Director: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill
Spoilers Within: Yes
Read my review for Pixar’s short, Piper.
For a while, Pixar’s track record was infallible. From their first feature of anthropomorphised toys to the closing credits of familial superhero caper, they scarcely put a foot wrong. Indeed, even until the release of their biggest cash cow to date – Cars – their ability to wring excitement and compassion from that with which we were immediately familiar (toys, insects, fish) was unrivalled. This showcase of early creativity also formed the basis of the biggest complaints: in light of the studio’s ingenuity and innovation, sequels were very rarely wanted, even when their third feature – Toy Story 2 – arguably proved that they had the potential to make even better follow-ups. This happened with a personal favourite, Monsters, Inc., which gained the functional but cynical Monsters University as a sibling, and Cars is still extending its longevity with a soon-to-be-released third entry, so it was with both apprehension and impassivity that I watched Finding Nemo’s fishy sequel, Finding Dory.
As with each Pixar I’ve disliked or found fault with, I’ve managed to separate myself entirely from it with the understanding that, while some feel as though they’ve been made specifically for me (seriously, stop shitting on The Good Dinosaur ya jerks!), there are others that just aren’t. Take Finding Nemo for a perfectly fitting example: a film that won over most everyone in the Autumn of 2003, but failed to capture my interest even in spite of the imaginative character traits, the thematically relevant set-pieces and the gorgeous depth of colours. Even at 15 I found it lacking, and it sat firmly in the ‘made for kids’ camp that a film about talking toys or slapstick bugs somehow managed to avoid. Worst of all was the ditzy, hyperactive sidekick Dory: a bland, one-note character whose incorporation to Marlin (Albert Brooks)’s quest was tediously convenient. Her zaniness essentially overrode the good spirits I had towards it. My memories of this had mostly been repressed until Pixar’s announcement of a sequel, and of all the characters it had to follow, I was dismayed to find out that they would be following Dory.
I’m not going to say that her character didn’t bother me or irritate me once again because that would be disingenuous, but at least this time – whether it’s because I’ve grown to appreciate this form of characterisation on some level or not – Andrew Stanton actually gave the regal blue tang her own presentable narrative: foolishness and forgetfulness very much included. Like its predecessor, it’s the external cast of passers-by and aides to the primary journey that helped breathe life into the more fleetingly memorable scenes: from a determined mimic octopus‘ attempts at a prison breakout to a near-sighted whale shark and her echolocation-less beluga whale ally teaming up. These respective character arcs are entirely foreseeable but no less diverting. Additionally, the surprises in Dory’s own path are certainly fixed from the get-go (the clues to her parents’ origins notwithstanding), but tonally, these narrative flashbacks and cutesy call-backs to Finding Nemo are perfectly paired.
Stanton and Victoria Strouse’s script gracefully tackles what it’s like to have a child with a disability – in this case short-term memory loss – as Dory’s parents (voiced sensitively by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton) teach her new ways of overcoming her problem (with mnemonics and verse) in order to be able to handle the harshness of the outside (water)world, all the while with patience and respect that only a parent can give. Perhaps my problem with her character in Nemo was that it used her forgetfulness and goofiness as a punchline, fully defined her as the bumbling sidekick that she needn’t have been. Here, it’s treated with complete dignity and tact, and by the films’ end, it’s shown to be more than just a singularity of her personality. We’ve recognised no less from Pixar, and though the wraparound adventure isn’t as substantial as we’ve come to expect, their heart is still very much in the right place.
Time has certainly been on the side of the Finding… story: the advancement in technology and storyboarding techniques meant that where Nemo felt flat in places, Dory succeeds in feeling like a fully fleshed-out world (albeit isolated to a Sea World-type aquarium or a busy freeway), populated with hundreds of sealife, wildlife, and persons alike. In all, Finding Dory is far from a failure – in the studio’s sequel rankings it’s clearly at the top – but when all is said and done, it’s simply a forgettable film that makes it easier to entertain the sentiment that Pixar sequels are unnecessary and – generally – inessential.
But then again, maybe this one was never meant for me.