Movie Review: Finding Dory

By Ben Gruchow

June 23, 2016

Have you seen an octopus anywhere?

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The ocean never looked as textured and endless and colorful as it did in the world that Andrew Stanton conceived for 2003’s Finding Nemo; a direct sequel would have been worth it on the basis of the visuals alone. The story’s emotional punch wears a little thin over time, at least in the mind; in the moment and viewed with the film, it still works just fine - more so for the arc of Ellen DeGeneres’s Dory and her moment of emotional catharsis than for the nominal main storyline about Albert Brooks’ Marlin and his son, Nemo.

DeGeneres and Brooks both return for Finding Dory (Hayden Rolence plays Nemo, instead of Alexander Gould), and the conflict and situation that sets up this sequel’s storyline with Dory is layered and nuanced in a way that the first movie mostly avoided: absent the quest storyline, the question mark of living day-to-day with a persistent disability that goes on the offensive of the same part of you that tries to understand it, and the effect it has on family and friends. The movie doesn’t exactly background this, either. Right from the opening scene, featuring a young Dory’s parents balancing playtime with the knowledge that letting her out of their sight possibly equivocates losing her forever, the rumination on these story elements is etched deeply into the fabric of the film. This sets up the first of two or three brutally evocative passages in the film; young Dory gets separated from her parents by unexplained means, goes to find them, and we see her reach out to others again and again with the same question - even after she forgets who or what it is she’s looking for. This is disquieting, poignant material, and it’s as strong a curtain-raiser as we could hope for.


These elements are introduced, explored a little bit, and then left to their own devices; we are yoked back gently into the world of a sequel to a blockbuster film. This is never more apparent than in the graceless and arbitrary fashion in which the film transitions from the opening with young Dory into a (very) brief recap of the introduction scene between Dory and Marlin from Nemo, and then flashes forward a year to the era of the story proper. This last is done as a tossed-off kind of screen fade, as Dory leads Marlin into the distance. It’s not true that Finding Dory never whiffs to varying degrees on finding the proper rhythm or tone, but none are quite as arbitrary, nor as rude in their awakening: it’s time for the intrinsic character development to come to an end, and the purpose of a movie titled “Finding Dory” to begin asserting itself.

That purpose takes the form of another quest, although one different in execution and duration. This one is more of a mystery: during the course of what is more or less a normal day, Dory finds herself suddenly remembering flashes of memories, most of them about her parents. One memory in particular sticks out, a location (similar to her remembrance of Wallabe Way in Sydney); bent on finding her family again, and with Marlin and Nemo in tow, she sets off to do so.

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