My Rating: 8 out of 10
The long awaited sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo is finally here and, after 13 years, it did not disappoint! Finding Dory was funny, emotional, and, as usual, showed off Pixar’s ability to craft beautifully animated worlds and highly crafted stories. Like most recent Pixar films, this one also had a message that the writers wanted to get across to the audience, which I will discuss in more detail later in the review. While there are plenty of great things to say about Finding Dory, there were also some minor issues that prevented it from being quite as iconic as its predecessor.
Finding Dory takes place exactly one year after the events of Finding Nemo. After a heartbreaking introduction showing Dory’s childhood and loving parents (whom she loses and forgets due to her memory problems), we see how her seemingly aimless ocean wanderings lead her to meet Marlin at the beginning of Finding Nemo. During a school trip, Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) remembers bits of her past including her family and decides to set out on a journey to find them. She asks Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and Nemo (voiced by Hayden Rolence) to accompany her, so the three of them cross the ocean to California, only for Dory to be captured by volunteers at the Marine Life Institute. Nemo and Marlin must find a way to rescue their friend, while she learns more about her family through returning memories and interactions with other animals in the aquarium.
The layout of Finding Dory is extremely similar to Finding Nemo, but with its own unique challenges and characters. In the first film, Marlin was a parent searching for his son. In this film, Dory is a child searching for her parents. While absolutely hilarious and adorable, the film also takes on the serious topic of disabilities (both mental and physical). Dory goes from being a goofy, forgetful character to a complex individual with a severe learning disability and a heartbreaking backstory. On top of this, the transition of Dory’s character was done seamlessly. Many of her Dory-isms from Finding Nemo are explained in this film as if Finding Dory had been in the works from the very beginning.
Before I get into how the film explored the topic of disability or the parts of the film that made it less iconic than its predecessor, I wanted to talk about a few things that made Finding Dory really special. Of course, it goes without saying that the animation was incredible. The short played before the beginning of the film (Piper) showed just how intricate and picturesque modern animation can be. The characters in the actual film are not as lifelike as the birds in Piper, but scenes such as the stingray migration and the inside of the aquarium show just how far Pixar has come in terms of animation skill since the first Toy Story film.
This film also had a number of great new side characters that helped to break up the Dory storyline and add some comic relief while driving home the core messages. In particular, Hank the Octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neill, who plays Jay on Modern Family) was a great addition to the cast and had his own character arc. The three seals, the two whales, and Becky the bird were all hilarious and interesting characters that made Finding Dory more exciting and prevented it from being all about Dory, which could have gotten redundant. On a side note, one of my favorite scenes was the one with the little kids reaching into the touch tank and traumatizing all the fish.
Being a Pixar film, Finding Dory had multiple messages, but the overarching ones were about believing in yourself, believing in others, and never giving up. The film also focused largely on the topic of disabilities, but did so in a way that was poignant and not overbearing. All the characters dealt with disability in one way or another, from Dory with her short-term memory loss to a nearsighted whale shark to an octopus with seven tentacles to a beluga whale filled with self-doubt about his echolocation. Yet, by believing in their own abilities and by helping one another, they were able to overcome immense obstacles in spite of their disabilities and, sometimes, because of their disabilities.
For example, Dory’s short-term memory loss causes trouble for her and her friend, but it is also part of what makes her who she is. She understands that she has an issue, which makes her frustrated at times, but her outlook on life is always positive, which is how she helped Marlin find Nemo in the first film and how she was able to overcome the odds and find her parents in this film. Dory is friendly with everyone because of her positive outlook, allowing her to attract friends and allies. She lives in the moment because her memory loss forces her to. These are characteristics that define Dory just as much as her forgetfulness and serve her as great abilities. Because Dory is always living in the moment, she is able to see things that others overlook. This ability, along with her mantras of “just keep swimming” and “there’s always another way”, allows Dory to overcome whatever life throws at her.
Marlin, on the other hand, is one of the only main characters in the film without some sort of disability, but do to his tendency to overthink and lack of belief in those around him (such as Dory and Becky the duck), Marlin ends up getting himself, Nemo, and Dory into trouble. Only when he adopts the mantra of “what would Dory do” is Marlin about to start living in the moment and taking risks that allow him and Nemo to reunite with Dory. Marlin believes throughout most of the film that Dory can’t take care of herself since she can’t remember things and constantly tries to take matters into his own hands. While Finding Dory makes it clear that working together leads to better outcomes, it also points out that sometimes we have to believe in other people to do things for themselves and that having a disability doesn’t necessarily define who you are.
The scene where Dory finally reunites with her parents really drives this idea home. After getting sucked into the open ocean through the pipes in the Marine Life Institute, Dory wandered around for years by herself. However, her parents always believed in their daughter and waited patiently for her for all those years in a pipe that led out to the ocean. This scene was definitely the most moving in the entire film since we got to see that Dory’s parents not only waited for her, but had been laying out shell pathways for years in the belief that Dory would remember to follow the shells to get home as she had in her childhood. Just as significant, when Dory tells her parents that she has to leave them to help Marlin and Nemo, they are worried, but don’t force her to stay with them because they believe in their daughter. While realistically showing the concerns of parents raising a child with a learning disability, Finding Dory also celebrates the love that parents have for their children just as Finding Nemo did.
I highly recommend Finding Dory to fans of Finding Nemo, families, and fans of Pixar overall. The filmmakers did an excellent job of crafting a story that would appeal to audiences of many ages (though I was shocked that it received a PG rating when Finding Nemo was rated G and was much more intense). With that said, there were some aspects of the film that made it less iconic than its predecessor. For example, the sense of urgency wasn’t as high in this film as in Finding Nemo. The monumental task of crossing the ocean that took up the bulk of the first film was done in only a few minutes in this one. After the scene with the squid trying to eat Nemo, the danger was significantly diminished as the characters only had to deal with minor threats within the Marine Life Institute, where the volunteers were only trying to be helpful. In Finding Nemo, there were a number of scenes in which the characters could have been (and sometimes were) badly hurt. There was also a real possibility of death around every corner, whereas the most drastic outcome in Finding Dory was the possibility of being sent to an aquarium in Ohio. I remember being shocked when the film ended, most likely because I was expecting the characters to be put through some sort of more arduous ordeal before receiving their happy ending. Due to this and some of the over-the-top ways that challenges were overcome in the film, Finding Dory felt a lot safer than Finding Nemo.
While Finding Dory did, in many ways, feel like a seamless continuation of Finding Nemo, there were also some things that seemed out of place. For example, at the end of Finding Nemo, the characters of Marlin and Nemo both grew in the sense that Nemo had become braver and more independent while Marlin had learned not to be so controlling and to trust his son to be more independent. However, in Finding Dory, Marlin went right back to looking down on others and trying to control things as if he hadn’t learned his lesson at all. The movie also brings up some logic questions (as well as scientific ones that I won’t get into), such as why Marlin would bring Nemo on this obviously dangerous journey and why Dory was suddenly able to remember these things after all this time. It made for an interesting and entertaining film, but lacked some of the storytelling power that made Finding Nemo so incredible.