In 2003, PIXAR Studios released their classic heartwarming tale Finding Nemo. It told the story of a widowed Clownfish (Marlin) as he crosses the ocean with a forgetful Blue Tang (Dory) in an attempt to find his fishnapped son (Nemo). There were calls for a sequel in the years that followed, but aside from Toy Story 2 & 3, PIXAR was primarily focused on producing new ideas like Wall-E and Ratatouille. However, as is the way with all film companies, the allure of guaranteed sequel profit proved to be too good, and in 2016 Finding Dory was released. This is, of course, a more cynical view of the movie’s conception, but I like to think that they believed in the story they were telling. PIXAR has always said that they only animate scripts that they deem to be a decent continuation of a previous story.
Finding Dory picks up a year after the events of Finding Nemo, and follows Dory as she travels to the Marine Life Institute in California to find her parents, with Marlin and Nemo following closely behind. This is a story that, for lack of better phrasing, makes sense to tell. We really don’t know all that much about Dory, and as she discovers more about herself, so do we. Her Short Term Memory Loss is a key plot device here, and it almost never feels like the butt of a joke. I’ll continue to commend the film for that, so it’s quite disappointing that the same respect is not paid to her friends Destiny and Bailey. The former is a Whale Shark who has restricted vision whilst the latter is a Beluga Whale who is faking the loss of his echolocation. And then there is poor little Becky. She is a Loon Bird who carries Marlin and Nemo into the Marine Life Institute in a bucket and is portrayed has having a mental disability. (Because she’s a Loon. Get it?) This makes for a great deal of misunderstanding between her and the other characters, which leads to a great amount of hilarity. From the studio that handled mental illness so well in Inside Out, this is a bit of disappointment.
As with many sequels, you are better off watching the original film first. However, I feel like a truly terrific sequel can still stand on it’s own (see Terminator 2) and Finding Dory almost comes close. If you did watch Finding Nemo first then this film carries more of an emotional impact, but if you haven’t seen it then you don’t need to worry, because you can pick up the plot of Finding Nemo from this. Of course, I have no idea why you wouldn’t watch Finding Nemo first… but assuming you did, then the possibility of Dory leaving Marlin and Nemo to be with her parents is Finding Dory‘s biggest emotional thread. The film never shies away from the possibility that this is the outcome, and that something like that can be emotionally devastating, but it never follows through on that totally. This is still a PIXAR film so of course everybody stays together at the end. This is all fine, but where it becomes an issue is in the film’s conclusion where it flip-flops between this being, and then not being, the resolution, before it finally does become the resolution. It really makes the final act of Finding Dory feel like a mental challenge to keep up with.
Where the film really shines is in the animation and the score, which have both come a long way in the 14 years since Finding Nemo. This is PIXAR’s 17th feature film, and the 2nd to be set primarily in water, and WOW you can tell. Water used to be one of the most difficult aspects of animation (maybe it still is) but the animation here borders on realistic. The way that you can see particles floating through the water, the way that the animals are reflected on the surface from underneath it, and the way that it clings to the animals making them continuously moist, is downright astounding. The realism felt a little off in The Good Dinosaur where it was only on the scenery, and the characters didn’t fit that aesthetic. In Finding Dory, there is a perfect balance. If I had to recommend this film for any reason, it would be the animation. The score coming in as a close second. PIXAR brought in composer Thomas Newman, who had previously worked on Finding Nemo, and brings back that ethereal feel for the ocean as well as a fun, quirky vibe when it’s needed. The soundtrack also features a Bondesque rendition of Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable by Sia.
I find that there is more to like about Finding Dory than there is to dislike. Not only is it a lot of fun, but it looks and sounds stunning, while the importance of having the main character voiced by an out lesbian can’t be understated (even if it is Ellen). Also, Sigourney Weaver is here and you’d better believe that they get as much use out of her voice as possible. To me, this is a worthwhile sequel to a beloved classic.
Until Next Time…