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FINDING DORY (2016) review

June 16, 2016

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written by: Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse
produced by: Lindsey Collins
directed by: Andrew Stanton
rated: PG (for mild thematic elements)
runtime: 103 min.
U.S. release date: June 17, 2016

 

I remember years ago when talk began about a sequel to 2003’s “Finding Nemo“. My heart sank and my eyes rolled as I thought – how could this little clownfish get lost again? Well, thankfully it was eventually announced that the title would be “Finding Dory” (not”Finding Nemo 2″, thankfully – not that a child, er fish, couldn’t get lost twice, but c’mon), which is quite fitting when you think about the likeliness of a character with short-term memory getting lost. Like “Cars 2” and “Monsters University“, Pixar shifts protagonists here, casting a spotlight on a character who was once deemed comic relief and considering how undeniably endearing and lovable Dory was in “Nemo”, following her on yet another misadventure is a no-brainer.

The title is also different from its predecessor in another way in that no one in the movie is actively searching for Dory, although some are “following” and many are “helping” her. In this movie, she’s the one “finding” as she searches for her long-last family. So, in essence the two movies are inverted, yet in both movies the main character desires to be reunited with his/her family.

In “Dory”, the lost one is searching, not the one who’s in need of rescuing (although there’s some of that as well). The nice twist that writer/director Andrew Stanton (returning to animation after the unfairly maligned live-action “John Carter” failed financially) and co-writer Victoria Strouse, give the titular character is that she was actually lost the whole time we knew her in “Nemo” and now, in this enjoyable and effortlessly entertaining sequel, Dory’s story broadens as the memory of her past comes back to her in snippets, informing her (and us) of who she was and is.

 

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The movie opens during one such snippet, as we meet a young wide-eyed blue tang living happily in a kelp forest with her doting parents – mom, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and dad, Charlie (Eugene Levy) – who do their best to help their adorable offspring’s trouble with memory loss. They use physical landmarks to help her remember where home is and sing songs to help her remember important safety tips, but alas, their Dory strays away and is caught in a current and swept out to sea. It’s a touching and telling, heartstring-pulling prologue. The kind that Pixar has mastered (though it doesn’t come close to “Up“) in the past and like those prologues, this short scene tells a whole lot of story.

We then revisit the moment when Dory swam into Marlin (Albert Brooks) as the worrisome clownfish searched for his lost son with the gimpy fin. Fast forward to one year later and we find Marlon and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) living in a comfy sea anemone with Dory right next door in her coral home. But something has jarred Dory’s mind and soon fragments of her family float to the surface of her memory. She remembers she has parents and she’s certain they’re out there looking for her. Before such thoughts exit her fragile mind, she implores Marlin and Nemo to help her find a way back to her family. Thankfully, the one clue she can remember is that they her family used to live at “the jewel of Morro Bay, California”.

Knowing that’s a long way from the Great Barrier Reef, a reluctant Marlin calls upon his surfer dude sea turtle friend, Crush (voiced by Stanton) and before they know it, our trio is dumped into the Pacific where they surface at the Monterrey Marine Life Institute. The friends are suddenly separated when Dory is scooped up and tagged by some volunteers who take her back to the Institute, where their motto, recited by Sigourney Weaver (in a great cameo, which never gets old)  is “Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release”.

Desperate to reconnect with their friend, Marlin and Nemo get to know the locals in order to figure out where Dory has been taken to. They meet two sea lions, Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West), perched on a rock, who tell the father and son that fish that are scooped up are usually taken to quarantine in order to get better. Meanwhile, Dory meets a cantankerous octopus named Hank (a perfectly cast Ed O’Neil) who agrees to help her find the rest of the blue tangs if she’ll hand over her tag, so he can be shipped to Cleveland with all the other tagged sea creatures since he desires to live off his days in a tank all by himself.

As they maneuver throughout the different sections of the Institute (which has an aquarium open to the public), Dory also meets Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a vision-impaired whale shark and Baily (Ty Burrell) a beluga whale who things his sonar is messed up. All of these supporting characters work against external and internal odds in order to reunite our friendly trio, while maintaining the endgame of reconnecting Dory with her parents.

 

FINDING DORY – Marlin and Nemo get guidance from a pair of lazy sea lions in an effort to catch up with Dory. Featuring Idris Elba as the voice of Fluke and Dominic West as the voice of Rudder, "Finding Dory" opens on June 17, 2016. ©2016 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

 

Just sitting back and thinking about it, it’s obvious there’s a lot going on in “Finding Dory”.  Sure, it’s easy to follow Marlin, Nemo and Dory on their journey, as they get separated and have their own dizzying (and often hilarious) adventures. Stanton and his storytellers make the action sequences flow and the touching moments, are accented by composer Thomas Newman yet again, tug all the right feels. And it’s in those moments where we find relatable and encouraging themes under the surface that resonate the most.

“Nemo” had the whole ‘overprotective/worried father needs to loosen up and trust his son’ thing going on and now, with Dory as the lead, we have a character with a disability . Yes, short-term memory can be endlessly played for laughs, but for some viewers, maybe even young viewers, this is their reality – if not memory loss, they have some type of learning disability that totally deflates their self-esteem, overwhelms their everyday life, causes them anxiety or finds them as targets for bullying.

With Dory, those viewers have someone to look up to. Sure, she may be exhausting, annoying and troubling to some – certainly Marlin at times – but she’s not to blame. She’s as much a victim (perhaps more) of her condition as those around her. Despite the reassurance she had from her loving parents, the adult Dory apologizes constantly for her condition and its in those spot-on line readings from DeGeneres where we see the necessary arc for the character – she most come to embrace herself and realize the positive impact she has on those around her. This is an indelible lesson for viewers of any age. What’s baffling and most impressive about Dory her positive can-do disposition. Despite being the butt of jokes and the challenges she has, Dory believes there’s always a way, no matter the odds. She’s a resilient believer and just think about how influential such an attitude can be.

 

DO I KNOW YOU? -- In Disney•Pixar's "Finding Dory," everyone's favorite forgetful blue tang, Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres), encounters an array of new—and old—acquaintances, including a cantankerous octopus named Hank (voice of Ed O'Neill). Directed by Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “WALL•E”) and produced by Lindsey Collins (co-producer “WALL•E”), “Finding Dory” swims into theaters June 17, 2016.

 

These are things about the character I never really thought until this movie and I’ve seen “Nemo” countless times. That’s a testament to Stanton and Strause’s screenplay – to take characters who audiences will think they know and have them reconnect yet learn so much more about that character and in turn, themselves.

Much has changed in the animation industry and for viewers of animated features in the 13 years since “Finding Nemo”. That first movie was gorgeously animated, but technology has advanced greatly since then. This can be seen in the beautiful photo-realistic animated short “Piper” (directed by Alan Barillaro) which precedes “Finding Dory”. One of the challenges this long-awaited sequel has to contend with are making sure those advancements aren’t too recognizable on screen.

Stanton and his crew know that what we see in “Dory”,  as far as the world and characters the animators create, can’t be too far removed visually from what audiences embraced back in 2003. Even as we’re introduced to new characters (like the husband and wife groupers voiced by Bill Hader and Kate McKinnon) alongside old regulars (yes, you’ll find John Ratzenberger once again), the look and feel of the sequel has to connect us to that first movie and it does, while giving us a new experience at the same time.

Like many viewers, my life has changed since “Nemo” was released. At the time I was a newlywed and I now have a 9-year-old daughter to share in this viewing experience. I may have a new and different frame of reference that I bring to “Dory”,  but I was nevertheless entertained and touched by the sequel.  My daughter can relate to this blue tang fish, in that she has to navigate through her challenges just like Dory. I look at Dory’s parents and I’m reminded how to guide and encourage my own child.

These are just some of the unexpected reflections I can apply to my life after watching a sequel that’s guaranteed to be a blockbuster hit. Not because it’s superior to the previous movie, but because it entertains and resonates just as much as that movie and because it fits an emotional need viewers have to connect, laugh and reflect. In a time when it’s confusing and hard to explain to our children the evil in the world, it’s a joy to come together and remember to “just keep swimming” and wonder “What would Dory do?”

 

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RATING: ***

 

 

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One Comment leave one →
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