Pixar's greatest achievements. The computer-animation pioneer is renowned for many things—breathtaking visuals, witty dialogue, mature themes smuggled inside kid-friendly packages—but perhaps its defining trait is its commitment to originality. This is, after all, the studio that has told tales of culinarily gifted rats, silent robots, and anthropomorphized emotions. Which brings us back to Marlin's gloomy, profound question: Is it really worth crossing the ocean twice? That is, can a straightforward sequel really be worthy of joining the animation giant's formidable canon?
Yes and no. What, you were expecting a straight answer? Fine, I'll be blunt: Finding Dory is not as good as Finding Nemo.
Yet even that seemingly straightforward assessment comes with a caveat,
namely: so what? Comparing sequels to their originals is a reductive
way of evaluating them on their own merits; that's especially true when
said original is one of the best movies of the prior decade. Finding Dory may, er, swim in the shadow of its progenitor, but that shouldn't preclude us from weighing its standalone value as a movie.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. On its own terms, Finding Dory
is, well, pretty good. The problem is that, as much as I may strive to,
I can't really judge it on its own terms. It is virtually impossible to
watch this movie and not reflexively measure it against its peers—not
just Finding Nemo, but the entire Pixar catalog. And in that context, "pretty good" isn't quite good enough. Finding Dory
has much to recommend it—its animation is sublime, its characters are
well-drawn, and its themes are thoughtfully articulated and genuinely
poignant. Yet it lacks that spark of magic that powers the studio's
grandest feats. It's second-tier Pixar: enjoyable, but not
It does have Dory, however, and that counts for plenty. You remember
Dory, right? She doesn't remember you. Voiced once again by Ellen
DeGeneres, Dory is a jovial blue tang who suffers from short-term memory
loss. That's a condition that could cripple a less resilient individual
(recall the spiritual disintegration that befell Guy Pearce in Memento), but Dory is blessed with an indefatigable
cheerfulness that is both admirable and infectious. Her handicap creates
a rich vein of comedy, one that the movie mines effortlessly and
repeatedly; somehow, the recurring joke of a memory-addled fish losing
her train of thought never grows tiresome. But Dory is no mere punch
line. She's a true role model: generous, persistent, and unflinchingly
brave. Marlin could learn a few things from her.
The title suggests that we're in for a replication of the first movie's
search-and-rescue story, but while the sequel does occasionally feel
like a retread, it's less about finding Dory than it is about Dory finding. But finding what? The ostensible object of her quest is her parents, but Finding Dory is also a tale of self-discovery, with Dory
first learning the limitations of her abilities and then comprehending
the depths of her pluck and resourcefulness. Besides, if you're going to
recycle an old plot, there are far worse blueprints to follow than the
one that director Andrew Stanton (also writing here, along with Victoria
Strouse) created with Finding Nemo. So yes, once again we find
ourselves on a thrilling adventure, meeting colorful characters, seeing
dazzling sights, and racing to recover a missing fish (it's hardly a
spoiler to reveal that, at some point, Dory gets isolated from Marlin
and Nemo). Gee, bummer. In all seriousness, to perceive such familiarity
as inherently harmful is to place too high a premium on novelty while
failing to appreciate quality storytelling.
every new Pixar release, but the ocean of Finding Dory
demands particularly lavish praise. Shafts of sunlight pierce through
the water, motes of dust and fragments of kelp float through the frame,
and everything rocks gently to the perpetual, soothing rhythm of the
waves. Stanton and his animators capture the constant motion of aquatic
life—something in the frame is always rippling, even if the characters
are still—but the camera is focused rather than frenetic. Even the 3-D
is expertly employed, subtly enhancing depth of field to create an
expansive, enveloping environment. As always with Pixar, this level of
care extends to the characters, in particular Dory, whose pale-lavender
irises serve as windows into her tender, buoyant soul.
The real showstopper, however, is Hank (Ed O'Neill). A sort of
chameleonic octopus (though as Dory points out, his missing tentacle
actually makes him a septopus), Hank meets Dory at the Marine Life
Institute, a Sigourney Weaver-run facility that doubles as her parents'
last known whereabouts. Hank's disposition could charitably be described
as acidic—he makes Marlin seem gregarious by comparison—and all he
really wants is to be shipped off to an aquarium in Cleveland.
(Regarding the desirability of living in Cleveland, recall that Finding Dory
was made prior to last week's NBA Finals.) Circumstances conspire such
that Hank and Dory form a tentative alliance, resulting in some of
Pixar's finest animation yet. Similar to Randall in Monsters Inc.,
Hank can blend into his surroundings, which leads to some very clever
and deceptive imagery of the "Where's Waldo?" variety. Able to breathe
both in and out of water, he moves unlike any other character in the
film, squelching his way from one area to the next, and Stanton and his
team render his maneuvers with uncanny precision. Hank may be a
sourpuss, but he sure looks sweet.
the furnace scene in Toy Story 3 or Dory's own "I'm home" speech from Finding Nemo. It never came.
More than once, a character in Finding Dory asks, "What would Dory do?" Good question. If
she watched this film, she would almost certainly admire it, in
particular its bright colors, its fleet pacing, and its lovely Thomas
Newman score. And then, as with most things, she would forget it. Sadly,
I suspect that I will do the same.