Note: When I was offered to review Finding Dory for Geekster as a guest writer, the only message I kept repeating in my head was “I GET TO SEE DORY. I GET TO SEE DORY”, not fully realising that once it was over, I’d have to sit down and write an actual review with no real writing experience. Haha. YOLO.
Okay, truth time: I’m a huge Pixar fan, but when Finding Dory was first announced on The Ellen DeGeneres Show all the way back in 2013, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t experiencing my usual enthusiasm nosebleeds.
I was doubtful. The cynical parts of me wondered if this movie was being made for the right reasons and not as a return-to-former-glory for director Andrew Stanton, (who just came off his first venture into live-action, the yawnfest that was John Carter) or a guaranteed trip to the bank for Pixar. It’s not like they’re saints: Cars 3 is in production right now, and don’t you dare tell me that movie is being made for any other reason than to sell more merchandise.
Finding Dory is not a sequel we needed or explicitly asked for (unlike one for Brad Bird’s The Incredibles. 2019 can’t come soon enough!), as Finding Nemo wrapped everything up nicely and provided each main and supporting characters’ story arc with a satisfying conclusion. Sure, some questions about Dory’s own past were left unanswered, but that’s part of the fun; filling in the gaps yourself. It’s like the mystery of what Darth Vader was like when he was you…oh, right…unfortunate…hm. Dory! She found a home, she found a family and the stability and support she needed to deal with her short-term memory loss.
Once the trailers started rolling out, I was still a bit doubtful if there was a story worth telling, but the movie looked to be a very enjoyable ride… and I’m glad and so relieved to tell you that it was. It really was.
The untold story of Finding Dory
The story picks up one year after the events of Finding Nemo. Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is very much content spending her days in the reef with her new family Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence, replacing Alexander Gould who is probably a baritone by now). That is until a field trip with Mr. Ray (Bob Peterson) triggers lost memories of her parents and a vague hint of where she came from: The Jewel of Morro Bay, California.
After convincing a hesitant Marlin, the gang sets out on another grand aquatic trek to locate her missing parents. Unlike the first movie, however, which was an epic road trip across the ocean to get to Sydney, Finding Dory gets the trekking part out of the way in the first 20 minutes or so, and we quickly wind up at the final destination at The Jewel of Morro Bay, where most of the movie takes place. Morro Bay turns out to be a marine life institute/ park that – unlike SeaWorld – takes care of wounded aquatic life to release them back into the ocean. (Pixar changed the nature of the marine park mid-production after the release of the controversial Blackfish documentary.) Once arrived, a distracted Dory gets lured into to the park by the soothing voice of Sigourney Weaver, (playing herself in a very amusing cameo as the park’s announcer) and is captured and taken into the institute, which leaves Marlin and Nemo trying to get in to find their friend.
Marlin and Nemo take a backseat in this movie and are delegated to supporting characters who have very little more to do but set up gags and get from point A to B.
They have no real story arcs to conquer, but that’s not a bad thing, because let’s not forget that this movie is all about Dory and the search for her parents.
Okay, back to Dory. Once inside the institute, Dory teams up with Hank the Octopus (Ed O’Neill) – OMG I LOVE HANK, but more on him in a bit. He agrees to help her find her parents in exchange for a tag that gets him transferred to another park instead of being released back into the ocean, a place he’d rather not go back to. Bad vibes.
From that moment on, the movie kicks into higher gear as Dory and Hank make their way through the park guided by locations and events that trigger memories, constantly answering questions and replacing them with new ones.
Pixar and my love for Hank
It’s a hilarious and thrilling ride that blends adventure, comedy, prison break, highway pursuit and much more all into one, all with a very Pixar-y emotional core. I’ll freely admit I got teary-eyed during several scenes… but I’m still not entirely sure if that is because it really worked or because I almost didn’t make it to the press screening on time and had to skip breakfast.
When I saw the trailer, I fully expected Gerald (Torbin Xan Bullock), the goofy-looking sea lion, to be my new favorite character. I was so prepared to turn this review into a love letter solely for Gerald if the movie turned out to be a dud. Alas, Gerald is only half as funny in the movie as he was in the trailers, since the creators decided to provide him with grunts and noises which can best be described as ‘the late Peter Lorre during the act of love’, which takes away some of his deadpan charm.
Hank the Octopus, however – actually not an octopus but a septopus, as Dory points out, since he only has 7 limbs – has replaced Gerald as my (and your) new favorite character. The crew at Pixar clearly had a blast with this character and his ability to camouflage provides some of the best visual gags. I love Hank. There are about a dozen or so other characters worth mentioning, but I already feel I’m giving away too much of the story as it is, so I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own. I hope you like cute fluffy things!
Compared to Finding Nemo
To nobody’s surprise, the movie is a visual marvel and the technical and artistic talent at Pixar give us a more refined and perhaps a bit more stylized version of Nemo’s world. Hyperrealism 2.0.
Nevertheless, it did seem a bit odd to me that among all its visual glory and technological advances, the reef that was so abundant with life in the first movie now seemed to be inhabited solely by the main characters, Mr. Ray and a bunch of aquatic schoolkids. It’s like they forgot to turn on the fish layer; what gives, Pixar? Seriously. While this was probably done to keep the focus on what really matters, it felt more as if Richard from the Extras departement took the day off.
The one aspect that slightly disappointed me was the score by Thomas Newman. While a perfectly enjoyable continuation of his briliant work for Nemo, there are no standout pieces or memorable themes that you’ll find yourself humming afterwards at the most unexpected of times. The score to Finding Nemo has become part of a generation’s musical movie DNA, but I doubt that Dory will have the same lasting effect. Kudos to the awesome rendition of “Unforgettable” by Sia that plays over the credits, though.
If Finding Nemo was quite literally about finding a person, Finding Dory is more about the titular character’s internal search of who she is and where she came from. Finding Nemo was rooted in director Andrew Stanton’s childhood memories, his personal experiences as a father and how he struggled with being overprotective of his own son. From what I can tell, Stanton doesn’t suffer from short-term memory loss, and while this less personal touch can be felt, he has once again proven to be a great storyteller and has crafted a satisfying and dynamic experience with co-director Angus MacLane, whose particular sense of comedy shines throughout the entire movie.
Bonus: Finding Dory is preceded by a short called Piper by first-time director and longtime Pixar animator Alan Barillaro. It’s the best and most memorable short Pixar has produced in quite a while. That’s all you need to know. It’s gorgeous and it’s extremely cute. Enjoy!
While I wouldn’t call Dory a complete triumph, it is most definitely a worthy successor nearly on par with the near impossibly high standard Pixar set with the Toy Story sequels. Those movies managed to improve on the original in almost every single way. It’s hard to top Nemo, but this is the next best thing. It’ll be a classic for generations to come. I loved it. You will too.
Pro-tip: don’t leave the theater once the credits start rolling if you love “Where’s Waldo”.