Finding Dory

Posted by Joel Copling on June 16, 2016

The realization after viewing "Finding Dory" that it doesn't work as well as its predecessor is more a caveat than anything else. "Finding Nemo," which if one wants to feel his or her age is now 13 years old, is one of the very best films to have come out of animation house Pixar in their 21 years of releasing feature films. It's quite the bar to reach, and if this sequel and companion piece doesn't quite do it, that simply means it hasn't captured lightning in a bottle like its forebear. This is still a marvelously entertaining picture, though, with a warm spirit, an infectious sense of humor, and a level of animation that proves nothing if not Pixar's constant outdoing of itself in that department. It also helps that it elevates the previous film's best character to leading status.

That, of course, would be Dory (voice of a typically sensational Ellen DeGeneres), the Pacific regal blue tang with short memory loss who helped clownfish Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks) to find his son in the previous movie. Here, we are introduced to her as a much littler (and adorable) fish whose parents (voices of Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton) are patient and kind to her in spite of her disorder. She's a wee, little thing, with disproportionately huge eyes and an enormously sweet attitude toward the two who raise her, and then she is separated from them. Of course, within seconds, she forgets what happened, searches for many years, and stumbles upon Marlin. A year after the previous film's events, she's an impromptu teaching assistant at Nemo's (voice of Hayden Rolence) fish school.

It's during one of the fish school field trips that a phrase and a question trigger Dory's early-life memories for the first time that she (of course) can recall. The film's most touching moments, in fact, are those when some action or comment triggers such a memory, and the cleverest thing about director Andrew Stanton's screenplay is that such actions and comments are largely innocuous. There is never anything forced about how Dory's memory occasionally bounces back, and so it feels organic within her growth rather than merely a plot device. This is also true for the tagging-along of Marlin and Nemo on Dory's journey to rediscover her family, simply because the father and son are all each other has in the world and they understand such an emotional thrust.

Moments and elements like these are what keep the film grounded when the occasional hiccup occurs, and even though the film follows the general pattern of the previous one (a road comedy of sorts to find one's family), the stakes here are different. Dory must remain with someone else at all times in order to remember what she's doing and why, except that she also forgets in the middle of conversations to whom she's speaking and what about. Stanton and co-director Angus MacLane expertly handle the character's emotional growth as one of purely forward motion: The character's approach to her surroundings is an extension upon her dysfunction, and as a result, she becomes much more than the comic relief she was before. Actress-turned-talk-show-host DeGeneres, meanwhile, captures the character's sense of aloofness so well that the condition from which she suffers, while undeniably sad, is just as undeniably funny in the film's other best moments.

The plot is not so much a narrative as an accounting of the oddball characters Dory meets on the way, including some familiar faces--such as the surfer-dude sea turtles with whom we all instantly fell in love--and some new ones, such as a whale shark with short-sightedness named Destiny (voice of Kaitlin Olson) and a beluga whale with deficient echolocation named Bailey (voice of Ty Burrell), a pair of sea lions (voices of Idris Elba and Dominic West) who are lackadaiscal in everything except the defense of their rock, and the least successful newcomer, a vindictive octopus named Hank (voice of Ed O'Neill), whose presence here to be a reluctant mode of transport for Dory relegates the already uninteresting character to a vessel. That's a small quibble, as is an extraneous climactic action sequence involving a truck that only serves to reiterate what Dory has spent the entire film learning. The heart of "Finding Dory" is indeed the lovably forgetful blue tang at its center, and it's such a big one that contrivances only sort-of register.

Film Information

Ellen DeGeneres (Dory), Albert Brooks (Marlin), Ed O'Neill (Hank), Kaitlin Olson (Destiny), Hayden Rolence (Nemo), Ty Burrell (Bailey), Diane Keaton (Jenny), Eugene Levy (Charlie), Idris Elba (Fluke), Dominic West (Rudder), Bob Peterson (Mr. Ray), Kate McKinnon (Wife Fish), Bill Hader (Husband Fish), Sigourney Weaver (Herself).

Directed and written by Andrew Stanton and co-directed by Angus MacLane.

Rated PG (mild thematic elements).

97 minutes.

Released on June 17, 2016.