Monday, April 22, 2024

Movie Review: Finding Dory goes looking for heart and surfaces with a glass that’s mostly full

Director: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse
Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill

Synopsis: The friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish begins a search for her long-lost parents, and everyone learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.


For any sequel, the argument can be made about the validity of its existence. But with Pixar Animation Studios, a company so devoted to making original content, that argument can (arguably) be given even more weight. The truth is, after the consecutive releases of Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up, we all have become utterly spoiled to wonderful original films by one of the greatest studios in film history (notice the omission of Cars). At a time, Pixar was only interesting in franchising Toy Story (of course no one is complaining), but after the release of Cars 2 and Monsters University, many began questioning Pixar’s strength when it came to sequels and franchises. For all these reasons, there was a lot riding on Finding Dory to at least live up to half the hype of its predecessor. And for the most part, it proudly surfaces instead of sinks.

Directed by returning director Andrew Stanton, Finding Dory finds our favorite forgetful blue fish (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) front and center on an adventure to find her family, taking place one year later after the events of Finding Nemo. Dory is of course joined by her friends Marlin (a returning Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo, and for the first third Finding Dory plays out just like Finding Nemo to distracting effect. That argument above about the validity of a sequel’s existence becomes even more apparent at this point in the film, especially when its structure and overall tone can’t help but feel so uninspired.

However, it is after Dory gets captured and taken to the Marine Life Institute in California (introduced by a glorious voice cameo by Signourey Weaver) that Finding Dory begins to find its footing, both narratively and thematically. The bulk of the film takes place at this institute, creating a more subtle and less “adventurous” tale when compared to Finding Nemo. This allows the new and very colorful characters to breathe, including a bubbly whale shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olsen), and two rock-hogging sea lions med and Rudder (Idris Elba and Dominic West) who bring us this film’s new version of “Mine!” But it is Ed O’Neill’s “septopus” Hank who arguably steals the movie, a character with a missing tentacle who just wants to leave the institute. O’Neill’s balance of humor and heartbreak is part of Finding Dory’s success, and is key in giving this film its own identity when compared to Finding Nemo, especially thematically, and it becomes something very profound.

Allow me to sum this up in a short anecdote about my theater experience watching Finding Dory. Sitting one row in front of me was family of five, no one under the age of 16, and I couldn’t help but notice one of them seemed to really be enjoying himself, only to later discover he had Down syndrome. Seeing that really spoke to me, and going back to the film itself, specifically when looking at Hank’s missing tentacle, Destiny’s near-sightedness, and most importantly Dory’s short-term memory loss, it becomes clear that Finding Dory is going to speak very closely to families raising children with some sort of disability; the complications, the rewards, and ultimately, the love. This continues the tradition of Pixar exploring themes that are indeed daring and poignant, and Finding Dory is no exception.

But alas, one thing prevents Finding Dory from elevating above the waters so to speak, and that is about execution. Specifically, the issue is its pacing. Finding Dory moves at such a rapid and brisk pace that its moments of catharsis does not feel as earned as they should, and ultimately a little more uninspired in execution. And it’s a shame, because the thematic relevance is there, the poignancy is apparent, and the humor is so on point. Unlike Dory and her rush of a journey, her film can’t keep up with her own urgency, and doesn’t take its time well enough.

Yet these issues in pacing do not break the film, nor does it add to the complaining rights of other Pixar’s sequels (looking at you Cars 2 and Monsters University). Removing Toy Story 2 and 3, Finding Dory is easily the best of Pixar’s sequels and certainly has more to offer than lesser Pixar too. At one point in Finding Nemo, Dory and Marlin argue about a glass half empty vs half full. With Finding Dory, at least that glass stays mostly full of heart and humor, and that’s enough to just keep swimming.

Overall Grade: B+


Hear our full review on Episode 174:


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