Not gonna lie. Finding Dory feels a lot like its predecessor in many ways: the setup, theme, plot development, plot devices, etc. The destination is the same, but the journey isn’t, which is a good thing, since the trailer gave off a strong impression that it’s gonna be Finding Nemo: Take 2, with a lead swap. And although Finding Dory technically is a sequel (it picks up a year after the fateful bump between Dory and Marlin), it’s inherently a spin-off as the story now centered around the Pacific regal blue tang instead of the separated-then-reunited clownfish family.
That’s probably why i wasn’t as wary about it being another disappointing follow-up, because it tells another story that are both similar and different. I don’t think we need to see the original to understand its world that this could very well be a standalone film with familiar characters. If it were a true sequel, however, the story might be as trite as Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) meeting and falling in love with a new female clownfish — no, thanks.
It’s not unusual for wacky side characters to be scene-stealers and thus more popular and beloved than the lead character. It’s not new for once-sidekick to be promoted as the star in its own movie either (see: Minions). Here, the sidekick becomes the lead and vice versa. However, i did worry if Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) could take the lead while being largely absentminded. Her ditziness is mostly hilarious yet can be annoying; that’s her endearing charm. We saw from the first movie how she could remember things better and felt at home with the father-son pair, as well as how lost she was without ’em. Will she even remember what her mission is, if she’s the one that needs finding?
Back in 2003, it was probably the first time i heard about short-term memory loss and was amused by her quirks. Now, 13 long years later and after watching the purported “unforgettable journey she probably won’t remember”, i think that condition isn’t entirely correct. She may forget a lot of things, but she does remember her name and the fact that she has foggy memory. So, selective memory may be a better fit, which is worsened by the fact that she’s easily distracted, because flashes of memory rush back once there’s a trigger. Like how the discussion on home and seeing the undertow remind her that she too has a family which she lost and now misses.
Marlin, who’s a lot more relaxed yet remains neurotic and rather pessimistic, initially opposes Dory’s wish to find her parents but eventually relents as he knows what it feels like to miss one’s family all too well. So, together with Nemo (Hayden Rolence), the trio swim halfway across the ocean to California’s Morro Bay, which doesn’t seem that far as they soon meet the catalyst, Crush the sea turtle, who again transports the travelers to their destination in no time. What ensues is a string of familiar sequence: Dory is caught by a human on a boat, who tags and puts her in a small aquarium, until she’s helped by fellow animals to be reunited with both her real and makeshift families. Marlin and Nemo, on the other hand, also encounter different types of fauna but are eventually helped by another bird to cross the dry land. There are also scary human kids who like to toy with and end up scaring the sea creatures.
Marlin and Nemo may strive to find Dory, but Dory is all about finding her parents, which what it is all about, thus “Finding Dory’s Parents” would make an apter title. The bigger portion of the movie is set inside Marine Life Institute, which believes in “rescue, rehabilitation and release”; as a result, Hank (Ed O’Neill) the grouchy chameleon East Pacific red octopus — err, septopus, since he lost a tentacle — plays a bigger part in accompanying Dory to her home, the Open Ocean Exhibit, in exchange for the tag to Cleveland as he’s too fearful of the wild. Along the way, she meets her childhood friend Destiny the myopic whale shark, which explains her ability to speak whale, and Bailey the beluga with poor echolocation. Nearly every character has some sort of disability but together they make a great if offbeat team, as one’s strengths compensate for the other’s weaknesses.
In the end, we don’t get to see much of Dory’s mom and dad, though we do know how supportive they are of their child. Instead of confining her, they equip her with necessary pointers to guide her home (follow the shells) or survive on her own (just keep swimming). Even when they lost and couldn’t locate her, instead of extreme panicking, they work together to collect as many shells and lay as long a trail so that she can find them. (She did try returning home despite not remembering where she came from, and only a few fish cared to stop or offered to help, until she bumped onto Marlin and completely forgot about the quest.) The sight of the trails branching out in every direction is probably more poignant than the eventual reunion itself. Cuz i can’t help questioning if she never spotted any shell during her wandering all these years?
All in all, Finding Dory offers quite a thrilling and fun adventure with subtle allusions to disabilities and environmental issues. There were a few tender moments, albeit not striking my emotional chord. Is it unforgettable? Maybe not. But it’s more enjoyable (and less scary) than the original. It’s also very kid-friendly — there are body gags though i don’t recall (m)any adult jokes — while entertaining enough for adults. I also appreciate them for giving contexts to Dory’s quirks, which felt natural. This in a way connects it to the predecessor without being dependent on it. If anything, some of its maneuvers were too farcical, at which one really needs to suspend disbelief to find them funny. The ending also felt rather abrupt. Like, i was expecting more family beats, or something else, but no, that’s it.
If Finding Nemo was lauded for its great visuals, Finding Dory certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front — its underwater world is a feast for the eyes. I’ve read some mentioned the opening short clip Piper was even more delightful, and i have to agree. The sandpiper hatchling was ridiculously cute and realistic! Well, the same can be said about little Dory though. The huge pop eyes made her utterly adorable though the disproportion could be freaky — they’re obviously too big for her tiny frame. Nevertheless, suffice to say, it’s a good sequel. And it’s easily one of the best sequels i’ve watched.
Director: Andrew Stanton
Production: Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar, 2016
Cast/Voice talents: Ellen DeGeneres (as Dory), Albert Brooks (Marlin), Hayden Rolence (Nemo), Ed O’Neill (Hank), Diane Keaton (Jenny), Eugene Levy (Charlie), Kaitlin Olson (Destiny), Ty Burrell (Bailey)
Genre: Comedy, Adventure, Family, Animation, CGI
~ stills captured from official trailers at TheEllenShow ~