Pixar has, for years, defined quality family entertainment. Their art direction has been emulated in several other films, and there’s a natural maturity to the films that is relatable to the countless adults in attendance. The films are “safe” for children, even if the source material therein isn’t exactly targeted at them, though the marketing is. Pixar is capable of creating worlds that are enticing for everyone with a beating heart and a sense of joy, with rarely a misstep between releases. It’s no surprise, then, that Finding Dory is absolutely fantastic.
When the film was first announced, I was apprehensive. Pixar’s last sequel, Cars 2, was one of those rare missteps. It was a film that existed solely to sell merchandise and offered very little substance beyond that. Not that Pixar is incapable of crafting worthy sequels, as the Toy Story franchise has proven, but the story of Finding Nemo felt complete. I wasn’t begging for a sequel; I took the journey and was satisfied with the conclusion. I was afraid that a sequel would be an unnecessary rehash and a cash grab. How wrong I was.
Finding Dory opens, like every Pixar movie, with an animated short. This one, titled Piper, tells the story of a little bird that needs to get its first meal on its own. It’s a simple premise that is artfully crafted into one of the most charming shorts I’ve ever seen. The animation is downright beautiful with a beach that feels real enough to walk on. From the frothy waves lapping up on shore to the individual grains of sand that stick believably to the feathers of little Piper, the world feels so incredibly real and believable that Morgan Freeman’s voice narrating this bird’s journey to independence wouldn’t feel out of place. It’s a charming short that tells viewers, without speaking a single word, “You can do great things.” The cynicism that’s blossomed within me over the years got some much needed weeding from the pure joy I felt during Piper’s short runtime. Its theme is one that fits well with the film that follows. It’s such a beautifully charming short capable of making even the hardest of hearts laugh, if only for a moment.
Piper was such a strong opening, I had high expectations from that point forward. Finding Dory is more as much a prequel as it is a sequel. The story opening with a very young Dory and her patient parents as they work with her and her memory issues. See, Dory has problems with short-term memory loss and is easily distracted. As a result, her parents have to use shells and rhymes to embed important things into her memory, with varying results.
Throughout the film, we’re taken back to these moments as Dory encounters something that triggers her memory. It creates a non-linear narrative that encompasses the story that was told in Finding Nemo without relying too heavily on its predecessor. Sure, there are various callbacks to Finding Nemo, and being familiar with the characters might help the world to feel a little more familiar, but there’s absolutely nothing in Finding Dory that would alienate new viewers. It’s a film that stands on its own, despite living in an existing universe. There’s only a handful of characters from the first film that make an appearance, and even less that are actually featured as main characters.
The majority of the film – aside from focusing on Dory, Marlin, and Nemo – is composed of a variety of new characters. Joining the cast of characters is Kaitlyn Olson as a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny, Ty Burrell as a beluga whale suffering from issues with echolocation after a recent concussion, and Ed O’Neill as an ornery “septopus” who is looking for a ticket to a Cleveland aquarium where he’ll be able to live a secluded life in a box free from getting touched.
Hank is easily my new favorite character to make its way into an animated movie. He plays the unlikely hero as he agrees to help Dory only in exchange for her tag – a ticket to Cleveland. As he spends more time with Dory, he slowly begins to sympathize with the character, and even care about her. It’s a fluid evolution as Hank never transitions from being a self-serving anti-social jerk to a compassionate hero. Hank, by the film’s end, is the same as he was, at his core, when he first met Dory. We’re shown right off the bat that he isn’t entirely heartless – in fact, he has three. He also has a set of principles: a deal is a deal and I’ll make sure I hold up my end of said deal. If that deal sees him taking some unexpected detours, he’ll take them.
It’s not just his personality, though, that makes Hank stand out. That helps, for sure, but the creative animation transforms him from being just an abrasive cynic to a truly memorable and even iconic animated character. Hank is a ruby octopus – well, he’s missing a tentacle, so Dory refers to him as a septopus. In addition to using his array of tentacles to walk, crawl, and sling his way around, Hank also has the ability to perfectly mimicking his surroundings with his camouflage. This sets up some brilliant visual gags and makes the character that much more endearing.
All of the new characters, though, add something special to the mix. From the territorial sea lions to Bailey and his use of the world’s most powerful glasses, each inhabitant of this wonderfully zany universe is memorable in his or her own right. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the talented cast breathes life into the characters with heart and impeccable timing.
Finding Dory is, in some regards, a similar movie to its predecessor. You have a fish embarking on a journey to find a family that was lost. At its core, however, it’s a much smaller, more personal tale that trades the ocean-spanning adventure of the first film for a more focused character piece. The majority of the film takes place in a single location with only one brief scene spent getting there. It’s less a journey of finding someone else, and more of a journey of self-discovery. Not only for Dory, but for the characters around her. The film poses the question of “who is Dory?” By the time the film concludes, she’ll feel as much a part of your family as she is a part of the family she’s looking for.
While I felt that Finding Dory took a full act of its own before it really found its groove (possibly because of the impossibly high expectations I had following Piper), the story, characters, and everything in between was a joy to watch. Finding Dory is another standout Pixar film with tons of heart. For each moment you laugh, there will be another, perfectly fitting moment of heartfelt sincerity that yanks at your emotions. It’s hard to find a film that’s contains such a perfect blend of contrasting emotional themes, but it’s handled with such grace that viewers will be finding Dory, her cohorts, and the heartwarming journey they take entertaining for years to come.
Good – 3 / 3