Pixar is the undisputed king of the animation world. They are able to make films that feature top notch animation and stories that work on multiple levels, appealing to kids and adults equally. Most of their films deal with teamwork and family, the biological ones and the ones that grow organically from friendships. One of their biggest films was Finding Nemo. Since its 2003 release, only Toy Story 3 and Inside Out have surpassed its box office performance. It was also the first Pixar feature to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar, the first of eight total for the studio. Returning to a previous successful intellectual property has, Cars withstanding, been a pretty successful venture for them as well, with two Toy Story sequels, and the Monsters Inc. prequel, Monsters University. Finding Dory returns us to the underwater world that has been so beloved by audiences for over a decade now.
While it has been 13 years since Finding Nemo was released, the story of Finding Dory picks up a year after, spoiler alert, Nemo was found. This time the story focuses on Dory (Ellen Degeneres), the Pacific regal blue tang that suffers from short-term memory loss. Dory starts have dreams and flashbacks to her childhood and starts to remember her parents, that she had gotten lost, and had been looking for them. With the help of Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), she ventures out across the Pacific to “the Jewel of Morro Bay, California,” which ends up being a marine life institute. After narrowly escaping a predator, Dory finds herself separated from Marlin and Nemo and in the quarantine facility of the institute, where she meets and befriends Hank (Ed O’Neill), a surly octopus with 7 arms that agrees to help Dory get to the part of the Institute where her parents are in exchange for Dory’s tag so he can be shipped to Cleveland. Dory and Hank try to make their way through the park while Marlin and Nemo try to find their way into the park and rescue Dory.
Everything about the production of this film is up to the highest standard of Pixar quality. The visuals of the film are just as stunning as anything else that Pixar has created. Working within an aquatic world allows them to work with rich, vibrant colors and really impressive animation of the various fish and aquatic creatures but equally impressive is the depth of field that gives the feeling of being in a great, big ocean at times.
The voice acting is pretty spectacular collection too. Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy voice Dory’s parents, who we see frequently in flashbacks as Dory has words and moments that trigger memories for her. Kaitlin Olson and Ty Burrell voice Daisy and Bailey, respectively; whales that live at the marine institute. Fans of HBO’s The Wire will get a kick out of Idris Elba (Stringer Bell!) and Dominic West (McNulty!) voicing two sea lions that help Marlin and Nemo find a way into the institute.
While the production values are of the highest quality, and Pixar is the gold standard of the animation world, the story suffers a bit. Part of what made Finding Nemo work so well was that there was so much balance in the story between Marlin and Dory searching for Nemo and Nemo’s story in the dentist’s office. Unfortunately, that isn’t quite the case here. Dory’s side of the story is far more rich narratively while Marlin and Nemo’s story feels a little superfluous. If they had made this film a complete Dory standalone, it would have been shorter, but it could have worked. That’s not to say that the side-story involving Marlin and Nemo isn’t interesting at all or doesn’t have some enjoyable entertainment, because it does, but they are definitely relegated to a supporting role. They also really play up Hank’s ability as a red octopus to change his color, essentially making him an underwater chameleon who can completely blend into his surroundings, in or out of water and regardless of what the surroundings are.
Even though some of it feels a little formulaic at times, there is still the effective Pixar sentimentality that occasionally pulls at the heartstrings. Like most Pixar films, family is an important piece of the film’s DNA. It’s not just that Dory looking for her parents is the driving force of the story, it’s also the adoptive family that she has formed with Marlin and Nemo. That’s all contrasted by Hank, who has a gruff exterior and who just wants to be left alone and not bothered. He also wants to live a safe, sheltered, quiet life where no kids are poking him and he is removed from danger, something he shares with Marlin, who has to plan everything before acting. This, of course, is in contrast to Dory who has learned to live life by just acting and taking a chance, because she can’t make plans.
Finding Dory doesn’t come close to reaching the pinnacle of the best work Pixar has ever done, but it is also far from the worst too (Cars, Cars 2). The cast is impressive, the visuals are great, the way they tell the story by sprinkling in flashbacks works for the most part, and there are also some entertaining laughs, wordplay, and a nice celebrity voice cameo. In what is shaping up to be a summer of sequels that no one asked for and no one really wants, Finding Dory is a pretty standard, successful sequel; one that doesn’t quite live up to the original, but is pretty enjoyable nonetheless. As far a Pixar sequels go, it is probably closer to Monsters University than Toy Story 2 or Toy Story 3.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars