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Review: Finding Dory (2016)

Finding Dory (2016)

Directed by: Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane

Premise: A sequel to Finding Nemo. Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres), a blue tang who suffers from short term memory loss, suddenly remembers the circumstances in which she lost her parents. She sets out across the ocean to find them in the company of Marlin and Nemo (voices of Albert Brooks and Hayden Rolence).

What Works: 2003’s Finding Nemo did not suggest a sequel but the filmmakers of Finding Dory have found a way to make a follow-up whose existence is justified. Among the impressive aspects of this film is that it takes the same approach as Pixar’s disastrous Cars 2, insofar as the mentally handicapped sidekick character is placed at the center of the sequel and sent on her own adventure, but Finding Dory does this successfully where Cars 2 did not. The success of Finding Dory is largely found in its characters. One of Pixar’s prime distinctions has been the studio’s ability to consistently create memorable characters who are interesting and complex and oftentimes more sophisticated than the flesh and blood characters of live action movies. Finding Dory revisits the core characters of the original film—Dory, Marlin, and Nemo—but it also introduces a few new characters such as Destiny the nearsighted whale shark (voice of Kaitlin Olson) and Hank the octopus (voice of Ed O’Neill). All of these characters are fun to watch and each of them is given his or her own subplots that entwine with Dory’s story and enhance the search for her parents. The creation of the characters, achieved through a meld of animation and the vocal performances, is quite convincing and the filmmakers find effective ways of anthropomorphizing these animals while also retaining some of the qualities that define their species. That is capitalized for humor and Finding Dory is very funny; this might be the funniest of all of Pixar’s feature films. And the humor is largely smart and endearing instead of obnoxious. The other distinction of Pixar’s movies has been the quality of the animation. In fact, their work has been so good for so long that it almost feels redundant to point it out. But Finding Dory includes some impressive visuals. The textures of the animals and the background details of their environs take on a lifelike appearance.

What Doesn’t: Finding Dory is middle-tier Pixar, which is still good, but it is a considerable step down from movies like Inside Out and Toy Story 3. Like those movies, Finding Dory tells a compelling story with lovable characters but it lacks the emotional punch and the wise insight of Pixar’s best work. Part of what made Finding Nemo so effective was the danger of the journey; Marlin and Dory traveled into the wild of the open ocean and encountered mortal danger. That rarely happens in this film. Finding Dory hews very closely to the plot of Finding Nemo, replicating the overall plot structure and several critical plot beats of the 2003 film, almost to the point that this is as much a remake as it is a sequel. Finding Dory also borrows quite liberally from the Toy Story movies, especially in the climax which is extremely similar to the ending of the 1995 film. The logic of Finding Dory is overextended even for an animated film with talking fish. Some of those leaps are found in the plotting. Dory connects clues that don’t necessarily fit together and there are a number of other coincidences throughout the story. Finding Dory also stretches its credibility in its departures from reality. Animated pictures are generally allowed greater latitude in logic and realism but Finding Dory establishes a reality-bound story world and then plays fast and loose with it. Hank the octopus spends nearly the entire movie out of the water and oceanic fish leap from salt water to fresh water without any problem.

Bottom Line: Finding Dory is a worthy successor to Finding Nemo. It doesn’t have the thematic heft or the emotional impact of Pixar’s best work but it is a fine animated feature and a better than average sequel.

Episode: #600 (June 26, 2016)