Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Dory
Well here’s a sequel guaranteed to break summer 2016’s case of sequelitis. Thirteen years after Finding Nemo, Finding Dory is a nearly equal companion piece. Though it doesn’t reach the ecstatic highs of Pixar at their best (Inside Out, Wall-E, Toy Story 3, Up), Finding Dory is a very fun, funny, and occasionally touching movie about friendship, forgetfulness, and fish. Little kids will delight in it and grown-ups will find plenty to make them laugh, too. And the animation is, as we expect from Pixar, top notch and beautiful.
But before we get to Dory, first there is Piper, a short film about a young sand piper. It’s way, WAY better than that lava song mess that preceded Inside Out last year, with almost photo-real animation and an adorable protagonist. It’s the directorial debut of Pixar animator Alan Barillaro, and it’s a nice companion piece for Dory, especially as it sports some of the same comedic editing cues.
Finding Dory takes us back under the sea, to the barrier reef where Marlin and his son Nemo live, along with their forgetful friend, the blue tang Dory. Ellen DeGeneres once again voices Dory, and Albert Brooks is back as Marlin, but Nemo had to be recast since the original voice actor is now in his twenties (we’re all old), and is now voiced by Hayden Rolence. Dory opens by briefly recapping that Marlin and Dory ventured across the ocean to find Nemo, but we quickly shift perspective to focus on Dory, who suffers short-term memory loss. Intercut throughout the film are flashbacks to Dory’s childhood, when she was an impossibly cute baby fish that is approximately 98% eyes.
Dory doesn’t dig as deep as the top shelf Pixar movies—it feels two drafts away from being truly great—but there is a correlation between Dory’s forgetfulness and people who live with learning difficulties. Dory’s parents are anxious and sheltering, worrying constantly that Dory’s amnesia will prevent her from living a full, independent life. The metaphor stops short of being on-the-nose, though, and for the most part Dory works as a gentle lesson in being kind and understanding that not everyone approaches problem-solving the same way. Marlin, in particular, is taken to task for being unkind to Dory.
As Dory begins to remember flashes of her childhood, and how she got separated from her parents, she sets off on her own adventure across the ocean to reunite with her family. Finding Dory is less concerned with the actual trip, though, and the “travels across the ocean” portion of the movie is just a quick cut scene with the surfer turtles. It’s a weak point in the movie because Dory hop-scotching across an aquarium park stretches credulity in ways that Dory and Marlin doing the same in the ocean in Nemo didn’t. But the characters Dory meets in the aquarium make up for it.
Finding Dory is a VERY funny movie—what it lacks in emotional depth it more than makes up for on the laughs-per-minute count. DeGeneres is great as Dory, nailing not only the comedic timing of jokes but also Dory’s loneliness and sadness, and she’s surrounded by an excellent vocal cast. Kaitlin Olson (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) voices a near-sighted whale shark, Destiny, and Ty Burrell voices her tank-neighbor Bailey, a beluga with impaired echolocation. They’re delightful, and Burrell intoning, “My beautiful gift!” deserves a special award.
Idris Elba and Dominic West get in on the action, too, as a pair of snarky sea lions, and they’re clearly having fun and get some of the biggest laughs in the movie. But the standout is Ed O’Neill as Hank, a grouchy, touch-shy “septapus” who just wants to live alone in a tank. Hank and Dory are the odd couple trekking through the park to find Dory’s parents, and the movie is at its best when they’re bouncing off each other.
Finding Dory will please everyone. No, it’s not as sharp as Pixar is capable of being, but it is still fantastically funny, with just enough of a moral to give it a point. It’s fast paced—almost too fast paced, really—which will keep small children engaged from start to finish, but the humor and Dory’s backstory will engage older audience members, too. Finding Dory is one long-awaited sequel that doesn’t disappoint.
Attached - Ellen Degeneres and wife Portia de Rossi at the LA premiere of Dory last week.