Within Finding Dory there’s a movie that’s sweet, funny, and endearing, but also too disappointing for comfort. Sadly, this is not
what the film community needs. Thanks to poor neighbors, disgusting ninja turtles, and thieving magicians, sequels are quickly becoming pariahs.
Pixar is not immune to this fatigue either, but I hoped Dory would be different.
However, this is a movie I’m having a hard time justifying as anything other than a gleeful nostalgia trip which has become a lucrative selling point. At least here, the ceaselessly imaginative people at Pixar tried to come up with a story they thought would be enough to make audiences go, “Yeah, I kinda do wanna know about that.”
We start with a smash-cut to Dory (Ellen DeGeneras) as an adorable, bug-eyed youngster that literally made the audience gasp from
her cuteness (It’s a fish, calm your asses). She’s trying to adapt to her short-term memory loss, but is somehow separated from her family, which leads her on a journey to find them. After some years she crashes into Marlin (Albert Brooks) as he hunts for his lost son, and if you saw the original, then you know what happens after . If you haven’t, then I can’t help you with your poor life decisions. Finding Dory takes place one year after the events of the first film, as Dory experiences a series of flashbacks of her with her parents, thus spurring her to search for them. Adventure time!
Although this story does shed some light on how Dory got to Marlin, it reminds me more of how I think about moles on my body more than anything else: I’m not desperately
thinking about it to the point where it’s of great concern to me, but I am a little curious to see how it turns out. Anyway, Dory, Marlin, and Nemo set off to California to find Dory’s parents.
From here we get a checklist of familiar plot points from the original. They go on a quest—check. Get attacked by a bigger creature who can’t talk like the rest of the sea dwellers—check. One of them gets captured by prying humans—check. It’s like grocery shopping with a dude who only ever eats Lean Cuisines. The plot is simply revisiting the same aisle over and over.
once Dory is on her own, I remember how endearing she is. She operates with this infectious sense of drive and curiosity. She never second-guesses herself and engages with her world with a delightful, goofy aplomb. As she treks through a marine institute for somewhat sick ocean life, I realized the film is not about one fish finding another lost fish, but rather Dory finding herself, and us with her through a series of encounters that require her to use her most likeable qualities to solve the mystery. She uses context clues to help remember her past and her friendliness and confidence to engage with strange creatures of the ocean—most notably an octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill), a cynic who would gladly live in a glass container than the dangerous ocean. He’s like an old comedian whose bit is, “You want me to take the subway? The subway!? You know what I’ve seen down there? I saw a rat eat a guy’s shoe…while it was still on his foot!”
But by and large, it really is Dory’s story (ha!). But it
also makes Marlin and Nemo, who spend most of the movie trying to get into a building to try and find Dory, seem totally out of place. They do little in the way of communicating aside from, “We have to find Dory!” Their relationship is not, ahem, dived into. You’d think after going on such a perilous journey only a year ago that maybe this one would bring up complex feelings between father and son, but this is all Dory’s story, for better or worse.
Along the way both groups meet a series of colorful characters, who steal the show completely. There are two cockney-sounding lazy sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West) that spend most of their day defending their rock from a uni-browed comrade; an over-enthusiastic whale fish (Kaitlyn Olson) that’s near-sighted; a unconfident beluga whale (Ty Burrell) that can’t figure out his echolocation; and, my favorite of the lot, a clam who is struggling with his girlfriend—aptly named Shelly—leaving him. I wish Pixar would develop a movie of short sketched around some of these guys, as opposed to peppering them around some of the other duller characters. And, yes, sorry to say, Nemo and Marlin aren’t exactly Laurel and Hardy, which is unfortunate for those trying to defend the film because there are so many opportunities to explore the depth of their relationship. Instead, Nemo and Marlin’s relationship is, it seems, intentionally overshadowed by the silly, cute characters. Come on, Pixar, leave that level of filmmaking for the Ice Age movies.
But even though this band of misfits is almost enough to overcome the flaws, there’s just something missing here that made the original so memorable. Maybe it’s the fact that without the chaotic dichotomy of Marlin and Dory as a unit that the former
becomes unengaging, or maybe the aquarium-esque setting is overall less beautiful, surprising, and often dangerous as the actual ocean, making for a less adventurous story. Sure, the aquarium means lots of fish pals to encounter, but it’s the equivalent if you set The Hobbit movie not in Middle Earth, but in a fantasy world-themed mall. Not to mention the plot is completely driven by the fact these fish just can’t avoid getting captured by humans. Dory has to save Marlin and Nemo—check. Nemo and Marlin have to save Dory—check. Dory has to save them again—check. Say what you want about how smart fish are, but these ones may just be idiots. Overall, I think it’s mostly the lack of a true Pixar-brand emotional sucker punch. When Dory finally finds her parents (spoiler alert…eh not really) it’s undoubtedly touching, but it’s treated as just another checked-off plot point. She finds them, quickly has to save Marlin and Nemo, and then save herself—the end. Even after she finds them the movie has to rely on flashbacks of cute, baby Dory to make the audience “Aww.” There’s no legitimate, human (or fish, I suppose) emotion. It’s only puppy love.
But I guess for kids and overly-nostalgic adults, puppy love and a funny adventure isn’t a bad thing, even if none of those strengths are entirely strong enough to justify why
the film should exist in the first place. It’s fun, sweet, and endearing but also disappointing in ways I wished it wasn’t. But hey, as long as it’s better than Cars 2, I guess not being as great as Inside Out isn’t all that bad.