Review: ‘Finding Dory’ is a Pixar Sequel Worth Remembering

By June 16, 2016
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Making a sequel to an already beloved movie is a daunting-enough task on its own, but making a sequel to a beloved movie thirteen years later can be nothing short of terrifying. If not for the filmmakers themselves, then for the audience members and fans of the original. This is the kind of skepticism and hopeful optimism that has been surrounding Pixar’s Finding Dory ever since it was first announced. Especially since, Finding Nemo, upon watching it, feels more like a closed loop than possibly any of Pixar’s other films, and so the proposal of a sequel centered around one of the studio’s most beloved supporting characters (who could very well have been a character meant only for the supporting role), should be met with reasonable precaution.

Opening with a prologue that very much feels like a traditional step in Pixar’s tear-jerking formula at this point, Finding Dory sets the stage for its characters and narrative drive incredibly well. It was in these opening minutes that I was reminded once again of how adept the studio’s filmmakers are when it comes to evoking the emotions of its viewers as well, through a few lonely, succinct images rather than expositional monologues.

After that the movie picks up with Dory (Ellen Degeneres), Nemo (Hayden Rodance), and Marlin (Albert Brooks) a year after the events of Finding Nemo. Perhaps wisely as well, directors Andrew Stanton and Angus Maclane don’t waste much time getting to their story, and as soon as Dory remembers the parents she had forgotten (played here by the brilliantly cast Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy), the familiar trio are off to the races. Though the rate at which the characters quickly travel across the ocean, may be a bit jarring considering how long Marlin’s journey was in Nemo, as the trio almost instantly arrive at their destination, the Marine Life Institute a.k.a. the Jewel of Morro Bay California.

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Once they arrive, in a predictable, but necessary fashion, the trio are separated and Dory must navigate her way through the Marine Life Institute on her own, as Marlin and Nemo try to find her as fast as they can, motivated by the fear of losing her. It’s here where I should say that Finding Dory is one of those movies that gets better the more complex it becomes, and the further into it’s story it gets. Moving at a breakneck pace for almost the entirety of the first act, once all of the new characters have been introduced and the characters have arrived at MLI, Finding Dory begins to settle and allow for the kind of character moments and emotions that separate Pixar’s movies from all the rest.

Similar to the characters that Marlin meets throughout his journey in Nemo (some of which may return here), it doesn’t take long for Dory to begin making or reuniting with friends in the Institute. First up is Ed O’Neill’s grumpy septopus Hank, a technical achievement for the studio, who navigates Dory through a majority of the Institute in exchange for her orange tag, which basically guarantees whoever wears it a one-way trip to an Aquarium in Cleveland. The characters have a bit of an odd couple dynamic with each other, as Dory’s aloof and kind nature manages to both annoy and charm Hank for a majority of the film, until you, like them, won’t want to see them apart ever again.

Some of the other notable new characters include exhibit neighbors Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey (Ty Burrell), a near-sighted whale shark and an irritable Beluga Whale who’s having trouble getting his echolocation to work when we meet him in the film. Their banter often elicits some of the film’s biggest laughs as well, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they both end up being fan-favorite characters this summer amongst kids. Them and a surprise pair of Sea Otters that is, who haven’t been promoted all that much in the film, but are riotously hilarious.

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Like most of Pixar’s sequels however, Finding Dory, while having a fair amount of heart and an admirable enough message, is still flawed at points and one of it’s biggest problems comes through a storytelling device in which Dory remembers small moments from her childhood by seeing a familiar sign or hearing a familiar phrase. While it’s use in the story is merely to drive the plot forward and keep Dory’s journey at a constant forward speed, it begins to feel a bit too repetitive and convenient for its own good after awhile, and all too often will take you out of the much more entertaining and enthralling adventure happening during the present day. It works well in the beginning of the film, but I couldn’t help feel like Stanton and co. may have begun to rely a bit too heavily on it as time went on.

It should be said though, that while Finding Dory doesn’t quite pack as much of an emotional punch as Finding Nemo, and doesn’t feel quite as original or authentic either, it’s still Pixar’s most successful and lovable sequel that doesn’t have the words Toy or Story in it. Unlike most prequels and sequels, it manages to enrich and give history to one of the studio’s most infamous supporting characters here, taking her inherent tragedy and confusion, and spinning a sometimes wildly profound journey about self-acceptance and the bonds we create between the people in our lives, both family and not.

Setting the film at the Institute, which treats injured and disabled sea life, the movie’s message about recognizing your limitations as your strengths is able to grow more layers that it might not have been able to had Dory been the only character being held back in the film. Ambitious and charming, Finding Dory has moments that will choke up even the most cynical of audience members, as Dory not only inspires herself, but the others around her, in sometimes grand operatic fashion. It all comes together in perhaps one of Pixar’s most simple and beautiful endings to date as well. It’s not quite as profound or haunting as “So long, partner” from Toy Story 3, but it comes pretty damn close.

Finding Dory is set to hit theatres on June 17th.

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Alex Welch

Alex Welch

Alex dreams of meeting a girl with a yellow umbrella, and spends too much time* staring at a movie screen. His vocabulary consists mostly of movie quotes and 80s song lyrics. *Debatable