Ranking a Pixar movie is probably one of the hardest things to do, mainly because the gap between a great movie and a masterpiece is so hard to distinguish. Excluding the Cars franchise, even when a Pixar movie doesn’t meet the incredibly high expectations of the company’s legacy, they are usually great films in their own right. That is the case with Finding Dory, a sequel to one of their better films that no one asked for, yet somehow managed to never feel like a cheap cash grab. Instead, while not as good as its predecessor, Finding Dory manages to remind us once again just how good Pixar is at toying with our emotions, combining genuine laughs and in-depth drama with an extremely heartfelt story about finding your way back home. It won’t take the top spot as their best animated film, but as someone who saw the original Finding Nemo in theaters as a kid, I can safely say that this film remains a worthy sequel in its own right.
Taking place one year after the events of the first film (but more than ten years for us Pixar fans), Finding Dory centers around the lovable blue tang fish Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who now lives with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). While she remains as chipper and optimistic as ever, Dory’s short-term memory loss still prevents her from truly fitting in with everyone on the reef. However, a field trip with Nemo’s class prompts memories of her past, primarily that of her parents, to resurface, as well as where they originally lived. This prompts Dory, Marlin and Nemo to search for her parents, eventually taking them to Morro Bay Marine Life Institute, a rehabilitation center and aquarium. When Dory is accidentally taken by employees along the journey, she must find a way to reunite with her friends, all the while searching for her lost family and the past that she has forgotten.
Like many people, I was pretty skeptical about the quality of this movie, and not because I had little faith in what Pixar could accomplish. Finding Nemo as a whole was a touching and well-written movie, but it seemed to fit the mold of a stand-alone film, wrapping up so nicely that the idea of a sequel felt completely unnecessary. Adding onto this was the question of how they were going to make a movie based around Dory, a character that, while lovable, could easily have been written as too oblivious or too annoying. Pixar themselves did get themselves into this mess before with Cars 2, taking Mater, a comic relief character that worked best in small doses, and throwing too much spotlight on him to the point where his brand of humor bordered on frustration. However, the writers – which include returning director Andrew Stanton (Angus MacLane co-directed) – managed to work Dory’s addled mindset into this movie so that it balances between smart entertainment and heartfelt tragedy. It plays the situation for laughs in a way that kids will enjoy, yet treats the subject mater in a mature sense that adults will be able to recognize. The jokes are sharp and clever, fitting in with the personalities of our characters and how they would be most likely to act in these situations.
The new additions to this cast are a ton of fun, though the way they are used to drive the plot forward does stretch the limits of reality into Saturday morning cartoon logic. This could be seen as either a good thing or a bad thing. The aquatic character that stands out the most is undoubtedly Hank the octo- er septapus (Ed O’Neil), who reluctantly teams up with Dory in exchange for her ID tag, which would allow him to live a reclusive life at an aquarium in Cleveland. The insane stealth/Mission Impossible stunts that they make this character pull off with his limbs are pretty damn insane, but it makes for some hilarious physical comedy moments. Alongside Hank are a near-sighted whale named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and a beluga whale named Bailey (Ty Burrell), both extremely funny and likable characters that sadly don’t get enough screen time. However, they get enough time to contribute to the plot and get Dory on her journey, as well as finally explain the great mystery of where Dory learned to speak whale. Considering Hank’s ability to blend in with his surroundings, I can just picture the title for the next sequel, Finding Hank.
If Finding Dory has a real flaw, I’d say that its lack of originality prevents it from joining the list of Pixar’s greatest hits. It uses a formula pretty similar to what the first movie did but with a few added twists in order to make it stand out. However, I’m ok with that, because not every good or even great movie needs to reinvent the wheel. A good sequel doesn’t necessarily need to go the level of Godfather 2 or even Toy Story 2/3 and surpass what came before it; rather, it just needs to provide a satisfying and engaging film on its own merits. And for what Finding Dory lacks in originality, it makes up for with a heartfelt and emotional story, one that really invokes the audience’s pathos towards Dory. Adding onto this is DeGeneres’ performance, which really helps sell the character’s journey and what she feels throughout it all. Over the course of thirteen years we’ve come to appreciate her quirks like whale-speaking, forgetfulness and “just keep swimming,” but here we really see where all those traits came from and just how much it adds onto the layers of her character. And for a movie that doesn’t really surpass its previous entry, that’s pretty damn impressive.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
Finding Dory is not better than Finding Nemo, doesn’t try to be as groundbreaking as some of Pixar’s other entries and doesn’t even tell a story with a villain at the end. From both a writing standpoint and a Hollywood standpoint, that is pretty hard to pull off, yet here it works. It works because the storytelling remains strong, the characters are treated with respect and the movie knows when to be silly and when to be serious, all the while staying smart. As for whether or not Pixar can do this with their other “unnecessary” sequels (and the one we’ve been begging them to make for years), my advice is this: just keep watching.
(Also, there is a post-credit scene, so be sure to stick around for that.)