Finding Dory, 2016.
Directed by Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane.
Starring Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olsen, Ty Burrell, Hayden Rolence, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Bob Peterson, Kate McKinnon, Sloane Murray, Bill Hader and Sigourney Weaver.
The friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish begins a search for her long-lost parents, and everyone learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.
Last year Pixar delivered two original movies, one of which was met with huge acclaim (Inside Out) and the other, not so much (The Good Dinosaur). Their history with sequels has likewise been uneven, ranging from great (Toy Story 2 & 3) to decent (Monsters University) to poor (Cars 2), so I was very relieved to discover that Finding Dory is a truly great film – in my opinion just as good (if not better) than Finding Nemo.
The film begins with a flashback to Dory’s childhood with her sweet and patient parents, doing everything possible to help her deal with and feel better about her handicap (incidentally, baby Dory may just be the cutest thing ever). After accidentally getting separated, Dory spends several years trying to find them but getting easily distracted (a brilliant montage that neatly incorporates her first meeting with Marlin in Nemo). A year later she has a sudden flashback and remembers that she and her parents used to live at a Marine Biology Facility in California. With Marlin and Nemo in tow she sets off to find them, and along they way they are helped by a whole host of sea creatures, including fish, otters and sea-lions.
In Nemo Dory was a supporting character, and her short-term memory loss provided a lot of amusement (although, in Pixar’s sensitive hands, never in a way that felt cruel or mocking). Having her as the lead character in this film must have provided a challenge to the writers to keep her forgetfulness from making her annoying – but such is their talent that only once in the opening act does she approach this, and they even manage to turn it into a believable moment of conflict with Marlin. It also greatly helps that Dory is a very sweet-natured character, and Ellen DeGeneres’ performance captures her sadness and confusion as well as her optimism. Nearly all the new characters in this film are funny and well-rounded, and they all get their chance to shine – Modern Family’s Ty Burrell and Ed O’Neill are particularly great (the former playing a Beluga Whale named Bailey who lacks confidence in his sonar abilities, and the latter playing Hank, a cranky old octopus who just wants to get on the truck to a Cleveland zoo where he can live out his days in peace).
The script is filled with inventive ideas – Hank can camouflage himself and swing across pipes like a monkey, Bailey uses his sonar to guide Dory through the facility’s pipe system, and towards the end our heroes are actually saved by the power of cuddles (don’t worry, it’s not as cheesy as it sounds!). Also, like most Pixar films, it has a wonderful message – in much the same way that Inside Out taught kids that it’s okay to be sad and confused sometimes, I can definitely see this film giving kids with handicaps courage and confidence. Hayden Rolence may have replaced Alexander Gould as Nemo (having outgrown the role), but other Pixar regulars make appearances – Bill Hader and John Ratzenberger play a fish and crab respectively, and there’s an amusing post-credits scene which reveals the fate of several characters from Nemo.
This is a very hard film to find fault with, and any gripes I had were very minor – of the new characters, only Idris Elba and Dominic West’s sea-lions felt under-developed (their ‘Get off!’ bit is basically a re-cycling of the ‘Mine!’ joke from the first film), Dory convinces Hank to abandon his journey to Cleveland a little too easily, and Sigourney Weaver’s voice cameo as herself broke the fourth wall a bit too much for my taste (although somehow the joke seemed to get funnier with repetition). Thomas Newman’s score is effective, particularly during the flashback scenes, but the (musical) tone they chose to end the film on seemed a bit down-beat to me. Apart from this, the film-makers balance tone superbly – the story skips between being breezy, soulful (and in one scene involving accidental flushing, scary) with ease, and all in the service of story and character.
This sequel succeeds so well because it does what all sequels should do – it puts a twist on the original story in a way that feels totally organic, and it takes small throwaway moments from the original and imbues them with new depth and meaning (Dory’s ‘just keep swimming’ song, her whale-speak, and her first lines in Nemo – “I think it runs in my family – actually, where are they?”). It also manages to surpass the original in several ways – the final chase sequence, which admittedly borrows an idea or two from Toy Story 2, is funnier and more thrilling than Nemo’s final act, and Dory’s inevitable reunion with her parents is so simple, elegant and beautiful that I’m not ashamed to admit that tears were shed (hey, this is a Pixar film – grown men are allowed to cry at these, okay?)
Hopefully this film will earn Pixar enough goodwill to see them through next year’s Cars 3 – a franchise which may make the studio a huge amount of money in merchandise, but which can’t claim to have particularly endearing characters. However, the fact that Pixar can produce a sequel of this quality to a much-loved film after a gap of so many years bodes very well for the film that I know a lot of people are excited for – The Incredibles 2!
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★★