Watching “Finding Dory” was an early sign that I’m getting old at the oh-so mature age of 19. However, the fact that it captured my imagination 13 years after watching the original is a testament to how strong and enduring Pixar’s brand and storytelling is. The audience had a wide array of ages in attendance. There were both parents and people my age who surely watched the predecessor “Finding Nemo” back in 2003, and young children who were first experiencing the franchise in theaters around the same age I did. To avoid beating around the bush, “Dory” does not go above and beyond the originality of “Finding Nemo.” But truth be told, it’s a very high bar to set, and a bar that “Dory” manages to at least meet, if not exceed — something that can’t be said by most animated movies.
The film’s standard is largely due in part to Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”) irresistable charm. She stole the show in “Finding Nemo” as wonderful comic to Marlin’s (Albert Brooks, “Drive”) straight-man protagonist. With this film, it’s finally her story that’s being told. Dory has short-term memory loss (which she will not let you forget), and has become fed up with her condition. She begins to remember her two wonderful parents, Charlie (Eugene Levy, “American Pie”) and Jenny (Diane Keaton, “Annie Hall”). Although there is no thorough explanation as to what triggers these memories, DeGeneres’s voice acting is so sweet and sincere that one can’t help but feel for her frustration. Dory has flashbacks of her life at the Marine Life Institute in Morro Bay, a very specific location in California where sea animals are rehabilitated and released back into the wild. The plot quickly takes the form of “Finding Nemo,” as our favorite animated fish (sorry, “Shark Tale”) must once again go on a journey of epic proportions to reunite lost family members. Her new “family” of Marlin and Nemo himself (newcomer Hayden Rolence) are here for the adventure too, bringing back what made the original movie compelling, while treading on familiar territory.
Rest assured, enough new ideas are injected into the plot to keep “Finding Dory” fun and original. The sea creatures that Dory and gang meet along the way are delightful, played skillfully by some of the hottest comedic actors in show business. Among these characters is Hank (Ed O’Neill, “Modern Family”), a chameleon-like octopus who craves the stable life of captivity and accompanies Dory on her quest. Though he ends up serving much of the same role that Marlin did in the first film, he’s entertaining all the same.
The animation is beautiful, an area in which “Dory” manages to surpass its predecessor successfully. I remembered several trips I’ve made to aquariums while watching the film, largely because of the lush and alive computer-generated sea in “Finding Dory.” After watching the film, I realized the immersion I experienced, thanks to the gorgeous graphics, is a big part of why I enjoyed the original “Finding Nemo.” But while other animated movie companies may be satisfied at solely achieving Pixar’s surface-level mastery, its writing is what manages to set Pixar apart from its competition.
Dory is truly a character to root for, though her supporting cast falls by the wayside at times. A lot of action is crammed into the film, making it a wild ride to follow. But there is a lovely message at its core that ties it all together: your family will always be with you in your heart.
Don’t watch this movie if you haven’t seen “Finding Nemo.” The appeal Dory’s short-term memory loss had in the last film when it was used as comic relief might be lost on an uninitiated viewer, as “Finding Dory” respectfully treats it much more seriously as a mental impairment. That being said, the endearing family connections portrayed within the film make it a satisfying addition to Disney’s canon, and a worthy sequel to “Finding Nemo.”