Our resident animation expert swims to the surface with a review of Finding Dory.
Pixar is undoubtedly a master of the sequel. From its celebrated Toy Story series to Monsters University, the studio has been able to mine its lovable characters for continuing adventures while introducing new ones into the mix which become beloved to audiences as those in the original films.
But something seems missing from Finding Dory, released thirteen years after its predecessor Finding Nemo – certainly, the elements of a good Pixar film are there; the memory-starved but optimistic blue tang Dory and her clownfish companions Marlin and Nemo are all as charming and entertaining as we remember them, and all the lessons about the true meaning of family and learning to cope with perceived impairment by thinking differently are crucial to the story. So what is it that seems amiss here?
|You'd be tasty in some butter and some bread crumbs!!! |
Wait! That's cannibalism!!
Director Andrew Stanton is no stranger to the framework of a good sequel, having co-written and directed several for Pixar. Dory, as a character, has enough emotional weight and depth – and history with viewers who remember her from the first film – to carry her own story, and Ellen DeGeneres again brings her quirky warmth to the plucky little fish’s voice. Unusual among animated characters, Dory is neuroatypical. Her short-term memory loss gives her a different view on herself and the world, and Finding Dory tries to reconcile her feelings of inadequacy in suggesting that she is gifted by her memory disorder – that she is endowed with a special ability to see life in ways others cannot, and this allows her to do things they would never even dream of. Marlin and Nemo, separated from her as she navigates the artificial biomes of the marine institute in which she was born, adopt the mantra “What Would Dory Do?” – and Stanton uses this as a key component in Dory’s character development later on.
This is an interesting approach to storytelling, but it doesn’t work as well as it might have, given greater depth to the new characters we meet along the way. The character designs, gorgeously animated sequences so typical of Pixar, and stellar voiceover work by the likes of Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson and Ty Burrell especially are wonderful – but they don’t bring us close enough to the new cast additions for us to truly get to know them. Most of the new characters we meet here are out of Dory’s past – so we can only know them as she does, and react to them as she interacts with her associations with and memories of them. Even the gruff, abrasive octopus, Hank – played by O’Neill with stern detachment undercut with barely detectable agreeableness – does not give us much to work with. He is a plot device, and unlike so many of Pixar’s most memorable characters, does not seem to serve much other purpose although the animation for his movement, as a seven-legged octopus (or, as Dory christens him, ‘septapus’) who is able to camouflage himself with perfect chameleon-like color changes is brilliant and provides much comedic relief.
|Why do these little fish get all the attention! It's time for an Octopus flick!!!|
I wonder if James Bond is available.......hmmmmm....OCTOPUSSY!!!
Ultimately, Stanton creates a warm little family tale of accepting the differing abilities of loved ones, learning to cope with a neurodiverse worldview that forces one to think differently and adapt to the unexpected aptitudes it presents, and discovering that “family” and “home” are not simply where one comes from. Darker elements of these themes are brushed upon very gently, as a little blue fish might crest a wave without leaving too many ripples; ultimately, the lessons Dory learns, we suspect she really already knew by the close of Finding Nemo. In fact, the most promising character development may actually be Marlin’s – Albert Brooks voices the still-edgy clownfish with far less anxiousness than he carried in the first film, but as he is confronted with the depth of his connection to Dory and realizes that his refusal to allow her to begin understanding how to take care of herself, he has a kind of miniature epiphany that, we believe, will change how he treats her in the future.
Dory herself has no such realization, since her focus is first on her past, as she recognizes that she lost her family long ago and desperately misses them, then on her memory loss and how she must learn to use her unique way of thinking to solve her problems on her own. She fleshes herself out here as the star of the journey, but as delightful a character as Dory is, and as much as we would like to be as fully immersed in her story as we were when Nemo went missing, the story just doesn’t give us the chance.
Clever, certainly, and endearing as any other Pixar blockbuster, Finding Dory will strike certain chords and warm hearts at the right times. But even when we find Dory, there is still enough missing by the close of the film that we wonder if we ought not to continue looking.
[Finding Dory is accompanied by a Pixar theatrical short, Piper, in which a young sandpiper chick being taught to find food on the beach overcomes its fear of being swept out to sea with the help of some unexpected, and rather adorable, little companions. ]