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Josh Reviews Finding Dory

July 4th, 2016

Finding Nemo was a terrific movie, great fun and deeply emotional.  It came towards the beginning of an incredible run of original Pixar films that would go on to include The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up.  I adore the universe that was created in Finding Nemo, and it always felt to me to be perfectly complete in and of itself.  This was not a movie that ever felt to me that it was crying out for a sequel.

And so when I learned that, thirteen years after Nemo, Pixar would be releasing a sequel called Finding Dory, I was intrigued and also a little nervous.  The idea of seeing more of these characters and this world was tantalizing.  Dory, voiced so marvelously by Ellen DeGeneres, was a highlight of Nemo, and so a film focusing on her felt like a natural idea.  And yet, to come back and make a sequel so many years later — how often has that ever been successful?


The very best sequels — and I would count Pixar’s earlier efforts Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 among this number — wind up feeling inevitable.  It’s as if, once you see these additional chapters, they become integral parts of the story that was begun by the original film.

I can’t quite say that Finding Dory reaches that level.  Finding Nemo remains a beautifully perfect, complete creation all its own.  That being said, Finding Dory is a beautiful and very entertaining film, fun and funny and exciting and emotional, just as I would expect from the mad geniuses at Pixar.

The film delves deeply into the character of Dory, the forgetful blue tang introduced in Nemo.  How did she get to where she was when Marlin encountered her in Finding Nemo?  What was her childhood like, and what happened to her parents/family?

When Finding Dory works, it is a devastatingly powerful metaphor for raising a child with a disability.  The film spends a lot of time in flashback with a young Dory and her parents (voiced marvelously by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton).  The animators at Pixar outdid themselves in creating an unbelievably cute design for the young, huge-eyed Dory, a move that only compounds the pain of the moment you know is coming when young Dory will get separated from her parents and, even worse, will forget them.  It’s heartbreaking, and as a dramatic core of the film I was impressed by well the Pixar team were able to come up with something that felt of equal weight to the massacre of Marlin and Nemo’s family that opened Finding Nemo, thus giving this sequel a strong reason for being.  One of the most profoundly sad moments I have seen in a film for a long time was the implication that Dory’s parents wound up spending years lining up shells along the ocean floor, hoping against hope that their lost child might someday find her way back to them.

The story of Dory’s parents, and of Dory herself — who begins the film happy to have found a surrogate family in Marlin and Nemo, but haunted by the idea that she doesn’t know where she comes from and what happened to her parents — is a terrific hook for this film.  Pretty much everything that follows on Dory’s quest, as she finds her way back to the California aquarium where she was born, is terrific.

Ellen DeGeneres is marvelous as ever, bringing to life Dory’s optimism and innocence while shading that characterization with the sadness of the idea that she has forever forgotten her past.  It’s joyous to hear Ms. DeGeneres back in this iconic role.

The film also introduces a wonderful array of new characters, most notably Ed O’Neill as the octopus Hank who is desperately trying to escape the aquarium that Dory is so desperately trying to get into.  Kaitlin Olson and Ty Burrell are hilarious as a pair of mismatched whales who help Dory, as are Idris Elba and Dominic West as two sea lions who are very protective of the rock upon which they perch.  As mentioned above, Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy are perfect as Dory’s parents, sweet and sad.

I was very pleased that Albert Brooks returned as Marlin, and that he and Nemo were involved in this story of Dory’s quest.  Albert Brooks’ performance in Finding Nemo was a thing of brilliance, and I was a bit afraid that he’d only be seen at the beginning and end of this film that was focused on Dory.  Thankfully that’s not the case, as Marlin and Nemo’s pursuit of Dory was a major story-line in the film.

Unfortunately, Marlin and Nemo’s involvement is also the film’s weakest element, as their story is nowhere near as compelling as that of Dory’s.  The film winds up making Marlin relearn the same lesson that he already learned in Finding Nemo, that he needs to let go of some of his fear and anxiety and trust those around him.  This repetition makes this aspect of Finding Dory feel like little more than a repeat of Finding Nemo, which is not something a successful sequel would do.  Also, while Albert Brooks is great as always, his interactions with Nemo (voiced by Hayden Rolence) lack the magic that his odd-couple pairing with Ms. DeGeneres had in Nemo.  So it’s a double-edged sword — as a huge fan of Finding Nemo I was delighted that Marlin and Nemo were involved in the story, though the film would probably be stronger without them.

Finding Dory might not be one of Pixar’s greatest films, but it’s still pretty terrific.  The animation is staggeringly gorgeous, the voice-cast is top-notch, and the film successfully balances a ripping adventure yarn with a strong, emotional thematic core.  This is a film I look forward to seeing again.

Also, let me add that the short that preceded the film, Piper, was phenomenal.  The photorealistic animation was astounding, and the story was sweet and funny in all the right measure.  I loved it.

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