Finding Nemo, with its expert blend of heart, humor, and incredibly dense sea exploration, is arguably the best animated feature of the past fifty years. So how exactly do you follow that up with a sequel?
For most people you probably just don’t, but Stanton and company trudged on, and so we have Finding Dory, this time around focusing on our favorite memory-lapsing blue tang and her journey to find her parents.
To set the stage for Dory’s relationship with her parents, the film opens with a sequence that’s nearly as emotional as the opening to Up, especially for parents. In Pixar top form, the movie nearly had me in tears within the first ten minutes (and tears would come before the end of the film). Afterwards, Dory’s memory is triggered and she begs Marlin to take her across the ocean to find her parents before she forgets them again.
But this is not an ocean journey movie. Despite Marlin’s insistence that Dory’s home in California is all the way across the ocean, the journey takes them mere minutes of the plot, the majority of the story taking place once they arrive in the general vicinity. While it’s refreshing that they didn’t try to recreate the adventure magic of the first film, this does introduce a weakness that previous Pixar film Brave had: everything happens around the same area, and it feels less like a journey and, at times, like stagnation.
Despite that, however, the film does strike the signature Pixar blend of heart and humor right on the nose. It’s even more laugh-out-loud hilarious than Finding Nemo, and few gags are repeated or cliché (though one, in which Dory’s “when two fishes love each other” speech gets cut off, is an old and tired cliché). A blind shark whale, a bonding crazed bird, and, of course, Dory’s short-term memory loss are all played for kicks, and that makes the film at the very least enjoyable, even if it doesn’t quite have the same magic as its predecessor.
Among the greatest things the film has to offer is character development, not so much with Dory, although you do see her gaining confidence, but with Hank, an octopus that Dory meets in an animal rehabilitation center. Hank is essentially selfish. When we first meet him, it really seems like he might turn out to be a villain, taking advantage of Dory’s short-term memory loss and looking for his own sort of escape. As the plot progresses, it’s clear that rather than being an explicit villain, he’s really employing what’s commonly called Social Contract Theory – I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine—in sharp contrast to the relationship that exists between Marlin, Nemo, and Dory.
Hank changes, however. He eventually comes to make more personal sacrifices for Dory and her friends, and comes to abandon the “not my problem” attitude. In fact, the film’s great climactic moment only works because he goes back for Dory and her friends at great risk to himself. He knows that if he goes back, he may not get to go to Cleveland, which is his dream – to have a carefree life behind glass. But go back he does, knowing full well that while he’d like to still be able to go, the chances of it actually happening, if he does the selfless thing, are slim. This, combined with the positive examples of newcomers Destiny and Bailey, is enough to make this a truly positive family film.
It should be noted here that rumors and reports of a lesbian couple and a transgender character are completely false. The former of these supposed situations is based off of two characters’ reactions in a scene lasting all of two seconds, and these two characters may or may not even know each other. The latter, nothing more than a joke by Ellen Degeneres (voice actor for Dory) makes no appearance or reference in the film at all. If these were concerns of yours about the film, and keeping you from taking your family to see it, rest assured that they are completely absent.
There is one possible concern with taking your family to the movie, however, although it is not a worldview problem, and was probably unintentional on the part of Stanton and company. But still the issue remains: you may want to think twice before taking your adopted or foster child to see this film.
It is honestly, genuinely Dory’s fault that she becomes separated from her parents. This is not due to any ill will on her part; she simply wandered off in an effort to please her parents and was swept away. But the extent to which this is acknowledged could be troubling for adopted or foster children, as they frequently blame themselves (unjustly) for being orphaned, coming out of a dysfunctional family, or being unwanted by their biological parents.
Reflecting back on the film holistically, it can hardly be denied that Finding Dory is inferior to Finding Nemo, particularly in scope. It’s also clear that Dory’s personal journey is not as impactful or radical as Marlin’s. But taking this film on its own merit, its faults are relatively few and minor.
Consensus: 8/10. While it’s unlikely to break a top ten animated films list, the film is a funny, wholesome, and enjoyable family film that lifts up selfless morality and espouses the value of family.