Swimming Pays Off: “Finding Dory” Is a Worthy Sequel, If Not As Perfect As Its Predecessor

Finding Dory

Finding Dory (Angus MacLane/Andrew Stanton, 2016)

Last year, Pixar gave us two new films, both original scripts: Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. The first was a sublime example of what that company does best, which is to combine drama, comedy, nostalgia and genuine sentiment into a heady mix of powerful emotion where we laugh and cry in equal measure. The second was an unholy mess, which just goes to show that not all coming-of-age stories are created equal, even if they both come from the same family. This year, Pixar comes to us with Finding Dory, the (long-awaited?) sequel to its 2003 hit Finding Nemo. It’s lovely and sweet, with the same primary cast of characters we grew to love last time, with laughter and tears for all. Still, unlike in Pixar’s best work – which includes, in addition to Inside Out and Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., Ratatouille, Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3 and Up – here the sentimental parts of the story feel, upon occasion, forced, as if certain boxes need to be checked to guarantee this or that reaction. If, then, it is not as bracingly fresh as Inside Out, it is still far better than a film like The Good Dinosaur.

Last time, if you remember, the plot revolved around a frantic chase across the ocean to rescue a young clown fish named Nemo from an uncertain fate. This time, one of those rescuers, a blue tang fish named Dory, moves from the wings to center stage. We begin with a flashback to her childhood, when she already suffered from short-term memory loss (her signature issue, source of comedy and tragedy, both). We see her with her parents, who struggle to find ways to help her survive when she so constantly forgets just about everything. And then, the inevitable happens, and she loses not only her way, but her parents, and herself, and in a quick montage we watch as she swims from sea to shining sea, aging into the Dory we know from last time, with the voice of Ellen DeGeneres. And then she runs smack into Marlin (Albert Brooks, A Most Violent Year), Nemo’s father, looking for Nemo, and we are back to the start of the previous film.

Flash forward a year, and Nemo, Marlin and Dory all live peaceably on a reef together. Life is good, until a combination of events evoke certain memories in Dory’s jumbled cerebral cortex, and suddenly she remembers her parents, and insists on trying to find them. Inevitably, Marlin and Nemo (voiced, this time, by newcomer Hayden Rolence) insist on coming along, and before too long the misadventures begin. It’s a journey wherein Dory must reach deep inside to find the best part of herself and motivate others to do the same; in other words, a Pixar film. Beautifully animated (the technology just keeps on getting better), the film features wonderful vocal cameos from the likes of Sigourney Weaver (Avatar) – my favorite, by far – as well as Ed O’Neill (Modern Family), Ty Burrell (also Modern Family), Idris Elba (The Jungle Book), Diane Keaton (And So It Goes) and Eugene Levy (Schitt’s Creek), among others. If the big emotional moments feel a little too obvious to make me love the film, I still like it a lot, and the laughs are more than genuine. Whether you agree with me or not – like it more or like it less – it’s a charming movie that’s perfect for all ages.

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