“Finding Dory” is a movie which put a big smile on my face as I watched it. In some ways this shouldn’t be a surprise as Pixar made it, and they continue to wow us time and time again, but this one really hits hard on an emotional level as well. This sequel to “Finding Nemo” allows a supporting character to take center stage this time around, and it is a character with a disability we find ourselves laughing and sympathizing with as she struggles to reconnect with a part of her past she tragically lost a long time ago.
A year has passed since clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) swam all the way to Australia to rescue his son Nemo (Alexander Gould in the original, Hayden Rolence here) and befriended Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a Pacific regal blue tang with short-term memory loss, in the process. All three are back at the Great Barrier Reef leading a non-adventurous life, but Dory starts to remember things about her parents and how she was accidentally separated from them. When she suddenly remembers the place she came from, the Jewel of Morro Bay, California, she becomes infinitely determined to travel there and hopefully reunite with her parents.
While “Finding Nemo” was a long day’s journey into Australia, it doesn’t take long for Dory, Marlin and Nemo to arrive in California. However, Dory’s mission gets derailed when she is “rescued” by volunteers from the nearby Marine Life Institute. She is placed in the Quarantine section, and it is up to Marlin and Nemo to rescue her from the institute before it’s too late.
Now the story for “Finding Dory” isn’t much different from “Finding Nemo,” and as a result the freshness of the original is missing here. But this sequel is in many ways as good as the original as director Andrew Stanton, along with co-director Angus MacLane, gives as much focus to the story and characters as he does to the visual spectacle. And with Pixar, you can always count on them to outdo what they gave us before visually. The Marine Life Institute is displayed in such an amazing way to where you feel like you are looking at a real aquarium, and the main centerpiece is just incredibly rendered.
But seriously, what makes “Finding Dory” work so well above all else is the voice acting. This cast makes you root and care for these characters in a way the filmmakers could never have accomplished on their own. This is especially the case with Ellen DeGeneres who makes Dory such an endearingly lovable character, and she makes us feel for her to the point of tears. DeGeneres really deserved an Oscar for her work on the first movie, and the same goes with the sequel. Dory’s short-term memory loss was a joke of sorts, but now it’s a mental impairment she is desperate to overcome so she can find her parents. It’s a heartrending journey you can’t help but be sucked into, and one which feels genuine in its emotions and never manipulative.
And there’s no forgetting Albert Brooks who combines his comedic genius with a strong dose of vulnerability in his portrayal of Marlin. While this lovable clownfish looks like he hasn’t changed much from the last time we saw him, he is still full of heart and somehow rises to the challenges thrown at him when a dear friend is abducted. Brooks has always been a kick in every movie he appears in, and this one is no exception.
Many new characters are introduced in “Finding Dory” such as the near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), California sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West) who are very territorial about the rock they hang out on, and the beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell). But the one who stands out most is Hank, an ill-tempered East Pacific red octopus voiced by Ed O’Neill. The “Married with Children” and “Modern Family” actor makes Hank a lovably gruff and infinitely clever character who would rather stay in the aquarium than go back into the ocean, and O’Neill leaves no trace of Al Bundy in his performance. There’s also a wonderful and genuinely emotional scene where Hank lets his guard down as he says goodbye to Dory, and O’Neill gives Hank a wonderful vulnerability which makes that moment stay with you long after the movie is over.
“Finding Dory” doesn’t reach the cinematic heights that “Inside Out” did, but it is still a wonderfully entertaining adventure you would be foolish to miss on the big screen. Pixar once again enthralls us with their mastery of animation, story and characters, and they are also blessed with another beautiful film score by Thomas Newman. While part of me wants to see Pixar do more original movies and less sequels, it was great fun to see these characters just keep swimming from one side of the ocean to the next. And in a time where blockbuster movies come at us from all directions, it’s nice to see one that really leaves a smile on your face.
As always, be sure to stay through the end credits.
Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.