Thirteen years ago, we received one of Pixar’s finest and most heartfelt films, “Finding Nemo” (2003). On top of its strong emotional depth, beautiful animation and lasting themes, the film featured a cast of fun and eccentric characters — from Bruce the shark and Crush the sea turtle to Nigel the pelican and so many more. However, the film’s most memorable character was arguably Dory, the regal tang with short-term memory loss who helps the main character, Marlin, look for his son Nemo throughout the film.
Now, more than a decade later, the charismatic character is receiving her own film in the new sequel, “Finding Dory.” Pixar may have a reputation for creating some of the best animated films in cinema history, but outside of the “Toy Story” franchise, most of their other follow-ups fall flat. So will “Finding Dory” have the same strong storytelling capabilities as its predecessor, or will it be destined to be among the more lackluster Pixar sequels?
The story takes place one year after the events of “Nemo,” and Dory is now living with Marlin and Nemo. She suddenly begins to get flashbacks of her past and remembers her family, who she lost long ago. Now determined to find them, Dory, Marlin and Nemo all go on another adventure, this time to a marine life research center in California, meeting a cast of new characters and running into some familiar faces along the way.
“Finding Dory” is an exceptional film, especially for a sequel that didn’t need to exist. The film is extremely fast paced and the adventure gets going rather quickly, and there are no scenes that feel like they lag. The brisk pacing allows the audience to follow the story and makes it feel like things are moving cohesively.
I was also very fond of how the character of Dory was treated throughout the film. In most modern-day spin-off follow-ups to animated films that focus solely on the comic relief — such as “Penguins of Madagascar” (2014) and “Minions” (2015) — the comic reliefs that worked so well in the previous films often fell flat due to them not being able to bring enough emotional depth or development to their character. The jokes quickly get old. Here, however, Dory’s short-term memory loss is used both as comic relief and as a way to give her character a real dilemma and self conflict, which was something very refreshing to see in a movie like this.
The scenes where Dory struggles to remember things and must act on her own get surprisingly intense — and are my personal favorite scenes. Ellen DeGeneres returns as the titular character and has not lost her touch in the slightest, turning in a performance that completely gets across Dory’s feelings, but with the same level of childlike innocence that makes her comedic moments work so well. The other new supporting characters are also a lot of fun, with new faces such as Hank the octopus, Destiny the whale shark, and Bailey the beluga whale, bringing loads of laughs and energy to the film. It was also nice to see a sequel that didn’t rely too much on nostalgia to capture its audience. Yes, there are plenty of nods and references to the original film, but these play out much like the “Toy Story” sequels, usually as little gags and jokes for the audience to enjoy but not something that comes off as confusing.
And of course, praising a Pixar movie would be incomplete without mentioning the stunning animation. Even though it doesn’t have the same array of interesting and colorful environments as its predecessor, “Dory’s” visuals and animation are nonetheless jaw-dropping sights to behold, with an attention to detail displayed wonderfully throughout — from the way light shines through the sea to the textures of the fish scales and bird feathers.
With all that said, however, “Finding Dory” still does contain some major problems. While the film’s fast pace may be handled well for the most part, there are some times it works against itself. For example, there are many little moments that open and seem to have some potential for emotional depth but are never revisited, such as Nemo questioning his father about whether they will have to say goodbye to Dory, and Hank’s fear of the ocean. Moments like these could have been great opportunities for character development, but they are too rushed to be explored any further. Some scenes feel like the filmmakers are trying to shove emotions down your throat instead of letting them play out more naturally. Another flaw? Many of the older characters from the previous film were barely used, only amounting to some glorified cameo roles that feel unnecessary to the story at times.
In the end, “Finding Dory” is not as good as its predecessor, lacking the smoother pace, the constant tone and the more natural emotions of the original, but it is still a fine film nonetheless. Containing some fun new characters, stunning animation, exhilarating scenes and a well-executed way of developing Dory’s character, the positives here do outweigh the negatives, and this is a must-watch if you love the original “Finding Nemo.” For a sequel that never needed to be made, there is enough for audiences to still love and take away from “Finding Dory.”
Mikael also offers a look at Pixar’s greatest hits, here.
Mikael Trench, 18, is a rising freshman at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). He is an aspiring filmmaker who specializes in working with stop motion animation. His latest short film, The Tree That Refused To Fall, can be found here.
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