When Finding Nemo was released 13-years ago it was met with righteous adulation and rightfully so. It was a perfect Pixar vehicle – using state of the art animation to bring the Pacific Ocean to life in vivid detail. The story was slight, essentially a road trip movie about a clownfish and his absent-minded companion but this was early Pixar. The depth of character combined with a wonderful sense of humor and beautiful themes made the film accessible to kids but even more resonant with their parents. A sequel wasn’t expected at the time given Pixar’s run of original properties but like all great studios, you’ll eventually go back to the well at least once (in Pixar’s case – much more than once.)
So we have Finding Dory – a sequel as unnecessary as it is absolutely welcome. Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is back as everyone’s favorite Blue Tang with a bit of a short term memory problem. The film picks up one year after the events of the first adventure with Dory living a cozy reef-life with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence.) Her days are spent swimming the reef – forgetting where she’s off to, helping Nemo’s teacher…then forgetting again. It’s an adorable reprise that quickly reminds you of why you loved this world in the first place.
One day Dory is asked by Nemo’s classmates about where she came from. Having only the present 15-seconds in her brain at any time Dory realizes she’s never really thought about it. This jogs something loose in her memory – the jewel of Morro Bay, California. In a flash our trio is off on an adventure to the west coast to find Dory’s parents and restore our faith in the nuclear family!
After a swift journey on the shell of some familiar faces Dory is swept up by biologists for quarantine in the coastal Marine Life Institute leaving Marlin and Nemo to find a more creative way in. Here she meets Hank (Ed O’Neill) – an octopus with one goal in life – get transferred to a quiet aquarium in Cleveland to live his life in solitude and far away from the disgusting hands of children. One problem, the institute is a rehabilitation center for marine life and Hank is set to be released back to the wild. After Dory is accidentally tagged for transfer Hank agrees to help her find her parents in exchange for that sweet one-way ticket to Ohio.
If Finding Dory sounds familiar that’s certainly by design. The film follows nearly identical beats to its predecessor but loses just a smidge of its wonder. The original used the entire ocean to find unique characters, locations and interactions that were winning. Much of that is retained here but Dory is driven a bit more by the plot rather than giving us more of what made the original a classic.
Still, it’s hard to complain about spending more time in this world. DeGeneres is as good as ever as Dory, providing a complexity to a character that could’ve been cliché or even annoying given her condition. Ed O’Neill is a wonderfully capable foil as the cantankerous Hank – a very nimble octopus with little patience and a heart of gold. But the real joy lies in the surrounding characters (some returning others brand new) who are too fun to spoil and provide the film with many of its best gags.
Given the tragedy in Orlando last weekend it was a welcome relief to spend two hours in the company of such diversity. At its best Finding Dory is a celebration of the differences in all of us (fish too but ya know.) It’s the best possible message at the best possible time and it’s amazing a children’s movie is the vessel. For two hours we can escape under the sea if only to be reminded when we leave the theater that love is love is love is love.