Director: Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane
Writers: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse, Bob Peterson, & Angus MacLane
Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West
Genre: Action/Adventure, Animation, Comedy
Rating: PG (for Mild Thematic Elements)
At this point, I think most everyone knows Dory, the lovable sidekick in Finding Nemo (2003) who suffered from Short-Term Memory Loss. As voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, it was hard to not laugh at the character. However, as we saw then, there was a sadness behind Dory and also a mystery that came with her (and us, as the audience) not knowing where she came from.
In this film, we see the character begin to piece together enough details about her past to know that she has a family somewhere waiting for her. Dory thinks she knows where they are, and she sets off in a flash to find them across the ocean. Following alongside are Marlin and Nemo, and their journey takes them to the last place she can remember, the Marine Life Institute in California, where they meet several new characters and hope that they can reunite Dory with the missing pieces of her past. As I have reviewed in the past what I considered an enjoyable but still “lesser” Pixar film, The Good Dinosaur (review found here), how does this film stack up with such a history of high quality?
Violence/Scary Images: While there is the obligatory predator chase scene early on, the rest of the film wouldn’t be what I consider scary, but rather, suspenseful, with moments fitting that label by the plenty. What may trouble children the most are some of the scenes most integral to the plot involving Dory being lost. There is mention that one of the characters lost a tentacle due to being handled by a human, but overall, nothing here to worry about, I’d say.
Language/Crude Humor: Absolutely nothing I recall, aside from the strange inclusion of the phrase “suck it”, which many parents would probably hope their child wouldn’t come out of the theater repeating.
Spiritual Content: I drew from the film the messages of unity and family, regardless of if someone is kin or not. Throughout the film, we see individuals putting themselves in jeopardy for the sake of others, and that sacrificial expression of friendship is most admirable, according to very words of Jesus in the Scriptures. Also, the darker aspects of the film deal with the guilt we can feel about ourselves when we don’t measure up to society or our own vision of what is perfect. That can push a character to doubt themselves and live in a constant state of paralyzing apologies, but when that happens in this film, those close encourage the other that, perfect or not, they are just fine.
Sexual Content: None to speak of.
Drug/Alcohol Reference: None that I can recall.
Other Negative Content: I had heard controversies about purportedly “lesbian” characters appearing momentarily in the film and even that a stingray in the film turned transgender. As to the first point, two women stand close to one another and exit the frame. Were they, or weren’t they? Who knows, but I think that a child would only think that if led to think that. As to the second point, unless I completely missed it, I think that was pre-release sarcastic comments from Ellen taken and believed by many reporting, prior to watching it. I saw nothing of the sort in the film. While I don’t agree with “agenda pushing” in family films, I don’t think we have anything to worry about here.
Positive Content: If worthwhile messages are to be shared by films, then this one has one. Dory’s STML in the first film was largely an excuse for humor, and while that humor continues here, the focus in this film is on her, and therefore, we get an extended look at her condition at all ages. Moments in the film are genuinely moving and heartbreaking, and Dory’s parents exhibit the type of resolve and never-ending love one would hope all parents of afflicted children would have, regardless of what it is that affects their child. I believe that this film will be championed in the therapist field as a model for parents with children suffering from various conditions.
The problem and strength of sequels is that we’re getting more. Great sequels tend to do something on some level different, and the greatness often comes from how well that turns out amidst the expectations of the audience. So, how does Finding Dory fare? It’s enjoyable, for sure. Is it satisfying? For most people, yes, it will be. I, however, left lacking something.
Technically, it’s a beautiful film. To this day, the original film is still stunning, and if anything, this movie takes it further. Do you remember any octopus or squid in the original film? I don’t, but I know why. They must be as challenging as anything to animate, but here, we have both creatures, and one of them is the most prominent new character in this film…plus he camouflages at will. You see, the animators at Pixar prove their artistry in this film. Yet, story-wise, here we are in that sequel predicament.
It’s obvious from the title that they are going for similar, so I feel bad for faulting it here. Still, I must go from how engaged the film made me feel, and it lost me here and there, primarily because of the sameness in the plot. Sure, flashbacks (which, according to some, are the laziest form of storytelling, but I don’t mind) are prominent, but if they weren’t here, we would be left with the same story as before. The detective aspect of Dory unraveling her memories is an engaging storytelling concept, especially when I think that this will be seen and loved by children, but that is really all that elevates the plot. I don’t remember a single joke misfiring in the first, but on a few occasions, I was left thinking “What?!”
With regard to the new characters, I really liked Ed O’Neill’s cranky Hank. Easily the highlight of the film and genius casting, I loved Idris Elba and Dominic West as two lounging sea lions (and fellow fans of The Wire will likely chuckle as I did at the thought of McNulty and Stringer Bell having this much fun together). If you don’t go out of this film yelling “OFF! OFF! OFF! OFF!” at someone sitting in your spot, you’re doing it all wrong. One that didn’t do as well for me as I had hoped was Ty Burrell, an actor I usually love, but I found his character more annoying than I wanted him to be. There is a surprising and creative cameo throughout the film that made me chuckle every time, but I withhold the name of the actor or actress in the credits above to avoid spoiling them.
With the returning cast, we get more of the brilliance we got before, but less of what made the first film work. Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks played off of each other so well in Finding Nemo, but (mild spoiler) they don’t spend too much time together here. Their banter was the heart of the film for me before, and here, Ellen has to carry most of the film through reactions to her memories. I believe, structurally, there are limitations that keep this film from being as good or as memorable as the first. Still, while that makes it inferior to the first and some might even argue a “lesser” Pixar film, does that make it bad? Absolutely not.
If you see this film, you will be seeing an enjoyable one with a strong family message that speaks to standing up with others, especially in their adversities. You get this all told through a story involving characters you probably already know and love, who are joined with new ones as well. I can’t hate on this movie in really any way, but I also can’t say that it surpasses the original or becomes a new classic, as some reviewers are heralding it to be. The pacing is too crazy for that, and the ending just seems to keep going and going, so I won’t do that here. Let’s bring this review to an end. See this movie, and enjoy this movie, alone or with family, but just see it for exactly what it is: another enjoyable trip to the movies about family. It’s not a classic, but it’s still a lot of fun.
ALSO: Stick around for the stinger after the credits…just trust me, and do it.
The Bottom Line