Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Finding Dory

This review was supposed to come out weeks ago, but alas... sometimes life gets busy. Anyway, Pixar has been notorious for their brilliant original films, while slightly criticized for their underwhelming sequels. I, for one, really loved recent works without any previously existing source material (Inside Out, Brave, etc.), and was lukewarm or negative on some of their sequels (Cars 2 being irrefutably the worst of the bunch). Finding Nemo is probably one of my top 3 Pixar films, so I was a little nervous about what a sequel to the beloved 2003 movie would bring. It didn't help that the trailers failed to show me anything I hadn't seen before in the fist film, and I was nervous this would fall into the category of unfulfilling cash-grabs that Pixar has unfortunately fallen into of late. As a result, I went into my showing of Finding Dory with a bit of trepidation, even though the early critical response was through the roof.

Dory was separated from her parents at a very young age, her short-term memory loss preventing her from finding her way home. As such, she's been wandering the ocean aimlessly ever since. Thankfully, she happened across a clown fish who was looking for his son and was swept up in an adventure that gave her a new home and friends to keep an eye on her. However, when the local teacher tells the class about the deep instinct within each fish to migrate home, she becomes obsessed with travelling the ocean to find her family. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving in Morro Bay, California, Dory is taken into the Marine Life institute under the assumption that she's trapped in plastic six-pack rings. Stuck outside the institute, Marlin and Nemo must find a way to infiltrate the facility to rescue their memory-challenged friend before she forgets them too.

The early buzz on this movie was so glowing that my initial trepidation washed away completely, though I still couldn't see exactly how they were going to pull it off. As I mentioned, the trailers all made this film look like a rehash of the original, and while there are certainly moments of deja vu, it has a more original story than the marketing led us to believe. Picking up not long after the original film, we get to see how Dory first met Marlin and began their extensive journey to find his son. Baby Dory is probably the cutest thing I've ever seen, and watching her wander the ocean without any parents or even memories of her parents is heartbreaking.

One of the interesting things about this film is how they approach the issue of anterograde amnesia (short term memory loss). It's a fascinating idea to tackle a kind of mental illness from the perspective of a fish, and the script doesn't approach this subject lightly. The difficulties of her condition are explored with great care and consideration, and even branches out to the emotional struggles of her parents trying to cope with their poor daughter requiring constant attention. Usually something like this would be played off as nothing more than a platform for comedic relief (as it more-or-less was in the first film), and while this movie certainly capitalizes on that aspect, it also delves into the reality of the subject with subtle sophistication.

While we get brief cameos from familiar characters like Crush, there are also a lot of new characters that are excellent additions to the series. Some of my favorites were the sea lions, Fluke and Rudder (played by Idris Elba and Dominic West respectively). Their time in the movie is relatively brief, but the sheer personality and clever humor they bring to the screen is a perfect seasoning to the overall meat of this film. Of course, the biggest new arrival is octopus (or septopus, as Dory affectionately calls him), Hank. At first we're not really sure whether he can be trusted, and I still had my doubts for the next 20 minutes or so of the film, but he eventually proves himself to be not only an interesting character, but a great ally to Dory for the remainder of the story. His ability to camouflage is used to particularly comedic effect, from his first introduction all the way through the end credits. (By the way, there IS an end credits scene featuring some memorable characters from the original film.)

For all of the things going for this movie, however, it doesn't quite live up to the originality or the emotional depth of the first film. Granted, it's difficult for any sequel to equal its predecessor in originality, and the emotion is strong in Finding Dory as well, but Finding Nemo executed its premise a little more cleanly than its sequel. The ending of this film also gets a bit over-the-top for my taste, though its satisfying enough not to derail too much of my enjoyment. The animation is still brilliant, the voice cast is stellar, and the journey is just as fun as the original, which is saying a lot. It may not be in the top 5 Pixar films, and I still think I enjoyed Zootopia a little more, but I can't say I wasn't thoroughly entertained by Finding Dory. For that, and all the other reasons I've mentioned, I'm giving it a solid three and a half stars.

FINDING DORY is rated PG for mild thematic elements