Finding Dory (2016) – Movie Review
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Written by: Andrew Stanton & Victoria Strouse
Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Haydan Rolence & Ed O’Neill
Music: Thomas Newman
Release Date: July 29th 2016
Released in 2003 Pixar’s ‘Finding Nemo‘ often appears on many “Best of” lists. Whether it’s best 2003 movies, best Pixar movies or best animated films in general, the consensus seems to be universal; ‘Finding Nemo‘ is one of the best movies of the current century. However, the Pixar of 2003 isn’t necessarily the Pixar of today. That’s not to say the quality isn’t there as proven by ‘Inside Out‘ or that the company can’t produce great follow-ups as proven by ‘Toy Story 2‘, ‘Toy Story 3‘ and the prequel ‘Monsters University‘. But as an arm of the Walt Disney company since being purchased for $7.4BN in 2006 Pixar do have to balance creativity and box-office in a way they previously didn’t.
And after their first outright financial bomb last year with ‘The Good Dinosaur‘ Pixar are following it up with a sequel to one of their best stand-alone movies with ‘Finding Dory‘. Making a sequel revolving around the comic-relief supporting character is where Pixar have stumbled in the past with ‘Cars 2‘ and ‘Finding Nemo‘ is such a beloved classic that maybe it’s not worth following up on. Should the “Finding” franchise have ended with ‘Finding Nemo‘ or is it able to just keep swimming?
Set one year after the events of ‘Finding Nemo‘ we find the Clownfish Marlin (Brooks), his son Nemo (Rolence) and Regal Blue Tang Dory (DeGeneres) settled into the anemone. However, an accident triggers a dormant memory in Dory who usually suffers from short-term memory loss; the memory of her lost parents. In order to try and find where they are, Dory, Marlin and Nemo travel to California and find themselves at a Marine Life Institute and the group become separated with Dory inside the Institute and finding a seven-legged Octopus named Hank (O’Neill) who promises to help Dory in exchange for his freedom. Dory must find her parents despite her crippling memory-loss and Marlin and Nemo need to come to terms with the fact that Dory finding her parents may result in them losing someone who has become family to them.
The first thing to get out of the way when talking about a sequel like ‘Finding Dory‘ is that it can’t possibly recapture the sense of wonderment that was the original film. ‘Finding Nemo‘ took Marlin and Dory over a large chunk of the globe and the movie was all about discovering the vastness of the ocean and going on an adventure that almost defies comprehension. ‘Finding Dory‘ understands that it can’t replicate that feeling, especially when it comes to Marlin and Dory because travelling across the ocean to find someone isn’t new territory. As a result, while the duo and Nemo travel to California they make it there in the first 20 minutes of the movie thanks to the turtles they met in the first movie taking them through the California Current. Instead, the setting is more claustrophobic and limited with the Marine Life Institute but it feels more alien to the characters as they’re in a man-made environment as opposed to their usual natural aquatic surroundings.
The Marine Life Institute turns out to be an ideal setting for this story as it’s packed to the brim with detail, has numerous climates and species within close proximity whilst also having plentiful fatal dry-land. And the fact that it’s an Institute committed to nurturing injured or impaired aquatic life opens itself up to comedic possibilities such as Hank the Octopus being very very sensitive about only having seven legs, a whale-shark named Destiny who is near-sighted and Bailey a Beluga Whale who has lost his echolocation. While screenwriters Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse have a lot of fun with these characters it can’t be understated how powerful the theme of overcoming a disability is in ‘Finding Dory‘. A brief prologue gives us an insight into Dory’s childhood as her parents struggle to look after a child who forgets almost everything said to her within seconds and the montage leading up to her encounter with Marlin may not be as devastating as the opening of ‘Up’ but it puts Dory’s character in a whole new light and it may make you look at ‘Finding Nemo‘ in an entirely new way.
Basically, within 5 minutes of starting ‘Finding Dory‘ finds a way to justify its own existence.
While ‘Finding Dory‘ doesn’t do much to redefine or deconstruct the character of Dory it does hold a magnifying glass to how difficult it can be to live with chronic short-term memory loss as well as how she NEEDS companionship in order to function otherwise she’ll forget what she was doing and it becomes a vicious cycle. Watching Dory’s parents try to find workarounds in order to raise her will definitely strike a chord with parents of disabled children and I have a feeling that those households will get the most out of ‘Finding Dory‘.
Unfortunately in order to contrive a scenario in which Dory is separated from her friends to make her journey more difficult Marlin is required to act massively out of character and also go against many of the lessons he travelled halfway across the world in the last movie to learn. This separation gives ‘Finding Dory‘ a two-pronged narrative where we follow Dory, Hank and a handful of other fish inside the Institute trying to find her parents and we also have Marlin and Nemo outside the Institute trying to get inside and find Dory. While the Marlin and Nemo portions are high on humour thanks to Marlin’s neurotic, sarcastic nature, Idris Elba and Dominic West as a pair of sea lions and also a common loon bird named Becky, the two make so little progress over the course of the movie and take up so much screentime that it feels like the pacing is stop-start-stop-start throughout.
While Nemo in the fishtank in ‘Finding Nemo‘ didn’t make much progress in terms of escaping you learned a lot about the characters in that tank and Nemo was growing and changing all the time. In this case, the supporting cast are mostly comic relief and Marlin and Nemo spend their own sub-plot learning stuff that…they already learned. It’s with Dory where the character growth and narrative progression comes into play and it’s where most of the interesting and engaging stuff happens as she bonds with Hank, Destiny and Bailey on her journey to overcome her disability and find her parents, it just keeps getting interrupted every so often by Marlin wondering whether or not to trust a sketchy looking bird.
Despite this sequel revolving around the comic-relief side-character from the last movie, ‘Finding Dory‘ is not a laugh riot. There are a lot of jokes but they don’t overload the story and make Dory a swimming punchline. Most of the humour actually comes from Hank who is played by an overly-serious Ed O’Neill who is desperate to get away from the Ocean and be sent to a permanent aquarium in Cleveland, but in order to get on that truck he needs an orange tag that Dory was given upon arrival. The movie gets a lot of mileage out of Hank’s ability to camouflage himself and while his fear of children mainly seems to be leading up to an almost identical sequence that involved young children in ‘Toy Story 3‘ it does work as a payoff.
The movie also leads to a climax that, while undeniably fun and inventive, feels like it completely jumps the shark. This otherwise grounded, emotional story doesn’t really lend itself to a massive, elaborate, collateral-damage filled conclusion that might actually be the most destructive sequence in Pixar history in terms of possible casualties and potential repair damage apart from the ending of ‘The Incredibles‘. And I’m not even kidding.
Voice acting wise, we have great work across the board with Ellen DeGeneres reminding us how no one else could play this part but her. Albert Brooks returns and does strong work and we have new great actors joining the crew but it’s hard to escape the fact that the characters they’re inhabiting in ‘Finding Dory‘ can’t quite live up to the cast of ‘Finding Nemo‘. Just to be clear, I wasn’t expecting or wanting a re-make of ‘Finding Nemo‘ here but as great as ‘Finding Dory‘ is and how much fun it is to watch it’s hard to escape the fact that deep down in this sequel’s DNA it isn’t trying to aim as high as the original. It absolutely works on its own merits, but for those expecting something as good as the original or even better might be a little underwhelmed.
One definitive improvement over ‘Finding Nemo‘ is the animation quality which should be a given since it’s coming 13 years later. Make no mistake, ‘Finding Nemo‘ has age incredibly well thanks to an incredible use of colour, simple character designs and superb attention to detail, but ‘Finding Dory‘ has that and more with much better water animation, the characters have more detailed textures, we see more species and more fish on screen at once in smaller locations and a lot more emphasis on human characters.
Despite the (for lack of a better word) cartooney character designs, Pixar have found a great balance between abstract 3-D animation and photo-realism. This is best demonstrated in the short film that plays before ‘Finding Dory‘; ‘Piper‘. You could pause almost any frame of ‘Piper‘ and mistake it for a photograph. Thomas Newman returns to score and pulls out all the stops in an incredibly varied soundtrack that absolutely KILLS during some of the wordless sequences and the sound-design, as is to be expected, is top-notch.
‘Finding Dory‘, on its own merits, is a fun and frequently moving animated adventure movie with strong characters, a sense of charm and discovery with a profound main character at its centre. The movie will certainly appeal or strike a chord with families or children who cope with disabilities and that approach from Pixar would justify this sequel all on its own. The voice acting and animation are as great as can be expected from Pixar but the sense of wonderment and the scale of ‘Finding Nemo‘ just isn’t there. To be fair, ‘Finding Dory‘ is not trying to recapture that but it just goes to show that not all films, even follow-ups, are created equal. But that’s absolutely fine and Pixar have delivered another great piece of cinema.
I give ‘Finding Dory‘ 4 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 23rd Sep 16