It has taken Disney-Pixar 13 years to bring about a sequel to their 2003 hit Finding Nemo. Typically, sequels that take this long to hit the screen seem to come from a place of desperation. In the time between movies, director Andrew Stanton took a big swing and a miss at live action filmmaking with John Carter. (Argue the artistic merits of John Carter all you wish, but business wise it was a dud.) Teaming with co-director Angus Mclane, Stanton returns to the underwater world that he helped shape in 2003 with Finding Dory, a high-quality sequel that will entertain groups of all ages with its well-crafted visual storytelling, hilarious jokes, and robust emotional content. Most impressively, Finding Dory is a movie that could stand on its own, as the film avoids being a simple rehash of a decade-old animated predecessor.
After opening with a charming short, Piper (don’t worry, it’s no Lava), Finding Dory shows us everyone’s favorite fish with a forgetful mind, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), as a child, her parents Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy) trying to impart lessons on their memory-impaired child. The forgetful Dory soon wanders off from her parents, lost in the sea with little recollection of where she was or who she was looking for. These events all lead to the point where Dory meets Marlin (Albert Brooks) in Finding Nemo, then taking us forward a year where Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Marlin, and Dory live together in their quaint, quiet suburbia of their aquatic ecosystem. With memories of her lost parents circling around in her scattered brain, Dory along with Marlin and Nemo make their way to California, where Dory has a faint recollection of the area where she lost her parents.
On the shores of California, Dory is swooped up by some humans in a boat, giving Marlin flashbacks of when Nemo was similarly scooped up. It turns out they’re at the coastline of a marine preserve, one where Dory was raised as a child. On the inside of the preserve, Dory befriends a cantankerous octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) who aids her in her quest for his own selfish purposes. On the outside, Nemo and Marlin try to figure out a way to get into the preserve and find their beloved Dory.
The script of Finding Dory by Stanton, Victoria Strouse, and Bob Peterson does tread in similar waters as its predecessor, wading into the themes of parenthood and loss. As a whole, the story doesn’t require intimate familiarity with Finding Nemo in order to work, and the fact that Stanton and McLane are such strong visual storytellers that much of the film’s basic story could be conveyed without any sound at all. Continuing the film’s visual splendor is the character design, which is especially impressive with a group of sea lions (one of which voiced by Idris Elba) and a wide-eyed doofus competing for a spot on their cherished rock. Character design is one layer of the film’s madcap sense of humor, further evidenced by a scraggly bird that assists our heroes later on.
In its own twisted way, Finding Dory is Pixar’s Memento, with flashbacks being amply employed to fill in aspects of the story as Dory has fits of memory retention. Over the course of its 90 minutes, Finding Dory finds the laughs amidst its sad story of someone searching for their long lost parents. The vocal cast does a stellar job working with the animation to bring these emotional moments to life, with DeGeneres brining the right blend of pathos and manic comic sensibilities to Dory while once again Albert Brooks provides the grounded emotional weight to story. Perhaps the most surprising celebrity voice in Finding Dory is Sigourney Weaver, whose role will surprise you though I won’t dare spoil it.
While not as a good as any of the Toy Story sequels, Finding Dory is still one of the stronger sequels to be put out by the minds at Pixar. Part of what makes Pixar movies so special is their ability to entertain people of all different age groups while telling stories rooted in complex emotional themes, and Finding Dory hits all of these notes. It’s another one of those films that has you laughing and reaching for the Kleenex in the span of minutes, but never loses sight of the story at hand. What stands out the most about Finding Dory is the fact that 13 years later it doesn’t feel like a cash grab or a lazy piece of writing dependent on nostalgia to work. No matter how lost the characters are, Andrew Stanton and the rest of the crew behind Finding Dory always know where they’re going.
- Overall Score
A sharp blend of comedy and emotion, Finding Dory is a stellar sequel from the minds of Pixar that may tread in the same waters as its predecessor but can swim on its own.