It’s certainly been a while since we were immersed in the gorgeously depicted deep blue sea, traveling across the ocean with Marlin and Dory while being cradled with Thomas Newman’s score throughout the arduous journey. As soon as the lights faded in the cinema, the Disney/Pixar logos took over the screen, I was instantly submerged with nostalgia as the ever-familiar score filled the room.
Finding Nemo is one of the most important films in the studio’s history, it changed everything about the animation industry back in 2003. The film had a refreshingly original story while being paired with breathtaking visuals and technology; it was only a little glimpse of the wonder and excitement that Pixar would bring us with future films. Since then, audiences begged and pestered Pixar – interrogating the filmmakers if they’re going to throw a sequel in the production lineup anytime soon. Even Ellen DeGeneres jumped on the campaign, begging the studio to make a film solely based on her beloved Dory. Lo and behold, in 2013, it was Ellen herself who announced the sequel on her talk show. We all waited, rather impatiently, these last three years for the film to wrap up production.
It’s safe to say that Pixar is back at it again, in their 17th feature film, with Finding Dory. Although it’s not as perfect as the first film, with the clunky plot and pacing, the sequel still holds up as a separate film in the studio’s legacy.
As we all know, Finding Dory is a story that focuses on Dory herself. At the start of the film we’re immediately introduced to a baby tang fish, with adorably large eyes. We soon find out it’s Dory and she’s been plagued with short term memory loss since she was a child. “But what if I forget you?” Dory asks her parents (voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy), who look on reassuringly, comforting their daughter that nothing like that will ever happen. Flash forward to Dory in the present day, a mere one year after it’s predecessor. Dory somehow got separated from her family as a child and has spent the last few years of her life looking, or in her case, continuously forgetting about them until running into Marlin; thus starting the events of the previous film.
When Dory suddenly remembers her parents after a word triggers a memory (a constant occurrence in this film) it sets out her motivation to track them down and reunite with her family. Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) agree to accompany Dory. Marlin is reluctant for Dory to set off on this pilgrimage, reminiscent of Marlin’s cautiousness with letting Nemo explore his curiosity in the first film. Dory relies on her newfound memories to track down her parents, which leads her to traveling across the ocean to California. The trio, in what feels like the blink of an eye, zip through the ocean on a current and reach the outskirts of Monterey Bay Aquarium.
After Dory is split up from Marlin and Nemo, the two witness Dory being taken by researchers and carried away to the nearby aquarium. Inside, Dory meets a colorful cast of new characters ranging from Hank the octopus (Ed O’Neill), Destiny the whale shark (Kaitlin Olson), and Bailey the beluga whale (Ty Burrell). Nemo and Marlin also encounter a pair of lazy British sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West) as they try to figure out how they’re going to get into the aquarium to save Dory. Without giving away any of the key plot points or spoiling the ending, the remainder of the film follows Dory as she attempts to track down her family while adhering to the limitations of getting from one location to the other in the aquarium. Does Dory find her family? Are Nemo and Marlin able to reunite with her? What do the other characters offer in relation to Dory’s story of being reunited with her family?
Pixar’s motto has always been, “The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art.” With each new film released from the studio, it’s hard not to realize something spectacular with the designs in the film and the story itself. With Finding Dory, it’s like we’ve been blessed with a new HD TV and we’re re-watching our favorite movies on the device. The world still looks the same and is familiar, but it’s even more photo-realistic; the colors are brighter, the picture clearer, and the environments are more defined. There was a shot towards the middle of the film which showcased Nemo and Marlin floating towards the top of the ocean; the light from the sun on the surface was hitting the water just right and their reflections could be seen from the surface as the water moved back and forth. It was absolutely breathtaking. The setting in the film was a character all in its own; living and breathing and affecting the story.
The aquarium itself is one of Dory’s main motivations and an exciting new setting to explore in the film. There are different areas that she has to travel to when she’s inside, and each object or phrase that triggers a memory for Dory helps her put together the fragments of her past to reach her family. Every new location within the aquarium has it’s own style, while also offering larger obstacles for Dory to get through to her goal. The best location was definitely the ever so friendly pet zone, where children were able to stick their hands rather viciously into the water feeling the different types of fish inside.
It was nice to get a fair share of familiar faces from Mr. Ray and his knowledgeable tunes, to Crush the chillest turtle in the deep blue sea. We also got to meet some of our new favorite Pixar characters in Dory’s quest. It’s safe to say that Hank the octopus is now one of Pixar’s most stunning characters. He moves around so gracefully, even when lurking in the shadows. His character design is distinctive and lovable; Ed O’Neill’s work also makes it easy to fall in love with him. Hank is a key player in Dory’s story, she’s introduced to him almost instantly after finding herself deep in the aquarium. Hank agrees to help Dory find her family knowing that she is the key to him finally leaving the institution. Hank is a big curmudgeon at first, as these type of characters often are, but the more he spends time with Dory, the more his heart(s) turn into gold.
In a recent press junket UP was invited to, Stanton himself mentioned that Hank couldn’t have been achieved had this film been made in 2003, or at least, he wouldn’t have been as effectively depicted as he was in the sequel. It’s true. Hank’s skin glistened, his tentacles moved effortlessly as he crawled across the stage, and it felt like at any moment he could burst through the screen. The modern technology has certainly helped Andrew Stanton and his crew tell a better story, and one no one could have told back it in 2003. Even having the majority of the action taking place in an aquarium offered some big challenges; the largest one being all of the new sets and massive crowd shots.
Thomas Newman’s score also helps tie everything together. He most certainly works well with Andrew Stanton, as he successfully composed the last two of his films at Pixar. Newman captured some of the most tender moments of the film so perfectly; his score helping move the plot along and hitting us emotionally at the right moments. Newman’s music is filled with a sense of wonder and familiarity; the perfect theme tune for an adventure into the unknown.
What didn’t work:
It was certainly great being back in familiar waters and reuniting with old friends, but the magic from the first film was lost somewhere in the transition. Throughout Finding Dory, there was really no sense of wonder. Sure, the technology is better than it was in 2003, the backgrounds were more realistic, the character models were upgraded, the allure from the first film was attempted several times; but it still somehow fell flat. Everything seemed incredibly easier this time around. It took Dory, Marlin, and Nemo mere seconds to cross the ocean and stumble on the supposed aquarium from her youth. Everything was too simple, the obstacles were almost repetitive, and certain elements in the story felt like they were added without motivation. The film certainly relied too heavily on the nostalgia of the first film, but even that didn’t work since Dory and Marlin’s chemistry somehow lacked this second time around.
Dory was one of the most important elements of Finding Nemo, she was the sidekick, the supporting character who kept the plot moving forward; who offered something new to the story that affected the major players. Marlin and Nemo were the supporting characters in the sequel, and their struggles with each other as a family came across dull at times.
Despite some of the obvious flaws in the story, Finding Dory does leave you feeling rewarded at the end. You get to watch Dory become stronger and a better person during her journey. You emphasize with Dory’s sense of belonging, her desire to find her family. You’re rooting for her all the way until the end. It’s an inspiring sequel that gives you the courage to fight on, no matter what type of obstacles get in the way; no matter who tells you what you can’t do; no matter what type of disability may set things off kilter; you just need to keep swimming. Dory helps us get through the day, and it’s hard not to ask yourself when times get tough, what would Dory do?
Finding Dory hits theaters this Friday.