Simple but satisfying sequel follows its own motto and just keeps swimming
Finding Dory (2016)
Directed by Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane
Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson
Until recently the innovative animators at Pixar have been reluctant to make sequels to their smash hits. Since the company fell under the wing of Disney, however, it’s taken a more ... shall we say, corporate approach to things. Now, instead of anticipating the sense of discovery stand-alone surprises like Up, audiences are left staring down the comfortingly familiar barrel of Cars 3, Toy Story 4 and The Incredibles 2. The one bright spot in all this is that Pixar has also been more or less incapable of making bad movies—last year’s muddled The Good Dinosaur being the major exception. Thankfully, the release of Finding Dory, a follow-up to 2003’s much-loved Finding Nemo, proves a soothing nerve tonic, allaying major fears that Pixar’s sequels will be nothing more than a string of diminishing returns.
Finding Dory picks up one year after the events of Finding Nemo. In the wake of their reunion, nervous clownfish father Marlin (Albert Brooks) has been living happily and uneventfully with his young son Nemo (Hayden Rolence, replacing the now puberty-ruined Alexander Gould). But their bubble-headed blue tang bestie Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) finds herself struck with a sudden realization: She’s got parents. Crippled by her comically recurrent short-term memory loss, however, Dory’s unable to remember who they are or where they live. Flashbacks tell us that baby Dory went missing at an early age and spent most of her life trying to figure out how to get home—until she grew up and finally forgot what it was she was looking for. Inspired by a sudden, fleeting remembrance, Dory decides to embark on a quest to find her long-lost mother and father (voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy).
As far as storylines go, it’s more or less a rehash of the events in Finding Nemo. But hardly anyone’s going to complain. There’s actually a tidy symmetry to this simple flip on Nemo’s script, having an adult child hunting for her missing parents. Accompanied by Marlin and Nemo, Dory sets out to locate her birthplace, the “jewel of Southern California.” In short order Dory and her friends end up at the California Marine Life Institute, a Sea World-inspired aquatic park whose motto is “Rescue, Rehabilitate and Release.”
Bouncing around the park from one exhibit to another in a madcap race to find mom and dad, Dory encounters a number of new friends, including a grumpy, escape-artist “septopus” named Hank (Ed O’Neill), a shortsighted whale shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and a beluga whale who can’t seem to get the hang of echolocation (Ty Burrell, O’Neill’s costar from “Modern Family”). Together, they use their skills to assist one another, creating your basic “family of choice” moral—as well as providing another, more subtle lesson on the ability of people to overcome their disabilities. Down with ableism, I guess.
Co-writer and co-director Andrew Stanton, who gave us the original film, returns to ensure that all the technical aspects are up to snuff. This second dive into familiar waters finds itself occasionally matching the visual wonder of the first film, but never quite manages to surpass it. The animation is bright and lovely, but we’ve been here before—and we don’t have anything to quite match the unexpected splendor of our first trip, surfing on turtleback or bouncing through a jellyfish mob. Still, there’s enough razzle-dazzle to keep kiddie eyes glued to the screens.
There are, as expected, a smattering of jokes aimed at the adults in the audience. (The inclusion of Sigourney Weaver as “Sigourney Weaver,” the recorded tour guide voice of the Marine Life Institute gives the movie a kind of reflexive and surreal edge.) But those who have recently consumed Finding Nemo may find the punch lines sailing by at a somewhat slower pace this go-around. Also it should be noted that DeGeneres’ sunny-side-up schtick works tremendously well on daytime TV, but isn’t for all takers. Fortunately, she isn’t the sole focus here, with plenty of time devoted to Marlin, Nemo and the amusing newcomers. (Idris Elba and Dominic West are particularly memorable as a couple of territorial harbor seals.)
Admittedly, Finding Dory lacks the nostalgic feels of Toy Story, the psychological insights of Inside Out, the stiff-upper lip sadness of Up and the existential loneliness of Wall-E. But it’s a perfectly likable family film in its own right. Kids will delight in the bright colors and the extended slapstick action sequences. Adults will revel in the technical wizardry and the sharp voice cast. Two or three more of these on the part of Pixar and the tracing paper will start to wear thin. But for now, it seems, we can just relax and enjoy a visit with some old, fishy friends.