"Finding Dory" guarantees delightful family fun by retreading old water
I am not a sequel cynic.
Contrary to many steadfast moviegoers out there, I tend to be an avid apologist whenever Hollywood announces a follow-up installment of a beloved movie. Maybe it's the TV junkie in me, but there's just something special about revisiting what would be one-off characters or universes a few years down the road, like hanging out with old friends again (I’m specifically thinking about Richard Linklater’s flawless “Before” trilogy here). #NotAllSequels are inherently cash-grabbing nostalgia trips destined to damage the reputation of their predecessors (looking at you guys, Jaws: The Revenge and Cars 2, 3) - it’s all in the execution.
Here’s a totally foolproof checklist I’ve come up with to determine whether or not I’ll enjoy the sequel to a film I love:
1. Does the thought of revisiting the characters from the original movie excite me?
2. Does the sequel say something new or at least expand on the main ideas of the original?
3. Was there any unfinished business from the original that I want to see resolved in a future movie?
Answers for Finding Dory: 1. Yes 2. Kinda. 3. Not really.
Of course, for the people (like myself) who grew up with Finding Nemo as their main frame of reference on how to feel actual emotions, there is an inherent mountain of high expectations when it comes to its follow-up.
For the most part, Finding Dory feels like a “greatest hits” of what made Finding Nemo and other Pixar movies such enjoyable family entertainment: Gorgeous animation, funny character-specific jokes, and unrelenting optimism in the midst of crushing despair. Also googley eyes. The movie feels like it was churned out from the instant noodle equivalent of the Pixar storytelling machine – just add hot water and wait five minutes. What results is a perfectly pleasant and fun nostalgia trip/family outing; nothing more, nothing less.
The main story of Finding Dory follows Dory’s (dependably buoyant voicework by Ellen Degeneres) journey as she searches for her missing parents as her childhood memories slowly come back to her in pieces. In her journey she seeks help from Hank (voiced by Modern Family’s Ed O’Neill), a cynical Octopus who reluctantly partners up with Dory. Hank finds her short-term memory loss and bubbly personality annoying at first, but slowly warms up to her as the film progresses. Sound familiar?
Finding Dory uses similar plot points from Finding Nemo, even sidelining Marlin by having Hank essentially play Marlin’s role in his dynamic with Dory from the original, following a similar character arc. The main themes in this film – its empowering representation of disability and its emphasis on family and loss – all have already been told brilliantly by its predecessor, and therefore feels like an odd, unnecessary remix in this sequel.
But hey, if it ain’t broke, right? While the film might bear some thematic and narrative resemblance with its predecessor, how returning director Andrew Stanton executes the film’s story is what makes it unique on it’s own and fun to watch unfold on screen. One of the movie’s main highlights is Dory’s “memory pops”, the way Dory gets glimpses of her childhood memories – via the 360 degree pan – is mesmerizing to behold.
Unsurprisingly, the film is populated with delightfully charming and strikingly animated supporting characters of its own. The Wire castmates Idris Elba and Dominic West were uncharacteristically funny as sea lions Fluke and Rudder respectively, but the MVPs of Finding Dory goes to short-sighted whale-shark Destiny (voiced by It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson), and her bickering relationship with Bailey the beluga whale (voiced by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell).
Finding Dory has a lot of fun displaying its side-character’s superhero-like abilities. Hank’s ability to blend in to its surroundings (quite similar to Monster’s Inc’s Randall), and the Spiderman-esque use of his tentacles, crackles during the heist moments in this movie. Meanwhile, Bailey’s reluctance about his sonar sensing abilities was also used to great comedic and visual effect.
Marlin and Nemo were the heart of Finding Nemo, and their relationship shines in this second outing, as the movie further explores the central friction between father and son, and lets Marlin confronts his own overprotectiveness, and overcoming his inability to have faith in other people – whether if it’s his son, Dory, or a crazy-eyed, bucket-carrying bird named Becky. This tension between the core trio is such an interesting aspect of this story to me, which is why it’s kind of a shame that it is relegated to b-plot territory.
There is a moment in Finding Dory where it felt like the film is expressing some ambition in its storytelling by sailing towards a darker theme, but ultimately reels back in for your standard, celebratory ending instead. But I suppose you can’t fault a dory for not being a clownfish. Finding Dory effortlessly succeeds in what it sets out to be: a perfectly serviceable Pixar/Disney romp that is fun for the whole family.
3 OUT OF 5 ZISSOUS
"Finding Dory" is currently screening in theatres now!