As a child of the 1990s, I long ago lost track of how many times I’ve seen “Finding Nemo” – and given Pixar’s new penchant for sequels, a return to that lushly presented underwater world was perhaps inevitable. Set several years after “Nemo,” “Finding Dory” centers on the beloved blue tang with memory problems, who ventures forth on a transoceanic journey in search of her long-lost parents. (Obviously, there’s a Pixar-trademark emotional wham moment. It packs quite a punch).
Most of the movie takes place in and around the fictional Marine Life Institute, a clear homage to California’s (amazing) Monterey Bay Aquarium. Accordingly, “Finding Dory” has less of a road-movie vibe than the original. This works to the film’s great credit: it never feels like a rehash of previous material, but comes off as fresh and energetic.
Along those lines, this wouldn’t be a Pixar movie without a full stable (or tank) of memorable new characters. There’s Hank, a delightfully curmudgeonly octopus bent on getting transferred to an aquarium in Cleveland; Destiny, a nearsighted (and slightly ditzy) whale shark; Bailey, a hypochondriac beluga whale, whose attempts at echolocation are some of the film’s funniest moments; and many more.
Message-wise, “Finding Dory” has been interpreted in many quarters as a commentary on the significance and gifts of persons with disabilities (namely, Dory’s short-term memory problems). On this issue, the film unfortunately doesn’t quite stick the landing. Throughout the movie, fishy fellow-travelers Marlin and Nemo occasionally escape predicaments by asking themselves “what would Dory do?” Their answer: act spontaneously without overthinking the matter. The problem is that this impulsiveness isn’t clearly connected to Dory’s memory problems; the film conflates Dory’s personality trait with Dory’s uniquely valuable way of seeing the world by virtue of her “disability.” Accordingly, “Finding Dory” isn’t quite as profound as it perhaps believes itself to be.
A more sober-minded, reflective approach to this issue is certainly conceivable. It could, for example, play out like this: since Dory experiences moments of breathtaking beauty over and over again, never growing jaded to them, she thereby inspires those around her to cherish their lives and sense of wonder by viewing the world “freshly.”
Perhaps I’m too persnickety, but we’ve seen the heights Pixar can hit. And “Finding Dory,” for all its entertainment value, doesn’t do much to move the ball forward in terms of innovative storytelling (by contrast, last year’s “Inside Out” definitively showed that Pixar has a great deal of fuel in its creative tank). That said, while it’s not as consistently memorable as “Toy Story 3” or “The Incredibles” it’s also not as risk-averse as, say, “Brave.”
Whether you can quote much of “Finding Nemo” from memory, or have no idea what I’m talking about, you will probably enjoy this sequel – and thematic quibbles aside, “Finding Dory” is a solid, broadly appealing entry in the Pixar canon. It doesn’t revolutionize its genre or push the boundaries of the art form – but hey, not every film really needs to do that.
A satisfying (and touching) companion film to one of Pixar’s classics.
Normalized Score: 4.6