I don’t like admitting this but I didn’t want to see this movie. Part of it is due to my irrational aversion to animated features. As a teenager I became turned off by any animated film. I was disillusioned by the loss of hand drawn animation and also this being the time of all the Shrek and Ice Age sequels there’s some logic but still blown out of proportion. This can be a blessing in disguise though because when a friend manages to drag me to the newest Disney or Pixar films like Wreck It Ralph or Frozen and I’m pleasantly surprised by the high quality of filmmaking and storytelling the studio is known for. The other factor towards my disinterest in Finding Dory was due to how much I love Finding Nemo. It was my favorite Pixar movie growing up. People love Toy Story for the emotion or Incredibles for the craftsmanship but I love Nemo for its humor. It was so quotable to an eleven year old with phrases like “es-cap-ée” and the surfer dude slang. Now as an adult, maybe it’s my cynical nature showing but I couldn’t imagine Pixar capturing that lightning in a bottle twice. More noticeably has Pixar entered “Phase Sequel” for the next few years withIncredibles 2, Cars 3, Toy Story 4 making this feel like a cash grab instead of doing what the studio is known for which is making emotionally gripping stories that explore new and uncharted environments. I don’t need to catch up with what Marlon and Dory are up to as I’m completely satisfied with the first film’s ending yet here we are thirteen years later with a new quest that takes our characters on a journey across the vast ocean to find Dory’s family.
The film sets up very similarly to Nemo, beginning with a flashback to googly eyed baby Dory being doted on by her parents. I liked this mirroring device, it only became annoying later on in the film as there are tremendous amount of these flashbacks that makes it difficult to anchor this film down in the present. It feels like Pixar thought they had a hook, line and sinker with the cuteness level baby Dory brings with her Zooey Deschanel eyes that they needed to give that as much screen time as possible. Back in present day, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) has a memory jog relating to the undertow that she is motivated to venture to find her parents she was separated from so long ago. Nemo (Hayden Rolence) enthusiastically and Marlin (Albert Brooks) reluctantly join her and this first third of the film is mostly rehashing the first movie. We revisit characters like Crush and Squirt and the fish wander into a scary giant squid lair much like the sharp toothed anglerfish. There’s too much nudging to see if you remember all these callbacks that I could care less about. The film picks up once our now separated friends end up at the Marine Life Institute which was once Dory’s home. This more humane version of SeaWorld is the fun environment to explore which what I want from Pixar. The story becomes maneuvering the different exhibits with the help of visually impaired whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olsen) and the strongest character, a disgruntled octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neil) that only helps Dory in exchange for her medical tag that’s his ticket to a truck leaving for Cleveland.
This film is saved by the characters it introduces at the midway point yet still doesn’t hit the comedic highs of Nemo. Partially because the MVP of comic relief, amnesiac Blue Tang Dory is thrust into the spotlight. Why Finding Nemo works is she doesn’t have to carry the weight of the film which frees her up to be funny. Here she not only has to be the crux of the emotional arc, her once humorful memory loss is so sad in how it undermines her every effort of finding her parents. By losing this iconic comic relief, all the other characters are left to pick up the slack. I enjoyed the brief encounters with the snobby but lazy Sea Lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West), the unhinged loon Becky and I genuinely laughed every time a sea creature straight faced mentions Sigourney Weaver whose recorded information track plays over the parks loud speaker. Still there’s no one able to really fill those blue size shoes.
I’m overall underwhelmed by Finding Dory. It’s not bad, it has the typical Disney charm and a positive message about the value of those with disabilities. While a more succinct and unique message then say Zootopia, I found that Disney film more enjoyable. It may be copying Midnight Run but it doesn’t feel indebted the way a sequel can. With Dory I didn’t want a movie for my youth retold but with more domesticated fish and a car chase. I rather Pixar do what they do best and make something new. I guess that’s purely Disney’s job now.