Movie Review: Finding Dory
By Matthew Huntley
June 22, 2016
Finding Dory is visually rich and narratively engaging. In other words, it's a typical Pixar film, and like most entries from this studio's repository, it's hard to imagine anyone not liking it. Even as I write this review, I struggle to find something about it worth criticizing, other than perhaps it's not up to the level of other Pixar masterpieces like Toy Story 2 and Ratatouille, which had that extra kick of originality.
You might say Finding Dory has the “disadvantage” of being a sequel, but then so was Toy Story 2. The difference is that Finding Dory essentially mirrors its predecessor, Finding Nemo, in terms of story and structure, and therefore it doesn't feel as fresh (whereas Toy Story 2 told a more unique story compared to the original). However, the filmmakers certainly introduce enough differences and new developments between “Nemo” and “Dory” to justify a sequel. So while it may not be a masterpiece, it's still a treasure.
Much of the film's appeal stems from the fact that Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is so enormously likable and endearing. The blue tang fish, who suffers from short-term memory loss, is more than just cute and plucky; the screenwriters have shaped her to be well-rounded and complex, and we become fully immersed in the transformation she undergoes. Yes, her naïveté does make her funny, and her big, bulging eyes and soothing, gentle voice do make her adorable, especially in the flashbacks when we see Dory as a child, but the reason she captivates us is because the filmmakers get us to feel so strongly for the character and see the world from her point of view.
In fact, the film is pretty explicit about empathy. When the story opens, about a year has passed since Dory first met Marlin (Albert Brooks), the level-headed yet chronically anxious clown fish with whom she shared an adventure as they journeyed to find his son, Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Since then, Dory has become an unofficial member of the family because she has none of her own, at least not to her knowledge. One day, Dory accidentally fills in as an assistant school teacher, and this triggers memories from her own childhood. Suddenly, she's recalling her parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy), whom she had all but forgotten, and upon learning their last known whereabouts was California, Dory vows to trek across the ocean to find them, even though Marlin says she's being hasty and reckless. But Dory tells him that along with remembering her parents, she also remembers missing them, and she asks Marlin point blank, “Do you know what that's like?”
This question not only stops Martin in his tracks but also us, because we all know what that's like, and we also know that if we were in Dory's position, we'd probably do the same thing. The film's messages about family bonds and unconditional love are routine and obvious, yes, but they still hit home, and with these strong themes in place, all the conflicts, misadventures and shenanigans that will assuredly take place in later scenes carry more weight because we care such a great deal that Dory reunites with her parents.