Not knowing where you’re headed
Or even where you’re from
Can lead you to frontiers remote
And thrills to keep yourself afloat
And friends you never thought you’d meet,
And yet you still feel incomplete.
You may seem empty-headed,
But none should think you dumb.
With memories returning
And hopes you can’t subdue,
You may pursue the past one day
In hopes that what you lost will stay.
The blanker slate is worry-free,
But most would fill it happily.
The answer to your yearning
Is waiting there for you.
MPAA rating: PG
Of all the studios churning out unnecessary sequels to films widely considered untouchable, I trust Pixar the most. Finding Nemo is one of my most beloved films, animated or not, and when a sequel is announced for one of your favorites, I think most people are torn between excitement and fear of disappointment. I wanted Finding Dory to be good, but how could it compare to the original? Luckily, as they’ve proven in every case but Cars 2, Pixar isn’t content to drop the ball for sequels and managed to create a worthwhile story dedicated to everyone’s favorite forgetful fish.
From the very beginning, as the adorable short film Piper segues to an equally adorable baby Dory, Finding Dory cleverly builds a film based entirely on a single line from the first film: Dory’s brief mention of family and the quickly forgotten question “Where are they?” It seemed like a throwaway gag at the time, but Dory is no throwaway character. We see in repeated flashbacks how her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) struggled to train and encourage her to overcome her short-term memory loss, and the separation that follows highlights what a disability it is. As hilarious as Dory’s antics are, I never really considered how vulnerable and directionless her condition made her. It’s no wonder that Marlin’s mission filled such a void in her life, and now it’s his and Nemo’s turn to help Dory find her own family, which happens to lead them to the Marine Life Institute in California.
One thing that should be said of Finding Dory is that Pixar has not limited themselves for believability. A gleeful absurdity runs through many parts and particularly during the hilarious climax, not unlike the off-the-wall creativity in Inside Out. But whereas that was inside a girl’s head, this is ostensibly the real world, and a greater suspension of disbelief is required as fish jump between every body of water in sight, big or small. Most examples can be easily overlooked, but it is odd that the first film made an epic quest out of the distance between the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney, while this one transports the characters from Australia to California within minutes. I guess the destination is more important than the journey in this case. Other questions abound, like “Do whale sharks really speak whale (when they are actual sharks, not whales)?” and “Does underwater echolocation really work outside the water too?” But if you just roll with the filmmakers’ indulgences, none of these should affect one’s enjoyment.
The animation is just as spectacular as the first film’s and greater in many cases, especially a first-person slide-away that heightens the trauma of the moment. Seeing the diversely populated exhibits at the institute reminded me of the wonder I always relished whenever I’d visit an aquarium as a kid. That was always my favorite kind of field trip, and Finding Dory reminded me how much I miss those visits, though I have an entirely new view of those innocent little touch pools. The voice cast is also superb, between the return of Ellen DeGeneres as Dory and Albert Brooks as Marlin, and the addition of a host of supporting players, from barking sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West) to the grumpy octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill), whose lithe acrobatics facilitate most of the out-of-water experiences. My VC can’t stand the sight of octopi, and while she has yet to see Finding Dory, I’m hoping Hank will alleviate her dislike a bit. I would have liked a little more backstory for him (Could the next movie be Finding Hank?), but he’s a welcome addition, especially on a visual level.
In a way, Finding Dory is like a much improved version of what Cars 2 attempted: giving a popular side character the spotlight to have an adventure of their own and affirm their worth. But whereas Cars 2 had little to say about Mater other than “he’s a lovable idiot so love him,” Dory’s situation has far more depth and empathy. Essentially a fish version of Leonard from Memento without the benefit of tattoos, she’s a constantly rebooting blank slate whose desire to remember is both heartbreaking and warmly resolute. Even if I don’t quite agree with her assertion that “the best things happen by chance,” Dory remains as endearing and sincere a presence as ever.
I won’t try to pretend that Finding Dory is as good as its predecessor, but I’ve seen Finding Nemo countless times. I remember crowing with laughter at Dory speaking whale, yet when you know a film practically by heart, sometimes it loses something and you wish you could see it again for the first time. Above all, Finding Dory let me laugh-out-loud with these characters again and many new ones besides. For example, I never expected Pixar to pull off such a hilarious parody of a scene from Alien and the unrelated casting of Sigourney Weaver just made it better. Finding Dory filled in gaps I didn’t think needed answering and brought me somewhat of that same feeling I had watching the first film as a ten-year-old. If a sequel had to be made, I’m glad it was this one.
Best line: (Dory) “Sigourney Weaver is going to help us!”
Rank: List-Worthy (joining Finding Nemo)
© 2016 S. G. Liput
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