Directed by: Andrew Stanton.
Written by: Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse & Bob Peterson based on characters created by Andrew Stanton.
Starring: Ellen DeGeneres (Dory), Albert Brooks (Marlin), Ed O'Neill (Hank), Kaitlin Olson (Destiny), Hayden Rolence (Nemo), Ty Burrell (Bailey), Diane Keaton (Jenny), Eugene Levy (Charlie), Sloane Murray (Young Dory), Idris Elba (Fluke), Dominic West (Rudder), Bob Peterson (Mr. Ray), Kate McKinnon (Wife Fish), Bill Hader (Husband Fish - Stan), Sigourney Weaver (Sigourney Weaver)..
Pixar’s best movies, and 2003’s Finding Nemo is certainly one of them, are able to speak to both children and their parents on different levels at the same time. At their best, Pixar avoids the cheap way other companies animated films – like, say, Dreamworks, accomplish this, which is basically including two types of scenes – one aimed at kids, that parents may suffer through, and ones aimed at adults, that go over the children’s heads. Pixar does things different – the craft beautiful looking films, filled with recognizable emotion that speaks to both children and their parents. Finding Nemo did this as well as any Pixar film ever has – perhaps better than most, because it really is about parents and their children – how parents want to protect their children from the real dangers out there, but also need to let go, and let them become themselves. In Marlin’s journey to find his lost son Nemo – and Nemo’s struggle to grow up – the film speaks powerfully to everyone in the audience.
The long awaited for sequel, Finding Dory, attempts to do something very similar, even if the situation is essentially flipped. It’s a year after the first film, and now it’s Dory – the fish with short term memory loss that helped Marlin on his journey in the first film – who needs to go on a journey herself. Flashes of memory are returning to her – and she is determined to head out and find her parents. As fearful as Marlin is, he agrees to help her on her journey. Most of the film takes place inside a Marine Park – nicer than SeaWorld, since their goal is to help the sea life back into the ocean when they are healed – where Dory remembers she is from. Most of the movie has Dory separated from Marlin and Nemo – who spend their time trying to get into the park, which Dory was able to do easily, and find her. Dory is mainly teamed up with Hank – an Octopus, with only seven arms (so, as septopus, as the movie points out) – as she tries to make her way to the exhibit her parents should be in – and Hank tries to find a way onto the truck bound for Cleveland – he has no interest in returning to the ocean.
That Finding Dory doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessor is probably to be expected – even Pixar, with its excellent track record has struggled making sequels to their films – with all second installments to their films never living up to the first films, with the exception of the Toy Story films (sorry, Toy Story 3 is clearly the best of that trilogy). This is hardly a Pixar specific problem, and it should be said that they still do sequels better than most (Monsters University, I find is particularly under-rated). Finding Dory would be a triumph for almost any other American animation studio – and the fact that it’s only really good Pixar instead of great Pixar, speaks more to the heights the studio has reached, not so much the quality of the film itself. The film is beautifully animated – the technology has clearly improved since Finding Nemo, and the water looks better that ever. Finding Dory is also another example at how Pixar is the best in the business at creating animated action sequences – there are many moments of Hank and Dory getting from one tank to another, dodging and weaving around obstacles, and staying hidden that work brilliantly – as does a sequence involved fish chasing a truck down on a highway (and they don’t even have to rely on an inlet or fjord to do so) a la Knight Boat.
What ends up holding back Finding Dory from true Pixar greatness, is that I think the film places more emphasis on the action and the comedy aspects of the film – again, both are top notch – than on the dramatic, emotional pull that is present in their best work. The movie spends so much time with Dory and Hank getting from one exhibit to the next – or with Marlin and Nemo, trying to get into the park in the first place (not to mention some hilarious sequences involving sea lions – poor Gerald) – that that emotional thrust is shunted to the background far too often in the film. It doesn’t help that it’s Dory who is responsible for this emotional pull either – Ellen DeGeneres excelled in the first film, in a role that essentially amounted to comic relief, but here, asked to do some more heavy lifting, he doesn’t quite nail those dramatic moments. I was far more moved by the vocal performance of Sloane Murray as a young Dory is flashbacks than anything DeGeneres does. I am a sucker for Pixar – heck, I cried at The Good Dinosaur (in that devastating moment when the two new friends find a visual way to tell each other their parents are dead) – yet although Finding Dory had me close to tears a few times, I never quite spilled over. Not every Pixar movie needs to leave me in a puddle on the floor – like poor Bing Bong did in Inside Out – although that has always been at least a part of their charm.