Walt Disney Pictures
1 hour 37 minutes
When “Finding Nemo,” which came out well over a decade ago, I remember being struck by how beautiful individual scenes were, beyond the beauty of the story itself. “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” and “Monster’s Inc.” were all fun films, and “Toy Story 2” was surprisingly moving, but “Nemo” is the mov-ie, I believe, that made people sit up and take notice of Pixar Studios. With this epic story of a lost little clownfish, it became immediately apparent that this animation studio was something special. This was a true work of art, not just a vehicle for selling toys. In the last few years, Pixar has finally stumbled a bit. “Cars 2” and “The Good Dinosaur” are just not very good movies, but the studio does maintain a high level of quality. With that in mind, it was no wonder that this week’s “Finding Dory” looked beautiful. It didn’t hurt that I took my family to see the film at an IMAX screen giving my son and daughter a full immersion experience. “Nemo” and “Dory” both emulate nature documentaries in many ways, so seeing the film in this large format, where I remember seeing movies about butterflies and coral reefs when I was a kid, makes a lot of sense. But the question that neither the movie nor the extra-large screen could an-swer was, “is this movie necessary?” Unfortunately, I don’t think so.
The film opens heavy, laying it on pretty thick with a baby Dory and her worried parents as they try to instill her with life lessons despite her disability (if you missed the first film, Dory has short-term memory loss). Then we get a kind of flash-forward as Dory loses her parents and begins her endless search for them. Though I’m sure it went over the heads of the kids in the audience, this sequence is over-flowing with pathos. The implication is that, for years, Dory did nothing but swim around asking passing fish if they could help her find her parents. The scene ends with her smacking into Marlin, which leads into the actions of the first film, and we’re all caught up. Dory now has a semi-functional life with her adopted clownfish family and the community of creatures that make up the reef where they live. She’s not entirely content, however. Dory still wants to find her parents, and a sudden flash of insight kickstarts her onto another journey, this time to the Marine Life Institute where, it turns out, Dory is from. Hot on her trail are Marlin and Nemo, determined to help, no matter the cost. Along the way they run into an eclectic cast of characters including a whale shark, a beluga, and an octopus named Hank who has a fear of being touched.
I should say, lest this article take a negative tone, that I enjoyed “Dory.” The movie is affable and, though a little heavy handed, sweet and funny. But why do we need it? Sure, there are plenty of sequels that are simply cash grabs and rehashes that do nothing to enhance the original story, and I’d argue that we don’t need most of those, either, but the difference is that I want to hold Pixar to a higher standard. These movies are incredibly difficult to produce. “Dory” has been in production for years, so you don’t just make one of these on a lark. Pixar could set the bar for storytelling as well as animation. Case in point – the “Toy Story” sequels. Each of these films expands and enhances the over-arching story as well as deepening the relationships between the central characters. The movies work fine on their own, but better as a whole. “Dory” does none of this for “Nemo,” mostly because the character of Dory was never meant to be looked at this deeply.
Dory’s inclusion in the original “Nemo” is meant to be a kind of winking reference for the adults in the audience to “Memento,” a small thriller that had come out a few years before about a man with short term memory loss trying to solve a murder. Because “Finding Nemo” is an excellent film, Dory is more than just a one-note joke, but hers is not the central conflict in the story. She’s the comic relief – you don’t want to think too deeply about her actual situation because in reality it’s pretty hellish. So she’s kind of thinly written. But in this latest film, we get to flesh it all out. We get all the pathos, a back-story so sad it feels like maybe the writers aren’t completely considering everything she goes through. We get totally unnecessary origin stories for what amounted to quick laugh lines in the original. Did you ever wonder why Dory sings “just keep swimming?” The movie answers that burning question in a tearful scene where a worried mother comforts a confused and frightened child with a song of hope. The filmmakers also reveal where Dory learned to speak whale, forgetting, I guess, that the whole joke about Dory “speaking whale” is that all she’s doing is modulating her voice up and down in a goofy way. It’s a joke, not a mythic ability in need of explanation.
“Finding Dory” is a movie that your kids will enjoy. It’s got lots of silly characters and funny lines. Hank the octopus, voiced by “Modern Family’s” Ed O’Neill is a great character – sharp and well-written, and the interactions between Destiny the whaleshark and Bailey the Beluga are hilarious. The movie has lots of fun voice cameos, my favorite being Sigourney Weaver as the godlike voice of the Ma-rine Life Institute. If this were a movie on it’s own, I would wonder why the filmmakers had chosen a character with such a bizarre, alienating, and incredibly rare condition as their focus, but would have en-joyed the rest of the film for what it had to offer. As a sequel, however, “Dory” makes me worry about the future of Pixar. “Cars 2” was terrible – much worse a film than “Dory,” and “Monsters University,” while cute and fun, was similarly unnecessary. That movie, however, was taking on a different genre – the college comedy, so it works better than this one does. Pixar has an “Incredibles” sequel on the docket, and while my hopes are high that that movie can recapture the magic and enhance the original film, “Do-ry” has left me doubting. Grade: B
“Finding Dory” is rated PG for “mild thematic elements.” Isn’t it odd that the G rating as all but dropped off the map? Did Disney really think that if this movie had a G rating that no one over eight-years-old would go? Mild thematic elements. What movie doesn’t have mild thematic elements?! That’s the very definition of a story. They might as well say “Rated PG for containing a basic plot structure.” Sigh.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.