With Finding Dory, Pixar delivers a sequel worthy to be paired together with its original film. Much more Toy Story 2 than Cars 2, Finding Dory delivers on everything you would want from a Pixar film. There is a fun adventure with colorful characters (with a great voice cast to back them up) along with more heart and emotion than all of their competitors combined. The issue with any Pixar film is that the pedigree set before it is near perfection. Is Finding Dory perfect? No. Is it an amazing animated film, further solidifying the greatness of Pixar? Absolutely.
Continuing the journey of Dory after the events of Finding Nemo, while also including a lot of prequel material from Dory’s childhood, Finding Dory follows the Ellen DeGeneres-voiced fish as she seeks to reunite with her parents. The film includes Marlin and Nemo, gives cameos to favorites from the first film (the surfing turtles are in the film maybe 30 seconds), but is squarely focused on introducing new characters and following Dory’s journey.
New Characters Are A Big Win
This was a huge sigh of relief as the worst thing a sequel can do is retread the same emotional ground as the first film. By introducing a new slew of characters, as well as exploring Dory’s unknown past, we avoid the trappings of the film being Finding Nemo Again. Whether it be Hank the octopus (Ed O’Neil), the whales Destiny (Kaitlin Olsen) and Bailey (Ty Burrel), or the goofy sea lions (Idris Elba, Dominic West), pretty much all of the new characters are big wins. Filling in the edges of the film with such successful characters really rounds out the film as not only emotional (read: the main story), but extremely funny.
The main journey of Dory is a big win, both emotionally and creatively. If there is one thing to be expected from Pixar, it is their emotional journeys. Dory’s story flashes back to her childhood (which is hitting a 9 or 10 on the cute scale), while following the clues from her past to find her parents. The film separates itself from other follow-the-clues films because Dory mentally cannot follow clues. While it may seem like a stretch, I was reminded of Memento while watching this film. It can be frustrating as an audience if we can’t follow from point A to point B, but that is part of the goal. We experience what Dory experiences, and it works. Because we feel her pain, we are able to feel her joy when the film has emotionally satisfying moments.
While I would say everything with Dory and everything with the new characters works (Hank is a stand out, there’s just something funny about an octopus having a grizzled backstory and outlook on life), the secondary story follows Marlin and Nemo, and it is pretty much a dud. I talked about how Finding Dory avoids retreading emotional ground from the first film, and it does, but there is nothing new to say when it comes to Marlin and Nemo’s story. The film attempts to give them a character arc, and they do go on a parallel journey to Dory’s, but I found myself disappointed every time the film would cut away to their subplot. The film works when it explores unknowns about established characters (Dory’s past) or introduces brand new characters/environments all together.
Overall Thoughts on ‘Finding Dory’
Just to be clear, this film is great. It hits an emotional punch, there are some very creative and enjoyable “action” scenes, and it is extremely funny (thanks in large part to the great side characters listed above). With that said, there is definitely a strain of disappointment that comes with any sequel, let alone a sequel to the phenomenon known as Finding Nemo. Each Pixar film is equal parts introduction to a wildly creative world and equal parts story. Yes, films like Finding Nemo, Cars, and Monsters Inc. have an individual story to tell, but a large part of the experience is introducing audiences to the brand new world and the rules established there. With each of their respective sequels, the introduction to a new world is gone, and we are just left with story/plot (the Toy Story sequels are a cut above the rest, btw).
Now, that is not to say that only having a new story is a bad thing, the story here is very emotionally satisfying. But there is something missing when you come into the movie already knowing the characters and the world in which they live. A normal Pixar film (or something like Wreck-It Raplh or Zootopia) delivers the full package by introducing a new world in the first act, and THEN telling an emotional story in the second and third acts. While the story (usually reserved for the second and third acts) is very good, and there is a strong emotional journey to go on, the lack of creativity that comes with any sequel is noticed here. Make no mistake, Finding Dory is a great film that is more successful than the majority of animated films out there; but as mentioned before, when the Pixar pedigree is near perfection, it is a high mark to hit. Though it may not hit the perfection of its fellow Pixar peers, Finding Dory still delivers one of the best films of the summer.