In the 2003 film Finding Nemo, the titular clown fish was sought by his father Marlin (Albert Brooks) and funny and friendly blue tang fish Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) on a voyage that took them across the sea. Since the film was an instant classic, the prospect of a sequel – 13 years later – comes with definitely high expectations. Fortunately, directors Andrew Stanton and Angus Maclane (Stanton also wrote the screenplay) have finely crafted Finding Dory, making it a sequel that in some ways surpasses the original.
To sit back and just look at the film is an overwhelmingly dazzling visual experience (my son and I saw it in standard or 2D and it was amazing). What we have come to expect from Pixar we get here and then some. From magnificent kelp forests to under and above water panoramas to the surrealy beautiful Marine Life Institute – where the somewhat eerie voice of Sigourney Weaver narrates the proceedings – the depiction of these aquatic settings is stunning and at times almost dream-like. Through this majestic array of colors and effervescent light our characters swim their way toward their destination and into our hearts.
The title is sort of misleading – Dory is not being sought but is actually the one searching for her parents Charles (Eugene Levy) and Jenny (Diane Keaton); however, in a sweet twist, the more forgetful than ever Dory is also on a quest of finding herself, or at least the fish she thinks that she should be (if she could remember). The clever subtlety of a title Disney character with a disability is handled brilliantly, and as we recall our friend Nemo (this time voiced by Hayden Rolence) has a disability of his own – the slightly deformed fin from the barracuda attack that left his mother and siblings dead.
Now Marlin and Nemo are the supporting characters to Dory, but they get separated several times during their journey, giving Dory ample opportunity to repeat the line her parents told her to say when meeting strangers: “I suffer from short-term memory loss.” The sweet and totally clueless way DeGeneres repeatedly delivers this line is not only endearing but surprisingly effective in disarming even the most vicious looking creatures. It also qualifies the character’s likability and vulnerability. Luckily in this aquatic world most of the creatures seem ready and willing to help Dory on her quest.
The children will love the many vividly portrayed supporting characters, especially the hilarious Hank (Ed O’Neill who at times seems to be ad-libbing), an octopus who is amazingly athletic, shape-shifting, and can even drive a truck. While there are some jokes purposely meant to go over the little ones’ heads, there are also the obvious ones that get them to laugh as my son did many times throughout.
Interestingly enough, Hank has his own quest – to be sent to an aquarium in Cleveland to live out his days peacefully; however, he gets pulled in by Dory and keeps popping up to rescue her time and again. Hank also has a disability – losing one of his tentacles in an accident. As he becomes more protective of Dory, Hank also starts to question his own desires, while the kids will already know that he is going to stick with Dory and not end up in some fish tank on Lake Erie.
The required funny stuff is here, and the kids will love it, but there is also something more – we get a chance to explore with Dory but also within Dory. With the courtesy of flashbacks that spark moments of awareness, Dory becomes one of the most deeply and emotionally realized animated characters of all time. As she literally finds her parents she also finds – or perhaps reclaims – the self she lost but has never had. There are a number of lump in the throat moments throughout, but it’s not easy to retain your composure when the shadows of Charles and Jenny first appear to Dory and she realizes her quest has ended.
If you’re thinking “Is this all perhaps a little too deep for the kids?” my seven year old got it all. He understood what Dory seeks and also that, even though she has a problem, her intelligence, grit, and love for her parents help her solve it in the end.
Of course, there is the somewhat disturbing “Disney thing” to be found here that goes back starting with Bambi and onward to The Lion King and, of course, Finding Nemo itself – the separation of parent(s) and child. Most of the princesses are either orphans or have only one parent, and there is always that solemn sense that pervades these films – what my son later confessed was something he kept thinking about that was scary – what if Dory never found her parents?
That Disney thing aside, Finding Dory is a magnificent visual experience and tells an emotional story about a character that is challenged by an affliction and loss, but she overcomes these things motivated by love and propelled by the endurance of spirit. Like its predecessor, Finding Dory is not only a delight but an instant classic!
Photo credits: movies.disney.com