Finding Dory (2016)

An unforgettable journey she probably won’t remember.

The sea of animation features isn’t as roomy as it was a decade ago when Pixar’s Finding Nemo made a splash at the worldwide box-office grossing north of nine hundred million dollars. Since then, we’ve seen a robot fall in love in WALL·E (2008), a ‘bad guy’ arcade-character game-hop to prove he has what it takes to be a hero in Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and the inner workings of an 11-year-old girl in Inside Out (2015). Hence, diving into the ocean doesn’t feel as fresh as it did back in 2003, with this fishy follow-up finding returning writer-director Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane surfing a somewhat familiar current.

The film opens with a prologue that flashes back to the early days of Ellen DeGeneres’ memory-challenged blue tang Dory, who’s still a tot living with her mother Jenny and father Charlie (voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy), and hazily traces her steps up until she encounters the clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks), who is searching for his missing son, Nemo (Hayden Rolence, taking over Alexander Gould). From there, the narrative dives forward about a year or so where we see the aquatic trio now living a carefree life in the Great Barrier Reef. Well, that’s until the scatterbrained Dory has an accident while serving as a chaperone with Nemo’s school and gets reminded of the family she left behind. Determined to seek out the parents she vaguely remembers, Dory sets off on a near impossible voyage with her friends Marlin and Nemo, which leads her to a Marine Life Institute in California — ruled by the messianic voice of a recorded Sigourney Weaver — where she gets separated from her pals. Now, in order to find what she’s searching for, Dory must rely on her own intuition and learn to stop forgetting.

'I’ve been longfin for some nice company.'
‘I’ve been longfin for some nice company.’

Sound familiar? Well, that’s because it is! You see, the basic plotline for Finding Dory is essentially a retread of the original flick — you know, a couple of fish cross an entire ocean in search of a loved one. What’s more, after defying the odds a first time, the feat doesn’t feel as tricky or as dangerous this second time over, the rehash element alleviating any sense of peril or suspense from the journey. Furthermore, with the vast, vibrant marine world already having its moment in the sun, Finding Dory takes the action out of the deep and into a man-made environment — in this case a Marine Biology Institute, which was actually changed from an aquatic park after the Pixar crew saw the controversial Blackfish (2013) documentary. While sure, there are some solid set pieces on offer — including a terrifying Touch Tank (where kids’ hands drop down like bombs) and an ominous quarantine sanctum (where fish are tagged, separated into species, then shipped off to Cleveland) — the large array of concrete locations require our gilled friends to spend way too much time with their heads above water, whilst the walled-in enclosures and grimy pipes and pumps aren’t as dazzling as the pulsating rainbow-esque coral reefs and fantastical undersea spots that amazed us all those years ago.

On that note, the plotting also feels a little strange and patchy, even by the standards of a movie about talking animals. Nemo and his still-stressed dad basically argue for the entire picture, while Dory’s short-term memory loss gets pretty annoying, quick (DeGeneres really keeps the titular character from becoming too frustrating). Even the situations that Dory and co. find themselves in are far less plausible this time around. Look, when a film about sea-life concludes in a Fast and Furious type of action sequence, something’s gone off-track, narratively speaking that is.

'Look out! We're about to be sea-zed.'
‘Look out! We’re about to be sea-zed.’

Thankfully when the film swims into the world of disabilities it works better, even if its themes of self-empowerment, overcoming barriers and family bonds are a little overcooked. While Dory’s forgetfulness was used as (light) comic relief in Finding Nemo, it’s tackled with a bit more seriousness here, particularly through Dory, who’s afraid of isolation, and her folks, who have grave concerns about their daughter’s limitations. Moreover, Dory eventually learns that her disability (and unique outlook) has the power to inspire those around her to think outside of the tank and see things in a different light. Hitting closer to home are the film’s observations on the universal fear of loss with filmmakers highlighting the sad reality that life often forces us to forget people who were once important to us.

Even so, the best thing that Finding Dory has going for it are its new characters. The standout is Ed O’Neill of Modern Family (2009) fame who voices a grouchy octopus or ‘septopus’ (as he’s missing a tentacle), named Hank, who frequently gives employees the slip, this cranky chameleon attempting to do whatever he can to avoid being thrown back into the open ocean. We also meet a pair of rehabilitated cockney sea lions named Fluke and Rudder, voiced by Idris Elba, Zootopia (2016), and Dominic West, John Carter (2012), who spend their days lounging about just outside of the center. Then there’s a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny, Kaitlin Olson, The Heat (2013), supplying the vocals, and a beluga whale named Bailey, who’s convinced that his echolocation has stopped working, Ty Burrell, Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014), doing a solid job in voicing the opinionated off-white whale — these fresh players fitting right into the film’s recurring motif of handicapped heroes. Grounding the picture, however, is Ellen DeGeneres whose performance as Dory — who’s apparently the most ‘liked’ Pixar character on Facebook — truly heightens the flick with her buoyancy and range.

'Our lips are sealed.'
‘Our lips are sealed.’

While the animation is still top-notch and the writing sharp and smart, director Andrew Stanton fails to recapture that same sense of wonder and heart that made Finding Nemo such a hit some thirteen years ago. Loaded with zany set-ups and a slew of crazy laughs, Finding Dory makes for a pretty fun ride, even if it doesn’t reach the soaring heights of Pixar’s most triumphant sequel, Toy Story 2 (1999). In any case, it’s leaps and bounds better than Cars 2 (2011). Now, just keep swimming!

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Finding Dory is released through Disney Australia