Written by: Andrew Stanton & Victoria Strouse
Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson
As much as Pixar has hit it out of the park with their original ideas that get you right in the feels, one area where even they tend to struggle comes in the world of sequels. A mistake made in Finding Dory appears in their worst film as a studio, Cars 2, where you take a character who shines in short bursts but invests far too much time to show nothing uniquely interesting about the character. It thus proves why they were supporting characters, to begin with, but this feature has just enough good to overcome it all.
Finding family by staying with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), the forgetful Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) hears a trigger reminding her of her parents. Now with more conviction than ever, she sets out to find them with her two companions by her side.
After the all-out masterpiece of Finding Nemo, returning back to this ocean created some intriguing possibilities to see what other depths could be explored. It’s an entire ocean so the possibilities are endless, but instead, this feature takes a different approach and goes from wildlife into captivity in order to find Dory’s parents. An inverse to the original, which saw Nemo trying to escape an aquarium at all costs. With this idea, it presents a strong dichotomy between sea creatures living out in the wild and the environment of being in captivity. The setting, however, is not some typical Sea World location but rather a Marine Life Institute where they take care of the wildlife with the intention of releasing them back into their natural habitat all voiced wonderfully by Sigourney Weaver.
The change in setting serves as a refreshing environment for these characters to mess around with, which adds validity to the purpose of this film existing at all. All attention, however, turns to Dory as this feature sees her trying to find her parents but also diving deeper into her short-term memory loss. It got played mostly for laughs in the previous film but it receives more of an in-depth look at the difficulty it has caused for her. This allows Pixar to show the struggles of living with a mental disability and through flashbacks, how Dory’s parents tried to assist her so she can eventually be on her own. A touching idea, especially when young Dory has the biggest and cutest eyes Pixar could feasibly manipulate to make the young version of this character even more endearing.
Taking on a deeper look at Dory’s disability comes with great intentions but the overall messaging this film takes feels a bit disingenuous. Sure, they allow this sensitive issue work through Dory but simultaneously have no problem essentially mocking other characters for their own issues. This occurs with Nigel the sea lion and Becky the common loon. Both are seen as characters obviously not in the same mental capacity as the rest of the characters and for some reason get mocked for it. Nigel essentially gets bullied by the other sea lions for no reason whatsoever and Marlin has no qualms mocking Becky for her behavior as compared to other birds. Comedy that has been used in the past and worked but in a story when trying to process Dory’s mental disability makes these bits of comedy a bit of a betrayal to the overall message.
This film has plenty of fun moments and the trademark Pixar punch in the guts towards the end. Even if you come to expect it, when the moment arrives, the impact does not feel any less potent. You can call it emotional manipulation, but I consider it to be incredibly strong filmmaking in the way it resolutely pays off its story. Finding Dory, however, does struggle when it comes to the silliness, especially the climax involving a truck. Not that it’s always fair to compare a sequel to the previous film but when revisiting the escape from the fishing net scene to the truck jacking, they feel leagues apart emotionally. It gets to a point where an octopus is driving a truck they stole from the humans and while it has its own entertainment value, it ultimately feels superfluous for a story already reaching its emotional zenith. Certainly put in there to entertain the kiddos but ultimately the film had plenty of fat it could cut out.
While not coming close to its preceding film, Finding Dory sits towards the bottom of the Pixar hierarchy but still manages to provide some standout moments. Emotionally resonant with its story, this feature finds special moments to provide enough reason for it to exist and genuinely does the best that could possibly be done with a character like Dory. Overly silly but intentionally so, this one will work for all age groups, which certainly aligns with the Pixar way.