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‘Finding Dory’ Just Keeps Swimming And Entertaining Audiences (Movie Review)

finding dory banner 2Sink or swim, many studios like to test audiences on whether or not they can get too much of a good thing. While Pixar had made quite a name for itself already, Finding Nemo came along in 2003 and really cemented the studio as the best in the business at that time. Thirteen years later we have the sequel, Finding Dory, which is incredibly entertaining, but also arriving at a time when Pixar is more focused on proving it can continue to be as good as it ever was. A follow up to Nemo may not have been necessary, but there is much to enjoy in what we get to see in this aquatic world.

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FINDING DORY

Set a year after the events of Finding Nemo, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is given the spotlight as her short term memory condition becomes a key element in the plot. With some sudden memories of losing her parents, she decides to go on a mission to find them. Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) come along as well and the three meet a whole bunch of new characters at the Monterey Marine Life Institute, which appears to be where Dory is from (and a completely non-evil sanctuary created for the benefit of rehabilitating and releasing aquatic life).

Credit goes to director/co-writer Andrew Stanton and co-writer Victoria Strouse for doing a lot to keep the film from resembling the first in terms of structure. There are certain beats that feel familiar, but for the most part we are seeing a new adventure that has clear objectives and allows for an evolving dynamic between the different characters. It comes at a cost of feeling a bit more episodic, but more on that later.

Of the new characters, Ed O’Neill’s Hank, the ill-tempered octopus, is a standout. With a missing tentacle, a fear of the open water and a neat camouflage ability, there was clearly a lot of thought put into developing a new, memorable character that could still be enjoyed differently from the others. Fun is also had from Kaitlin Olson as Destiny, a vision-impaired whale shark, and Ty Burrell as Bailey, a beluga whale developing his awesome senses. Oh and the film gets plenty of mileage out of two lazy sea lions voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West, making for a fine reunion of characters from The Wire.

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With these new characters and a unique setting that gets plenty of humor out of the gag involving the celebrity guest who announces the various exhibits and motto of the park, does that make this sequel something special? To a degree, sure it does. Pixar is in the weird spot where its first sequel, Toy Story 2, was far better and successful than expected. Almost by default, it now seems that Pixar’s success with that sequel (let alone their films in general) should mean all of their sequels should be special. That doesn’t quite hold up (Cars 2), but making a follow-up to Finding Nemo means there will be a higher level of expectation.

All of this is to say that Finding Dory was not necessarily a sequel that needed to be made, but the effort is clearly there to make a film that entertains as much as possible and in all the ways Pixar is known for. There are plenty of laughs to be had, given all the clever touches that stem from real life, both visually and through dialogue. The film is also a gorgeous piece of animation, which almost goes without saying, but still deserves mention. And there seems to be a need for the emotional pull.

Given that Dory is the main character this time around, the film creates a parallel between her character and what it means for parents to raise children with special needs. This is not a slight in anyway, but an examination of the flashbacks that setup the film and are peppered in throughout. If the first film was a look at what it means to provide a level of distance between a parent and a child, despite the resulting search and rescue mission that ensues, this is the film that will attempt to bring out the tears by pushing forward the notion of what lengths families sometime have to go to keep themselves together.

Suffice it to say the emotional material works. It does not hit quite as hard as any of the Pixar films that most identify with as the ones that really make them cry (I’m speaking to Toy Story 2 once again, let alone something obvious like Up or Inside Out), but the film has its properly affecting moments nonetheless. I guess I just wish the rest of the film could live up to its predecessor in some way.

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With Finding Nemo sitting high as one of my absolute favorite Pixar films, Dory was always going to be in a tough spot, as far as topping it. This doesn’t take away from the film being solid overall, but there is less wonder this time around and the film comes up lacking as far as some of the more clever conversations are concerned, compared to the first film. As I said, the narrative ends up feeling a bit more episodic, as plot momentum tends to stop and start. There is nothing egregiously bad here whatsoever, but sometimes it’s just clear that I’m not responding with over-the-moon praise for one thing, as I do with another.

The prospect of a sequel to Finding Nemo was met with a level of excitement from me, but I had a tough time thinking that exact same magic could be replicated. Taking the first film out of the equation, however, Finding Dory is perfectly enjoyable for pretty much anyone. It is stunning to watch, consistently funny and engaging and not afraid to delve a little deeper into the issues had by such an innocent character. I am greatly looking forward to more original projects form Pixar, but if their sequels can at least match films like this, it is very hard to complain, rather than just keep swimming and enjoying what I see.

[Note: The short that precedes the film, Piper, is excellent. Also, be sure to stay to the end of the credits for Finding Dory.]

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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