“Outshines the original”

by Steve Pulaski

Finding Dory is a much better film than Finding Nemo. It’s funnier, livelier, and more emotional with better characters, bigger, grander setups, and a far more impacting theme. It bravely takes a character who could’ve been insufferable to endure for one-hundred minutes and makes her a sympathetic and empowering force that commands every scene and makes you question why she wasn’t the main focus before. While it’s sometimes a sin for critics to keep bringing up old wounds of the past, this is nonetheless an ecstatic rebound for Pixar after The Good Dinosaur.

The opening focuses on Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), a blue tang fish, at a young age with her mother and father coping with and learning how to deal with Dory’s short term memory. All’s going as well as it can before Dory winds up getting separated from her parents due to the undertow, leaving her to aimlessly wander the vast ocean until she gets acquainted with Marlin (Albert Brooks) just in time to help him find his son Nemo (newly voiced by Hayden Rolence).

Now, a year after the events of the film, Dory wants to find her own parents. The problem lies with the fact that she can only remember fragmented details at either very inconvenient or inconsistent times. She slowly begins to recall locations and the last memories of her parents, remembering their location being “the jewel of Morro Bay, California.” When her, Marlin, and Nemo wind up traveling to the Californian coast, Dory winds up getting picked up by an aquatic rescue team to be taken for rehabilitation, so claims Hank (Ed O’Neill), an octopus who, with only seven tentacles, technically is a “septopus.”

Finding Dory
Directed by
Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane
Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill
Release Date
17 June 2016
Steve’s Grade: A-

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As a result, Dory and Hank attempt to navigate their ways into the “open ocean” exhibit at the aquarium they are currently housed in, in order for Dory to be reunited with her family, while Marlin and Nemo go on their own adventure with the help of a goofy duck named Becky to try and find where Dory was taken.

The main issue I had with the original Finding Nemo was that it was both too slow-paced and too slight to really be captivating, or at least memorable, entertainment. It was occasionally emotional, as most can relate with the idea of losing someone close to them and not exactly knowing where they could be, and the look at a father’s anxiety and overprotectiveness over their sole son is an idea that, I feel, most can grasp, but there wasn’t much more to the story than that. The animation was vast and wonderful, the characters were infrequently charming, and the overall effect was extremely forgettable – especially by the standards set by “the golden age of Pixar.”

Finding Dory winds up becoming much more of a rigorously paced, energetic – but never frantic – ride through numerous locations. This time around, the stakes are higher, the characters – everyone from the lovable Hank to a whale shark (Kaitlin Olson) and a beluga whale (Ty Burrell) that creatively assist Dory when she needs it – are more fun and lovable, and the segways between scenes and locations have never felt better. Finding Dory‘s pace has dramatically increased, but never feels like a zany compilation of nonsense thrown together by cheap ploys and redundant quips. It all feels right and it all feels smooth.

Then there’s the overarching theme that I predict many will relate to but few will grasp. Finding Dory is about coping with a disability and transcending it in order to prove to everyone else, and yourself, that you are capable. Themes like this have run in and out of family movies and animated films, but Pixar tackles it with tenderness and in a language that its target audience will almost certainly understand. The animating and writing geniuses aren’t afraid to show how Dory can become burdensome and almost downright problematic on many people in her life, but never fails to constantly remind us how her heart’s in the right place, even if her mind drifts and rifts.

Finding Dory is the rare sequel – even by Pixar standards – that not only outshines the original but gallops past it in terms of quality. It takes a familiar setup and injects it with new life, with breakneck tension and adventure, all while cloaking in it in a meaningful, relevant theme. A few months back when I reviewed Zootopia, I said that Pixar would have to really bring it in order to compete on the same level with Disney this year; they’ve brought it.