‘Finding Dory’ Nearly Keeps Up with Pixar’s Beloved ‘Nemo’
Since 2010, Pixar’s laundry list of sequels has been either a hit or a miss. For every masterfully crafted Toy Story 3, we also end up with a cynical Cars 2. And instead of Pixar’s signature stamp of magical storytelling, the result is solely driven by merchandise. 13 years of nostalgia aside, it’s not that hard to be skeptical of the studio’s 17th feature film, Finding Dory. But there’s a silver lining when all that skepticism can be dropped off at the door.
It’s been one year since the clownfish Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and forgetful Pacific blue tang Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) found Nemo in Sydney. Since then, the trio have attempted to live out a normal life, repeating much of the early routine in 2003’s Finding Nemo. During one of Nemo’s (now voiced by Hayden Rolence) lessons about migration, a conversation about belongingness triggers Dory’s memories about her family.
Dory becomes obssessed with finding her long-lost family. After some help from some familiar turtles, Dory, Marlin and Nemo arrive at a rapid pace at the Marine Life Institute in Morro Bay, California. A few mishaps divides Dory from the two clownfish. She, however, meets up with a crabby, seven-tentacled octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill). He aids her in locating her parents in exchange for a way out of a rehabilitation center. In her pursuit around the Marine Life Institute, Dory also reunites with old childhood friend Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a whale shark and her tank neighbor Bailey (Ty Burrell), a white beluga. The two also assist in Dory’s mission.
As expected, Finding Dory shifts the focus from Marlin and Nemo to primarily Dory, leaving the father and son more as side characters. After all with Finding Dory as the title, one would almost feel cheated if Dory wasn’t up front and center. Fortunately this isn’t a Cars 2 situation where your loveable, but somewhat annoying secondary character overpowers the film with their own obnxiousness. DeGenres’ Dory is the heart of the film, packing an emotional punch due to her deatchment from her family. Even her short-term memory loss, which is slightly overplayed the second round, undergoes a much more serious tone. Gone are the days of the being a cute running gag. And instead, director Andrew Stanton aims for poignancy.
While Finding Dory is a slight tinge darker than Finding Nemo, there’s still fun to be had. Ed O’Neill’s Hank is the breakout side character this time around. When we first meet him at the Marine Life Institute, he’s treading on grouchiness, using Dory for his own agenda. But as the film progresses, he feels right at home with the other aquatic creatures we’ve come to love. Kaitlin Olson’s Destiny garners a few chuckles as she unintentionally runs into wall due to bad eyesight. At one point, she even refers to Dory a just a little blue blob.
What keeps Finding Dory afloat is that director Andrew Stanton and the rest of the cast and crew have the same energy from 13 years ago with Nemo. That in itself makes it a solid companion piece to the original. Dory only loses a fraction of the first film’s charm, occassionally playing the events of Nemo beat by beat. The emotional pull is much stronger this time around, most particularly with Dory’s flashback scenes that trigger based off a word or visual cue.
Finding Dory, like so many other sequels, attempts to be bigger than Finding Nemo. Visually, the sequences are vibrant and full of delight, yet still capturing the essence of the first film. There’s so many more that Pixar can do visually now than they could over a decade ago. The only instance where the Finding Dory gets a tad big for its own good is in the third act, plowing one climax against another.
13 years ago, it would’ve sounded ridiculous for Pixar to make a sequel to Finding Nemo when the first was a perfect standalone adventure. Not only do we know have the answers to obscure questions, but the two films fit together much better than one could hope for. Finding Nemo set an unreachably high bar to top, leaving Finding Dory with a notch or two shy of being yet another unforgettable Pixar classic.