Written by Rob Vaux
Starring the Voices of: Ellen DeGeneres, Ed O’Neill, Albert Brooks, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy and Hayden Rolence
Directed by: Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane
Written by: Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse
Original Year of Release: 2016
Run Time: 97 Minutes
We expect a certain level of quality with Pixar and since they’ve shown that they’re not infallible in recent years, we’re allowed to note a dip in quality while still acknowledging the very high bar they hold themselves to. So when I say Finding Dory isn’t quite as good as Finding Nemo, that still places it way, way way in the upper stratosphere of recent animated features. The studio is simply too good to slip too far, and in a figure like Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), they have a figure as beloved as anyone they’ve yet created. It took them thirteen years to find the right way to tell her story, but all that time and effort has produced quite a gem.
Much credit for that goes to director Andrew Stanton, who helmed the original as well as one of Pixar’s other high points, Wall-E. He demonstrates the same dedication to character and purpose here as he has in his earlier works. (Yes, even John Carter.) It becomes a bit of a shaggy dog at times, with amusing incidents thrown in for no other reason than their status as amusement. But the heroine answers those concerns with her signature catch phrase, and if you follow her example, any minor quibbles simply vanish beneath the waves.
With Dory herself as the centerpiece, we have a sweet and supremely appealing protagonist to follow. She’s joined by her pals Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and Nemo (voiced by Hayden Rolence), who move elegantly from lead to sidekick status without a hitch. Finding Dory also avoids the temptation of embracing undue nostalgia, not only with the supporting figures, but with the story itself. Dory, unmoored from her roots at an early age, embarks on a quest to rediscover her parents which soon leads her to a thinly veiled version of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Right away, it signals something different from its predecessor: a new setting away from the open ocean that defined the first film and new complications that let the characters grow and stretch in new directions. It’s a big place, after all, and getting from one section to the other can prove a challenge. She’s aided in that cendeavor by an octopus named Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neill), obsessed with getting on an outgoing van to a Cleveland aquarium, and by previously unseen older friends like Destiny the whale shark (voiced by Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey the beluga whale (voice by Ty Burrell) whose sonar makes Dory’s journey a little easier.
They’re charming figures one and all, and they also demonstrate Finding Dory’s refusal to coast on the goodwill from Nemo. We see a few glimpses of old characters like Mr. Ray and Crush the turtle, but they each serve a specific purpose and they soon give way to the fresher vibes of these new folks. All of them evince Pixar’s dedication to appealing personalities, and their joke embody the same mixture of snarky wit and genuine sweetness that inform all of the studio’s efforts. A few pop culture reference are thrown in, including some funny references to Sigourney Weaver and clever retake on one of the most famous scenes from her most famous film, but Pixar aims for more than fleeting pertinence, and most of the gags achieve a more universal appeal.
At the end of the day, though, the film ultimately comes down to Dory herself: irresistible as only DeGeneres can make her and facing the world more or less on her own for the first time in her life. Much has been made about the film’s emphasis on self-sufficiency, and on the seeming flaws of a unique condition that actually turn out to be assets. Dory’s chronic forgetfulness is part of her appeal, since it allows her to move forward in life without holding a grudge, and maintain empathy and concern for others in the face of all obstacles. Finding Dory deservers its success above all because of its belief in that message, and in the deceptively difficult job of expressing it without feeling preachy.
Then again, Pixar’s always had a knack for that, and a fresh dose of their magic couldn’t come at a more welcome time. Disney has already displayed their timeliness in this topsy-turvy year… first with Zootopia and now with this sweet, gentle, and infinitely compassionate sequel. With our current state of affairs darker than ever and despair seemingly omnipresent, sometimes it takes a little reminder to evoke the better angels of our nature. Finding Dory pulls off that trick with amazing ease, and while I won’t call it the best of Pixar’s crop, it’s still a long way from second tier. Disney has had a few misfires this year, but they’re nothing when compared to its enormous successes. Their partners in crime keep the streak alive, and give us maybe the most hopeful movie of the summer.