It’s hard to fathom a time when talk show sensation, Ellen DeGeneres wasn’t a household name, but such was the era before Pixar’s Finding Nemo in 2003, a year when DeGeneres simultaneously launched her beloved talk show, and voiced one of the most beloved Pixar characters of all time, forgetful blue tang fish, Dory. Similar to Ellen herself, Dory is a textbook example of a square peg finding her niche, which likely explains why she has one of the largest followings of any Pixar personality, despite not even being the main character in the movie that she appeared in.
It might come as no surprise then that Finding Dory, the long overdue sequel to Finding Nemo, shifts the main protagonist role away from Marlin and Nemo, who are now supporting characters, and instead crafts a new adventure centering entirely around a mission for Dory. This is the third time that Pixar has attempted to re-center a feature film sequel on a supporting character, after 2011’s Mater-focused Cars 2, and 2013’s Monsters Inc. prequel, Monsters University pushing Sully into the background for a higher focus on Mike (Toy Story 2 somewhat shifted focus to Buzz Lightyear over Woody, but Woody still played a large key role in the plot), and on both of the previous occasions, it did result in an inferior movie, and one that had the aftertaste of feeling like a forced follow-up.
Surprisingly though, Finding Dory seems to defy that pattern, being a Pixar sequel that not only feels worthy and organic in terms of following the spirit and appeal of the original Finding Nemo, even an arduously long thirteen years later (though only one year has passed in these movies’ timeline), but is actually comparable to, and possibly even slightly superior to its predecessor! Finding Nemo was already a pretty superb movie, and a tough act to follow, but Finding Dory manages to craft a follow-up adventure that is simultaneously very enjoyable, very emotional, very funny, and all around very satisfying, especially for those who already took to Dory’s character in the previous movie. This easily has Finding Dory in the running to be one of this Summer’s top family-friendly crowd-pleasers, being immensely appealing for both children and adults, and whether or not you or your children have seen Finding Nemo, this is a big screen escapade that really shouldn’t be missed!
Obviously, considering the title, a huge part of this sequel’s focus is on Dory, rather than Marlin and Nemo, who are more or less the same personalities that they were in Finding Nemo. Marlin and Nemo are still enjoyable characters, and still lend themselves to pretty enjoyable goofs and misadventures in this sequel, but the movie nonetheless manages to craft a heartfelt, trying arc for Dory that feels appropriately faithful to the spirit of Marlin’s struggles in the previous movie, yet also firmly carves out its own unique direction.
As you can imagine, Dory can be annoying to be around in high doses, due to her short-term memory loss that constantly has her forgetting even basic things that she learned a moment ago. She more or less lives with Marlin and Nemo after the events of the original movie, where she helps out as a teaching assistant in Nemo’s classes, but after one such lesson triggers a memory of her family, Dory becomes obsessed with discovering what happened to her missing parents, whom she suddenly recalls. The movie does a great job of highlighting Dory’s unique condition without ever being mean-spirited or heavy-handed, even when it doesn’t sugarcoat how frustrating she can be to be around. This smart writing, combined with Ellen DeGeneres’ predictably fantastic performance, marks a protagonist shift that actually feels very fitting and appropriate in this follow-up, rather than a forced device to try and separate this movie from its predecessor.
Beyond Marlin and Nemo, you’ll see a few cameos from returning characters of Finding Nemo, such as Crush the turtle and Mr. Ray the stingray (a post-credits scene will also show a few more veteran personalities for fans of the original movie), though most of the personalities in Finding Dory are entirely new. This goes beyond Dory’s parents, Jenny and Charlie, voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy, respectively, and also includes sea creatures from the gang’s trip to the Marine Life Institute of California, such as near-sighted whale shark, Destiny, voiced by Kaitlin Olson, and hypochondriac beluga whale, Bailey, voiced by Ty Burrell. These characters are naturally simple, and largely exist as ways to service Dory’s backstory and mission, though a character given significantly larger bearing is Hank, voiced by Ed O’Neill, a cranky East Pacific Red Octopus that is desperate to take Dory’s place in being shipped to a quiet aquarium in Cleveland, and is thus begrudgingly helping her find her family. Hank is arguably one of the best and funniest personalities in the movie, and O’Neill’s vocal performance fits his character remarkably well. Hank’s unlikely friendship with Dory quickly becomes infectious, and his camouflage ability is a great asset for both the adventure and the comedy throughout the movie.
As much as the entire cast of the movie is very lovable however, Ellen DeGeneres really anchors the whole production as Dory, and she beautifully rises to the challenge of headlining her own sequel. Dory is a character that is complex, charming and earnest, and even young kids will easily be able to appreciate her tenacious desire to find where she belongs in an increasingly frightening world that never seems to truly embrace her. The message of courage and self-assurance in Finding Dory is a strong and heartwarming one for both kids and adults, and its protagonist somehow becomes even more appealing when the spotlight is fully on her.
Finding Dory could have easily been a phoned-in sequel, but as is usual for Pixar, they go the extra mile with even a follow-up plot, or at least attempt to. Fortunately, Finding Dory succeeds where Monsters University and especially Cars 2 tended to stumble, making this the most fitting and satisfying sequel story that Pixar has delivered since Toy Story 2, and Toy Story 3 for that matter. Like the Toy Story follow-ups, Finding Dory strikes the exact right balance between familiarity and novelty, forging a new storyline that effectively stands on its own, while also building upon plot elements that were introduced in passing in the original movie, as well as a fan-favourite personality that was formerly in a supporting role.
The sensibilities of the adventure are somewhat reversed this time, as Finding Dory is on a directionless journey for something that may not be there, rather than the more straightforward, urgent journey for the missing Nemo that originally founded Finding Nemo, but this has Finding Dory taking the welcome opportunity to get smaller and more personal, rather than trying to outdo the large scale of Finding Nemo. This makes for a sequel that is given an extra helping of character, but one that still has a storyline that hits the appropriate beats for all audiences. Dory’s journey is rife with emotional highs and lows, and while there’s only a couple of moments that truly threaten to move you to tears (though many laughs will certainly come easily!), an immense sense of heart is still behind every element of the story. You’ll want Dory to succeed, and you’ll be invested in her journey, even if there’s still the unshakable feeling that everything will ultimately be fine, and that the kid-friendly optimism pervading the tone is inevitably going to undermine any attempt made at honest uncertainty in Dory’s quest.
Andrew Stanton returns to the director’s chair for Finding Dory, even so many years after he helmed the original Finding Nemo in 2003, this time with some directing assistance from Angus MacLane. a Pixar animator who previously helmed some of the Toy Story shorts. This inevitably means that Finding Dory holds true to the spirit and feel of its predecessor, even as it experiments with a more intimate, personal plot direction for Dory, and even if this sequel doesn’t replicate the grand journey from Finding Nemo, it still compensates with lots of well-realized sequences that are both funny and emotional.
As with Pixar’s many talented core directors, Stanton is effortlessly able to move between raucous laughs, stirring drama, nagging suspense, and even tongue-in-cheek horror, without missing a beat. Even with a smaller-scale journey this time, Stanton still creates an adventure that feels worthy and exciting for Dory, with some of the best scenes being moments that effectively play with the scale of humans in contrast to sea life. Since most of Finding Dory takes place at a Marine Life Institute, where researchers and everyday people go to interact with sea creatures that are either in captivity, or being healed and rehabilitated from sickness and injury, a few of these especially entertaining sequences work with the fish and other creatures trying to proceed on as the carefree humans go about their day, leading to a great sense of imposing terror for Dory and friends, which looks humourously benign from the outside.
Even with those fun, ambitious scenes though, Stanton never loses the heart driving the movie. Dory still holds everything together, even as she, Marlin and Nemo are trying to navigate the tricks and hazards of the Institute. The lovable main presence of Dory is what makes everything worth caring about so much, and that makes this novel, creatively inspired sequel shine all the more. The direction does come apart a wee bit in the final minutes, since the movie feels like it has to shoehorn a brief epilogue that somewhat disturbs the momentum of everything, but this is only a few minutes long, and at least it does lead into some funny credits and post-credits sequences that are worth waiting for.
Composer, Thomas Newman returns again for Finding Dory, after scoring Finding Nemo, and once again, he lends a music suite to Finding Dory that is fun and effectively chipper. The music compositions have changed a bit, to reflect a more aimless, absent-minded style, fitting the personal journey of Dory more so than the grand quest of Marlin from the previous movie, but they’re still true to the feel of the first movie overall. This is another fine example of an appropriate and well-crafted animated movie soundtrack, and one that mercifully doesn’t rely on tiresome, quickly-dated pop tunes (even if Sia does sing an end credits song, “Unforgettable”, likely due to her real-life friendship with Ellen DeGeneres), and it’s a soundtrack that Disney and Pixar enthusiasts will probably want to add to their music collection.
The rest of the audio work is also very well-done, especially in the scenes that make use of the larger human characters interacting with the sea creatures. These audio-driven scenes are at their best in the handful of IMAX 3D showings that were spread out here and there in a few larger cities, though even in regular digital screenings, Finding Dory still feels fitting and immersive in terms of its underwater audio and great range of imposing and engaging sound work.
Finding Dory’s visual direction is obviously a lot more detailed than Finding Nemo’s, even though that was certainly a very impressive animated production for 2003. A lot of time has passed since Finding Nemo hit theatres though, which allows Finding Dory to add extra details to the fish scales and complexion, more immersive underwater motions and physics, and overall, a whole lot of little environmental and character touches that effectively capture the superior animation tools that are now at Pixar’s disposal in contrast to 2003. Finding Dory’s animation doesn’t quite compare to an all-new original production like the previous The Good Dinosaur in terms of its visual design, likely due to following up an animated movie from 2003, but it’s still a great-looking Pixar movie that is vibrant and eye-catching, and both kids and adults will find it very appealing to watch.
While only a handful of select cities and theatres got IMAX 3D showings of Finding Dory, likely due to Disney not usually releasing Pixar movies for IMAX theatres, most theatres still offer regular digital 3D options to go along with the flat 2D screenings. As with most Pixar movies, the 3D presentation in Finding Dory is nothing hugely special, and those who prefer to watch movies flat in 2D can easily do without it, but the 3D elements are a cut above many Pixar productions here. The underwater atmosphere does become a tad more immersive in the 3D cut, as do a few visual gags, which is a small, but solid addition that 3D movie enthusiasts will find to be worth the few extra dollars for a 3D ticket.
After just barely managing to push the compromised final product of The Good Dinosaur out last November, Finding Dory once again has Pixar seemingly fully back on track. The studio has finally figured out a sublime way to re-focus an overdue sequel on a former supporting character, and the result is an adventure that feels fresh and emotionally satisfying, even as it echoes some of the familiar flavour of its predecessor.
A lot of this is obviously due to Dory herself, who remains one of Pixar’s finest creations. Dory’s journey is put together with no shortage of inspiration, never once dragged down by the long gap between Finding Dory and its predecessor, Finding Nemo. Not only that, but Ellen DeGeneres wonderfully makes Dory worthy of the sequel’s spotlight on a very personal level, adding a distinct, but similarly powerful emotional weight to a character-defining adventure as Marlin’s original journey from 2003.
Again, even if you somehow haven’t seen Finding Nemo yet, Finding Dory still comes highly recommended as a priority Summer movie this year, for audiences of all ages. Beyond a few small callbacks to the original adventure, Finding Dory also stands confidently on its own, not necessitating any knowledge of its predecessor, especially when its lead character is so charming and lovable. If you already saw and fell in love with Finding Nemo however, Finding Dory feels like an even more uplifting adventure with very potent themes of bravery and self-acceptance. In spite of its main character’s affliction, this is a Pixar offering that you won’t forget, nor will you ever want to!
- DeGeneres continues to excellently portray Dory in a lead role
- Great story that honours its predecessor while standing confidently on its own
- Supporting characters expertly balance fun, emotion, heart and urgency
- Final minutes lose a bit of momentum