Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy
Director: Andrew Stanton
Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse
Pixar (and Disney in general for that matter) doesn’t have a great track record with non-Toy Story sequels and prequels. Neither Cars 2 nor Monsters University were able to attain that level of creativity, wonder and heart that usually makes Pixar’s movies so astonishing. Finding Nemo is such a movie. The tale of an anxious clownfish scouring the depths of the ocean in search of his son is one that captured my imagination and filled me with pure delight as a child. The film contains some of the best comedy in any Pixar movie, stunning animation, and a touching (if predictable) message about family and trust. Dory was easily the most entertaining character in the film with her scattered brain, idiosyncratic personality and perfectly cast voice. If a sequel did indeed have to be made, then putting her character at the helm was certainly a wise move.
One year after helping Marlin rescue Nemo, Dory accompanies Nemo’s class on a field trip when an incident triggers a memory of her parents. Realising that she has an actual family, she sets out to resume her search for them with her friends’ help. The only thing she remembers is that they lived at the Jewel of Morro Bay, so they venture there and find a Marine Life Institute. Dory is caught and taken into the Quarantine section where she meets a seven-legged octopus named Hank. He agrees to help Dory find the section of the Institute where she believes her parents might be found if she agrees to help sneak him onto a truck bound for an aquarium in Chicago. Meanwhile Marlin and Nemo need to find a way inside the Institute so that they can rescue Dory. As Dory gets closer to her home, she receives additional flashbacks that help to fill in the blanks over who her parents were and how she got separated from them.
My biggest worry going into this film was that it would end up being a “here we go again” type of sequel. I was afraid that this movie would merely set itself on following the same formula as the original and hitting the same beats without any real variance, resulting in a stale imitation. And that’s actually how it plays out for the first 10-15 minutes. Immediately after Dory, Marlin and Nemo set out on their adventure, they encounter a predatory squid and must avoid it, just like with the sharks, the anglerfish, and the jellyfish in the first movie. However, once the setting is moved to the Marine Life Institute, it becomes its own movie. The film places a strong emphasis on Dory’s personal struggle in the story, stressing the anxiety and frustration that come with Dory’s disability. There’s a good sequence where Dory is trying to navigate a maze of pipes and gets lost as she is unable to remember the directions she received just moments before. This insight into Dory’s inner-turmoil coupled with the flashbacks of her childhood allowed for a deep, personal investment in her journey.
The animation is also as stunning as ever. The character of Hank, the seven-legged octopus that can camouflage itself to its surroundings, allowed the Pixar team to have a field day with all of the shapes and colours at their disposal. The film was also able to experiment with new ideas as in one scene near the end where we see Dory following her own footprints (so to speak). The comedy is also pretty strong, in large part due to many of the new characters that are introduced. These include Destiny, a near-sighted whale shark, Becky, a clueless common loon, and also an incredibly lonely clam. The film certainly doesn’t lack for imagination in the kind of scenarios it is willing to conjure up, as in a bit in the climax that features a truck and Louis Armstrong. It is a bizarre, completely over the top scene but, what the hell, I went along with it. Once a movie has you properly engaged and invested, it’s amazing the kind of places you’ll be willing to follow it.
With Finding Dory Pixar has broken its sequel/prequel trend. While it’s not the equal of Finding Nemo, it succeeds splendidly as a movie on its own terms and delivers an adventure that is funny, exciting and moving all at once. Dory’s journey as a character is a compelling one and it broke my heart to see what an obstacle her short-term memory loss was to realising an objective that meant so very much to her. I re-watched Finding Nemo not long after seeing this film and saw the character in an entirely new light. Before I simply saw her as a potent source of comic relief. Now I see her as a layered and sympathetic character who is undergoing a great struggle, even when she isn’t realising it. If a sequel or a prequel can make me look at the original movie in an entirely new light, then it has definitely done something right. Finding Dory is a far better film that I dared to hope and is worthy of the Pixar name.