Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy
Finding Dory – it’s the sequel that college students and recent graduates have been waiting for, and the one that the present generation of kids didn’t know they wanted. The movie isn’t bad, but it isn’t quite good either – it’s a recycled version of Finding Nemo that seeks to gain a fan following from this decade’s children, and to pull on the nostalgia of the original film’s now-grown fans (and given that they are all millennials who seek to return to childhood because they’ve discovered the horrors of the real world, this is an easy task). Pixar is never terrible, but Finding Dory just isn’t up to that shimmering standard that audiences have come to expect from the brand.
One year after her epic trek across the ocean to find Nemo (Rolence), Dory (DeGeneres) has made herself at home with him and Marlin (Brooks). Soon, she begins to have flashbacks and realizes that she has a home and a family, both of which she has forgotten. As bits and pieces of her youth keep floating back to her, Dory, Marlin, and Nemo set out to recover her parents, and they end up searching at California’s vast Marine Life Institute.
The beginning of the film incites a bit of fear in the viewer – after seeing Dory rouse Marlin and Nemo (think of Nemo’s “first day of school!” bit in the predecessor), Mr. Ray (Peterson) jauntily singing to the class about stingray migration, and everyone’s favorite chill surfer turtle, Crush (Stanton) – one might think that this is a complete repeat of Finding Nemo. Luckily, it’s not quite that, but pieces from the first film are scattered all over Dory.
While there’s no sign of Bruce and his fellow vegetarian sharks, Finding Dory has its own assortment of lovable characters – all of which are voiced wonderfully. From Hank the antisocial octopus (O’Neill) to Destiny the kindhearted and woefully near-sighted whale shark (Olson), the entertaining characters make the film fly by, and help the audience stay emotionally invested in the story.
Unfortunately, Finding Dory is very cautious, dutifully hitting many of the familiar beats that Nemo did thirteen years ago. Director and writer Andrew Stanton most likely went about putting the script together by starting out with the roughest draft that he used to write the original film, and tweaking it here and there. Like Finding Nemo, Dory is a film about a fish who has lost her parents – only this time, it’s about the child seeking her parents rather than the other way around. Of course, Dory encounters many wacky helpers along her way, and learns valuable lessons about herself. Another major misgiving about the writing of the film is that Stanton includes a mundane subplot tackling Marlin and Nemo’s relationship, which is far from perfect in spite of all the reconcile that occurred in Nemo’s film. The plotline feels unnecessary, and each time the focus returns to Dory’s dilemma, the father-and-son problems are quickly forgotten (until they’re unnecessarily drawn back in).
The film also ends up being redundant in its thematic offerings. At the beginning, Dory’s frequent flashbacks often show her, as a child, suffering from her short-term memory loss. While it surely would only take one or two of these flashbacks to drive the main idea home, they are repeated to exhaustion. Of course, since this is Dory’s film, it’s important that Stanton addresses the forgetful fish’s personal problems, but it could have been done more eloquently than it is in the execution.
Pixar has delivered so many films that are amazing both for adults and children; their movies are hits more often than misses. The qualm here is that in the realm of production companies Pixar is like the child who graduated MIT with honors and collaborates with the visionaries at Apple to produce the latest innovations, almost all of which are entirely astounding. In this situation, Finding Dory is that last iTunes update that was just so-so – it fixed some bugs, but it’s otherwise lackluster. The Good Dinosaur is another film that fell victim to Pixar’s unconquerable standard; it was a good film, but it was cast into the shadow emanating from Inside Out’s success. This shaming of perfectly good films is sad, but it’s what we have to live with – because if a Pixar film isn’t pure gold, it’s inferior.