many ways it shakes things up comes with putting Dory at the center of the story. It’s always tricky to take a beloved supporting character and give them the spotlight, as their quirks often end up getting stale and repetitive. Thankfully, director Andrew Stanton and co-writer Victoria Strouse anchor her story with enough depth and emotion to make it all work, and the endless fountain of joy that is Ellen DeGeneres does another exceptional job bringing it all to life. While primarily played for laughs in the original, Dory’s forgetfulness takes on a wistful tone this time around, and it serves as the catalyst behind much of the story’s resonance; one scene even shows her parents struggling to figure out how to cope with her condition – a touching reminder that the impact of a disability extends far beyond the disabled.finding_dory_2In fact, the film deliberately illustrates how her condition impacts everyone around her, especially her family, and it’s here where Pixar wraps itself around our heartstrings and tugs away. Early on, the film establishes that, in Dory’s youth, her parents would leave her a trail of shells to follow so she’d know how to get home when she inevitably lost her way. Toward the end, it’s revealed that her parents had been building trails of shells out in all directions ever since they lost her, trusting that she’d find her way back someday. Cue the waterworks. It speaks to just how much parents will do for their kids, and if you’re lucky enough to have been the recipient of such love and care from a parent, that scene will hit you hard.

A slew of new supporting characters are along for the ride as well. As the story progresses, we meet a near-sighted whale, territorial sea lions, a whale who’s struggling to regain his echolocation ability, and a grumpy but good-natured octopus who happens to be the technical marvel in what’s already a very advanced-looking film. Most of the laughs, however, come from Becky the crazy loon, whose erratic and absurd behavior helps her steal nearly every scene she’s in. She’s really quite charming and funny. Most of your favorite characters also reappear for a scene or two – Crush, Mr. Ray, even the Tank Gang pop up again. Of course, we smile and soak up their presence – not because they contribute to the overall narrative, but because they help us recall our fond memories of the first film.finding_dory_1Therein lies the inherent problem with sequels of this nature: you often end up more preoccupied with remembering the original than you are with enjoying the follow-up. I always try to judge sequels on their own merit, but when a film insists on tethering itself so closely to its predecessor, that becomes a difficult task. To some extent, Finding Dory seems aware of that, and it fully embraces its existence as a continuation of that story. For example, the first few scenes intertwine the new narrative with Finding Nemo‘s, and the film lovingly reanimates Marlin and Dory’s classic meet-up to make it work; even the opening titles more or less mirror the setup of the first film. Admittedly, I genuinely loved all the nods and winks, but if you’re easily distracted by that sort of thing, the constant callbacks to the original won’t help you much.

There are a couple of other quirks, too. The film pretty much races to pack in its exposition, and the first twenty minutes feel oddly overstuffed as a result. Thankfully, much of the rest of the film levels out with the exception of the climax, wherein an octopus drives a hijacked transport truck on the highway – even for a film about talking fish, that’s pushing it. It’s also preceded by Piper, an adorable short about a young sandpiper that features the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous animation I’ve ever seen and, to some degree, even overshadows the feature presentation. None of this has much of a negative impact on the overall experience, though, and the film’s strengths are ultimately much more plentiful than its flaws.

When you get right down to it, Finding Dory is an emotional and satisfyingly entertaining film that honors the legacy of Finding Nemo, though time will tell if the former will be remembered as fondly as the latter. It’s a little more rushed, a little less magical, and a little more kid-oriented than its predecessor – which, to be fair, is one of the absolute best animated movies ever, so that’s a high bar to meet. Sitting a rung or two below the all-time greats still puts you in some pretty esteemed company, though, and that’s more than enough for me.