Pixar’s transformation from immortally impeccable studio to mere animation firm has a lot of reasons, but the most pressing among them is the sequelization of their earlier hits. The Good Dinosaur managed to be awful on its own, but Monsters University was-at best-average and Cars 2 we shall not speak of. I SAID WE SHALL NOT SPEAK OF IT! These sequels were done, after Toy Story managed a perfect trilogy; two sequels that didn’t diminish Pixar’s first film and most iconic characters, but built on it, expanded their world and deepened the audience’s bond with Woody, Buzz & Co. (yes, I know they’re making Toy Story 4, but for the purposes of this introductory paragraph it harshes my rhetorical groove). So which would Finding Dory be? Thirteen years after Finding Nemo, would Dory make things better or worse for its corner of Pixardom? Happily, I can say that Finding Dory is a Pixar classic that pairs perfectly with its predecessor.
From the first notes of Thomas Newman’s familiar score, we’re right back where we left our friends (although a year of time has passed). It doesn’t take more than a minute to tuck the audience in under the sea so spend time with our old friends and the new ones we’ll meet along the way. I’m so glad Andrew Stanton is back directing animated films. John Carter of Mars was a colossal disaster for Disney, and they’re not really known for being forgiving, so to see him back in his element where he helped the original core to bring us Toy Story, then Finding Nemo & WALL-E, is wonderful. He and Pete Docter are Pixar’s pillars. They’ve brought us the deepest films; the ones that appeal to everyone from the cradle to the grave (as an aside, this was my nephew’s first movie ever and we picked a great one to start him off).
Finding Dory essentially flips the dynamic from Nemo. Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo are helping Dory as she searches for her remembered family that has managed to sludge its way through her short-term memory issues. The trio will journey to the aquarium Dory once called home, and navigate its labyrinth with the aid of an octopus (septapus really) voiced by Ed O’Neill, a demented bird, and a pair of handicapped whales (Ty Burrell and Kaitlin Olsen)….oh and Sigourney Weaver in probably the best thing she’s done since Aliens. Not playing a character….just Sigourney Weaver.
As the journey goes on, Dory remembers more and more of her childhood (briefly) with the aid of the residents of the Marine Life Institute and visual cues embedded deep in her subconscious. At the institute, Dory isn’t the only one with an issue. Everyone there has some sort of handicap. Bailey the Beluga has forgotten how to echo-locate, Destiny the Nurse Shark (who taught Dory her infamous whale speak) is near-sighted. Hank the Octopus is missing a limb. This is a fun, genuinely sweet film, but what a gift to any child with a disability or who feels different. The message of the film (and that it gets a little heavy-handed at times is about the only flaw in the picture) is that even if you have to go about doing something differently than others, it doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish the same things.
Essentially, the film explains exactly why Dory is the way she is in such an amazingly inventive and heart-warming way that it doesn’t lessen her as my favorite Pixar character; it endears her to you all the more. Ellen DeGeneres is just astounding in this character. I’ve said it before, but only Robin Williams as Aladdin’s Genie is in her league in bringing a character to life through just the talent of her voice. Dory, as a child in flashbacks, may be the single cutest thing that has ever existed. I am not a person who tosses around the word “cute” often in a complimentary fashion. Just as Toy Stories 2 and 3 made Woody and Buzz much deeper, lovable characters, Finding Dory gives so much more depth to Dory and to Marlin and Nemo, as well (Nemo has become really the sane grounding force to their little family of misfits by this point).
The film is poignant and filled with touching moments, but in the fashion of the best Pixar films, it’s also pretty hilarious. The whales and Hank are fantastic additions to the aquatic troupe and the bickering between the whales and Hank’s constant exasperation with Dory, lead to a tour de force ending of amazingly bizarre ingenuity. I hope they don’t make another film with this group. Not because I don’t trust Andrew Stanton (who came up with the story in addition to directing), but for the same reason I don’t want there to be a Toy Story 4. We leave our friends in such a beautiful, perfect spot that I want to always remember them there. Finding Dory continues Disney’s choke-hold on 2016, and is compulsory viewing for all moviegoers.