Review – Finding Dory (2016)

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by Old King Clancy

The news of Finding Dory didn’t initially sit well with me. Finding Nemo was one of Pixar’s all-time best efforts, with a story that nicely wrapped up everything it had to. Putting Dory at the forefront ran the risk of overselling a supporting role, plus until Inside Out came along, Pixar hadn’t been hitting the heights they usually do. Coming out, I have to admit this is a fine follow-up that manages to make Dory a main character without stretching her too thin, but it comes up lacking compared to the first film.

Set six months after Finding Nemo, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) has moved in with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and is content for the most part, even though her short term memory loss is still an issue. When Dory suddenly has a memory of her parents, she takes it upon herself to return home – or rather where she thinks home is – and find them. With Nemo and a reluctant Marlin in tail, the group make their way to California to find Dory’s parents.

The trip to California isn’t an issue, but when they arrive Dory is picked up by marine biologists and taking to the quarantine zone of a Marine Park where she meets up with octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill). Realising that she was born in the park, Dory teams up with Hank to make her way through the exhibits to find her parents. Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo try to find a way inside the park in order to get Dory back before she’s found and transported to Cleveland with the park’s other Blue Tangs.

As stories go, this one is a little too small, especially when compared to the ocean-spanning adventure of the first film. It is a personal film, with Dory’s search for her home and her parents being the backbone of the plot and her learning to live with her disability providing good depth to work alongside it. But since the majority of the film is spent inside the park the scope is much smaller this time around, and this leads to a much smaller film. It’s not bad and there’s plenty of great Pixar moments, but it feels like there was less for them to work with.

The same can be said for the characters, in fact; where the original had a plethora of memorable supporting roles from the likes of the Tank Gang, Bruce The Shark, Crush the Turtle (who does make a nice cameo return here) and Nigel the Pelican, there felt like a lot fewer this time around with a lot less to do. Fluke & Rudder (Idris Elba and Dominic West making a nice Wire reunion) are a pair of lazy sea lions who have their moments – but aren’t all that important. Dory’s friend Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) is a near-sighted whale shark who has a big heart but also a big bump on her head from crashing into everything, while her neighbour Bailey (Ty Burrell) is a beluga whale with a broken echolocation and a chip on his shoulder. Both do have good parts to play and are funny – Olson especially makes Destiny a very endearing character – but neither meet the level of Pixar greatness that’s to be expected.

One who does is Hank, an ill-tempered Octopus – with seven legs – who was scheduled to be released back into the ocean but didn’t want to due to a lot of bad memories. He teams up with Dory because Dory had a tag that put her on the truck to Cleveland and agrees to help her in exchange for the tag. Initially it feels like Hank is repeating Marlin’s role in the first film: someone who doesn’t fully understand Dory’s condition and gets angry at her before realising how much of a good friend she is. However, Hank grows into his own character by allowing O’Neill to channel his Al Bundy-Ness for the first part before growing Hank into a genuine friend and ally to Dory, even if he doesn’t want to admit that he cares for her. The two make a nice double-act in the finale which makes their growth together worth watching.

Marlin and Nemo return, with Brooks jumping right back into Marlin’s overprotective nature and Nemo being the same adventurous little scamp he always was. Both do a good job, but since this is Dory’s film they’re given little to do whilst the film waits for Dory to hit the correct points in the narrative. Other than a fountain sequence both Marlin and Nemo feel a little too disconnected to the main storyline, which is a shame because Marlin realizing that he’s been underestimating Dory and their friendship is one of the betters parts of the film that could’ve used more work.

Where the film works best is in allowing Dory to take centre-stage without feeling like she’s been pushed beyond her limits. It’s a nasty habit of sequels to place the comic relief into the role of the main character (see American Wedding, Hangover 3 and Cars 2 for reference) only to have way too much screen time of a character that’s best in small doses. Dory works because while she is a funny character, she also has an emotional core thanks to DeGeneres’ spot-on voice work. Dory’s main trait is still her optimism and her eternally friendly nature, which bypass the inherent pain of her short-term memory, making it difficult to get annoyed by her.

Brilliantly, though, by making this Dory’s story the film is able to give Dory an emotional centre which comes into play several times throughout the film, particularly in a few self-aware moments where Dory can’t remember something but remembers the emotions and tries to pin it to something that just keeps slipping her mind. Her short term memory is arguably the biggest antagonist of the film and Dory learning not only to accept her shortcomings, but to overcome them gives the film its signature Pixar-ness. It’s a great turn for one of Pixar’s best characters and what manages to keep the film going smoothly rather than feeling like a desperate cash-grab.

Direction-wise this is a little bit of a let-down following Nemo, mostly because it feels like it follows too many of the same beats but on a much smaller scale. There feels like a great chunk missing as the trip to California is over in about 10 seconds thanks to Turtle Power, and yes this is to allow more time at the park but it’s a very noticeable time chunk. From there we face another Monster of the Gloom chase through a sunken ship – combining the Bruce and Angler Fish sequences into one – which is swiftly followed by a talk with The Voice (a pretty hilarious vocal cameo) and it’s right into the park.

The park does have some strong moments – a race through the park in a stroller is a funny, Indiana Jones-style ride which leads right into a surprisingly intense scene in a touch pool, but the limited scale does kill it in the middle act and doesn’t pick up again until a wild final act. Now maybe that is unfair; maybe since this story is a lot more focused towards Dory it didn’t need a bigger scope since this was a personal journey rather than a literal one, but that scope was one of the best things about the first film – it was this huge, sprawling adventure with a wide variety of locations and environments so comparatively this one comes up short.

That applies to the animation as well, and don’t take that as criticism; the film looks amazing as always – though admittedly the Piper short film before it looked a lot better – but the whole thing goes back to it being stuck inside the park – there’s very little variety which means that while the individual elements look great – Hank is particularly nice with his camouflage technique – on the whole the park soon loses its appeal and we’re left just waiting for the next scene to come along, which isn’t how it should be with a Pixar film.

As much fun as Finding Dory is, and while it is one of the better sequels Pixar have done in the last while, they’re still struggling at parts. The story is there and Dory is a strong enough character to have a film revolve around her, but the sprawling adventurous spirit and the emotional depth of the first film are lost here, leading to a much smaller and less exciting picture. It’s a fine movie and a good follow-up but the short-comings keep it from reaching the perfection of its predecessor.

3.5 hairpieces out of 5.

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