I’m a runner, and I live in Texas. The day after I saw Finding Dory, I ran seven miles in 86° heat with 70% humidity. I promise I’m not bragging. The sequel to the 2003 Pixar smash hit Finding Nemo actually helped me get through that run. While I was baking in the heat, my mind wandered back to the theater several times – to the cool, wet mise-en-scéne of the movie’s oceanic setting. One of my favorite things about Finding Nemo was the gorgeous underwater animation, and the meticulous care that was clearly spent bringing the world beneath the surface to life. Finding Dory absolutely excels in these areas, too. If you find aquariums soothing, you know what I mean.
Aside from the visuals, Finding Dory also does an admirable job trying to match the magic and fun of the original. It doesn’t quite make as big of a splash as its predecessor, but it’s a close call. Close enough to make Finding Dory a really rewarding time at the movies. I don’t know what it is about the deep sea environs that translate so well to the Pixar style of animation, but, for me, both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory are absolutely mesmerizing in a way few other Pixar movies are. The Toy Story franchise comes closest to achieving the same effect, but even the first rate animation of those pictures don’t beguile me in the same way that the Finding movies do.
I was a bit underwhelmed by last summer’s Pixar entry, Inside Out. That story left a lot to be desired, but after seeing Finding Dory, I realize it was the studio’s visual mastery that I was really missing. I didn’t mention the animation once when talking about Inside Out. In contrast, that’s basically all I want to talk about with Finding Dory. The animators on this latest film achieve spectacular results, on scales both big and small. Most of the picture takes place in a marine life sanctuary and one exhibit, Open Ocean, is stunningly beautiful. It’s the most awe-inspiring experience I’ve had at the movies this year. Think of the most intricate, lively exhibit you’ve ever seen in a real life aquarium, and multiply it exponentially.
The attention to detail is just as breathtaking at the other end of the spectrum. The two clownfish, Marlon and Nemo, who befriended our hero Dory during the first film have incredibly life-like and expressive faces. If you pay close attention, you can see individual muscle movements under the surface of their skin as they speak and react. Of course all that hard work on how the characters look would be wasted if what they said and how they said it wasn’t very interesting. That certainly isn’t the case with Finding Dory.
Dory herself remains a good-hearted little fish who suffers from short-term memory loss. Her adventure takes place a year after she helped Marlon find his son Nemo, when the pint-sized clownfish was captured by exotic fish sellers. After a sudden flood of memories come back to Dory, she seizes on a clue that will help her get back to her own home, and find her long lost parents.
To be sure, one fault of Finding Dory is that it’s a retread of the first movie, only in reverse. Dory helped Marlon find Nemo, and helped get him home safe. Now Marlon and Nemo must help Dory get back home herself. Writer-director Andrew Stanton infuses his story with enough childlike fun, though, that the weakness is easy to forgive. Stanton fills his creation with enough wacky characters and action that I was simply delighted to be along for the ride. Whether it’s the improbable sight of a septopus (an octopus who tragically lost a leg) named Hank steering a baby carriage through the sanctuary, or Dory helping him drive a Mack truck later – you have to see it to believe it – Finding Dory never lets up.
Dory is constantly forgetting what she’s doing and where she’s going. Unlike the hero in Christopher Nolan’s Memento, she can’t get reminders tattooed all over her scaly body. But Stanton found a great way to neutralize this potentially momentum killing aspect of the story: keep everything moving at such a quick pace there’s no time to stall. The director also employs flashbacks of Dory as a tiny guppy to give her the clues she needs in the search for her family.
As usual with Pixar, the humanity in these anthropomorphized creatures comes shining through, thanks in no small part to the talented voice actors. Ellen DeGeneres shines as the star of this installment. She brings a perfect balance of plucky optimism and disheartening frustration to Dory. As exasperating as her short-term memory loss can be, Dory never lets it keep her down for too long. Albert Brooks’ sardonic take on Marlon works beautifully as the little clownfish constantly finds himself in situations that beggar his belief. Ed O’Neill joins the series as Hank, that down on his luck septopus, who wants nothing more than to lead a quiet life at a sea creature sanctuary in Cleveland. O’Neill’s well-worn screen persona as a curmudgeon works great for Hank, hiding a big heart beneath that gruff exterior.
One small problem the movie does suffer from is the climax, or rather the climaxes. The movie is only ninety-seven minutes long but it feels longer. By the fourth or fifth event that could have signaled an exciting conclusion, I started to lose just a little bit of patience. That sensation was drowned out, however, by the beauty of the world in which I was immersed. Finding Dory is a movie that benefits from a big screen presentation, but I have a feeling that just like Finding Nemo, it won’t depend on it. Stepping back out into the hot Texas sun after being magically transported to the vivid maritime imagination of Andrew Stanton and his Pixar crew was like a rude awakening. It’s a refreshing experience I can’t wait to revisit.
Why it got 4 stars:
- There's a joy to this movie (and even more so for its predecessor) that I gleefully gave myself over to the moment it started. I absolutely fell in love with Finding Nemo, and Finding Dory only rates slightly lower because it is pretty clearly telling the same story over again.
Things I forgot to mention in my review, because, well, I'm the Forgetful Film Critic:
- Realtalk: I'm the Forgetful Film Critic, which basically makes Dory my spirit animal. Maybe that's why I love these movies so much. Life ain't easy when you can't remember anything. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...
- I don't want to spoil too much, but have your ears open for a cameo from a famous actress playing herself. The movie got a chuckle out of me every time this person speaks.
- Finding Dory is one of the rare instances where I regretted not opting for the 3-D experience. It was so soothing to stare at a 100 foot aquarium for an hour-and-a-half, I'd love to find out what it's like to be in it. Hopefully I'll be able to catch a 3-D screening before it leaves theaters.
- Hearing Albert Brooks voice the character of Marlin the clownfish has quite a different ring to it once you've seen the actor's performance in Drive.