Finding Dory opens with a cute baby Dory doing cute baby things, but sadly becoming separated from her parents. This should feel sadder than it does, and doesn’t quite compare to Finding Nemo‘s devastating opening sequence with the death of Nemo’s mother and siblings. Still, it sets the tone for this good-but-not-great sequel to one of Pixar’s masterpieces: this is going to be a lot like the first film, only with a lot more Dory. The character trait used mostly as a joke in the first film–Dory’s short-term memory loss–is here treated as a legitimate disability, a thorn in her side which nonetheless makes her who she is.
Where the original film emphasized the character development of both Marlin and Nemo, Finding Dory is driven by its plot. Dory sets off to find her parents, leading her across the ocean to a marine institute on the coast of California. The film settles into a fairly predictable rhythm, moving from one set piece to the next, with each escapade punctuated by conversations about important lessons being learned, along with brief flashback sequences. The chase sequences here are far swifter and more frequent than in Finding Nemo–imagine combining the shark scene from the first film combined with Nemo’s mission in the filtration system, and you’ve got the tone of Finding Dory. I even recalled a scene from 1979’s Alien when Dory parallels Dallas in the Nostromo as she navigates the pipe system in the marine institute, guided by a new beluga whale friend’s echolocation. The film goes a bit off the rails in its final chase sequence; even in a world of animated talking animals, a sense of realism goes a long way, and the penultimate scene was a bit too ridiculous for my taste. If you thought Up‘s talking-dogs-who-can-fly-planes bit was far-fetched, be prepared to something even sillier.
The most interesting character in Finding Dory isn’t even a fish–it’s Hank, an escape artist octopod with a temperament akin to a mashup between Eeyore and Rooster Cogburn. Lonely and loving it, Hanks just wants to escape from his world to the utopia of Cleveland, where an aquarium of bliss awaits. Where Dory swims through the world with a sense of ignorant euphoria and optimism, Hank is pessimistic and fine with it. The film doesn’t really offer *why* Hank is this way, but it does reveal how he’s changed by his encounter and subsequent friendship with Dory, who brings out the self-sacrificial side of the octopus. I found myself wishing there was a movie about Hank, but if this Pixar series keeps cranking out sequels, it could honestly wear out what is now a beautiful two-film arc.
What Finding Dory does get right is its Pixar pathos, eliciting tears at just the right moments, even when one is expecting it. The inevitable reunion between Dory and her parents hits all the right emotional notes, which will leave just about any parent blubbering and most children feeling like something important has happened. Just like Inside Out and Finding Nemo, there is no personified villain in this story–the antagonist is distance itself, the invisible and visible obstacles which keep loved ones apart. In Finding Dory, the biblical phrase “love is patient” is given fins. Sometimes the most prodigal act of love is to simply wait, a self-sacrificial life spent in hopeful anticipation of someone to finally come home. In this, Finding Dory serves as a powerful picture of parental love and the significance of familial reunions. It doesn’t matter how long it takes–when a child and a parent are reconnected after years of separation, it’s a moment of profound significance. While the sequel doesn’t exactly tread new ground (or swim new seas), the Nemo and Dory films in Pixar’s pantheon honor these familial ties, and honor Dory as a full character with agency and grace. She’s not a sidekick or a joke, but a fully-storied fish with a particular trait (her memory) which serves as both weakness and strength in her quest to just keep swimming towards home.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2277860/