The talented storytellers and animators at Pixar are too creative to be devoting so much time to sequels like “Finding Dory,” but money talks. At least they’re clever and thoughtful enough to turn an easy payday into something entertaining and heartfelt.
Created 13 years after “Finding Nemo,” at least filmmaker Andrew Stanton had some time and space to let his vibrant animated underwater world and colorful characters breathe, and find a story that needed telling. That story centers on sidekick character Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), the blue tang fish with short-term memory loss, who suddenly uncovers some long-term memories about her family and goes off in search of them.
One of the more lovable supporting characters in Pixar’s short but storied history, Dory makes for a great subject, and her disability allows for a really powerful and uplifting message. “Inside Out” changed the everyday discussion about emotions last year; “Dory” continues the studio’s impressive focus on social values and teaching utility that should inspire so many of its younger viewers or at least give adults the tools to discuss these challenges with the children in their lives.
“Dory” is also clever and entertaining, even if the story structure relies heavily on convention and repetition. Dory’s search for mom and dad takes her to a California marine life park, where almost all the action takes place. It’s a very Pixar move to put these characters in an environment we know with humans in the background oblivious to the story unfolding (think “Toy Story”), but it kind of takes away from the majesty of the open water that made “Finding Nemo” so epic. That film was truly an odyssey – a long and winding, exhaustive journey, whereas the “Dory” plot feels as stuffed with predicaments and complications that prolong the end point that we know is just within reach (and inevitable).
Essentially, Dory – and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and Marlon (Albert Brooks), who are chasing after her – find themselves in and out of dangerous situations (or in jeopardy of their plan failing) with minor breathing room in between and the help of more new supporting characters, most notably a camouflaging “septopus” named Hank (Ed O’Neill). Their escapes are preposterous, which is no shocker, but the filmmakers’ ingenuity loses a bit of sparkle the more frequently it occurs.
But these criticisms come with the high bar Pixar has set for itself. If the studio is going to go for the sequel cash-grab, it needs to justify the choice through creative, thoughtful storytelling. “Dory” does this better than “Cars 2” and “Monsters University,” but there’s just enough of a sense that it was produced by a sequel machine.
All this makes the film’s heart and social welfare component all the more vital. In this area, Stanton and co. do not falter one iota. Leaning on a story formula is less of a sin than creating a family film that has nothing original to say and doesn’t pull at the heartstrings. “Finding Dory” avoids this most important sequel pitfall and its emotional factor proves, in the end, to be the only justification Pixar needed to bring us Nemo, Marlon and Dory once more.
Directed by Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Written by Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse, Bob Peterson, Angus MacLane
Starring: (voices) Ellen DeGeneres, Ed O’Neill, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence