*Warning: Potential Spoilers*
With many movies, the need for a sequel is highly debated (especially in this day and age when it seems like anything can have a sequel if it makes enough money). Finding Nemo was a movie whose sequel was not only wanted but practically campaigned for over the last 13 years. Everyone who saw the original tail (haha) wanted to see more of Marlin, Dory and Nemo, no matter what capacity that new movie would show them in. Now, Finding Dory answers that wish, but it seems to me like it will be more enjoyable to children than the adults that awaited it, and though we all loved Dory before, a movie devoted to her may be a bit too much. This sequel is basically cute for the sake of being cute.
A few months after Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (no longer Alexander Gould, now played by Hayden Rolence) return from their wild adventure across the sea, Dory’s memories of “home” are triggered on a class field trip to a migration. She sets out to find the “Jewel of Morro Bay”, the only thing she remembers about her parents and home, and is accidentally ‘rescued’ and taken into a rehabilitation/marine wildlife center, where she meets Hank (Ed O’Neill), a cranky octopus trying to get a single tank to himself, Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a near-sighted whale shark, and Bailey (Ty Burrell), a Beluga who insists his echolocation is broken. While Nemo and Marlin try to free Dory from the outside, she travels the aquarium, hoping to find the parents she lost years ago and rediscover “home”.
Now, the flashbacks of baby Dory are the most adorable thing every because baby Dory is possibly the most adorable animation ever to grace your screen. Listening to baby Dory say “just keep swimming” in her scared little voice will make you cry. Grown-up Dory, however, is a bit much. I know, I know, we all love Dory, she was the best part of Finding Nemo (2003), surely a movie all about her is fantastic, right? Well, as it turns out, Dory is funny when she has a balance- someone like Marlin, whose anxious nature and single-minded determination keeps Dory in check as well as provides a contrast so everything she says just comes across funnier. When it’s Dory on her own, it’s less funny because you hear so much of her. She and Marlin are barely together throughout this film, and all the characters introduced to be Dory’s traveling buddies are so numerous that not only do we not get enough of them, but it’s hard to completely counter Dory when they just keep switching off. Hank is probably the closest we get to a balance, but there’s just not enough of him to really make that dent.
That’s not to say that Dory’s new companions aren’t fun. Sure, O’Neill is the same jelly donut he’s been in Modern Family and Married with Children (crunchy on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside), but come on, he’s so good at it that you really don’t care. You do want to know more about him, but then again, you want to know more about all of Dory’s new buddies and you’re just not going to get that. Bailey is definitely all Burrell-ified, which is fun for those of us who know and love Ty Burrell, but because he has to split his screen time with about six other new guys, Bailey is given the most basic treatment he can possibly get. I never thought I’d say this, but it’s a good thing the only other characters from the previous movie to make an appearance are Crush the turtle and his son Squirt, because Finding Dory just doesn’t have room for anyone else from the old gang.
Cuteness aside, there are a few issues with this movie (not with the animation, which has only continued to improve over the last 13 years), the least of which being Dory’s trip to Destiny’s tank in a bucket of dead fish specifically intended for Destiny- whale sharks are filter feeders, I’m a little embarrassed with Pixar since they did their best to be true to fish biology in the first movie, I mean as true to fish biology as you can get with a movie for kids- but you can definitely tell where the Blackfish (2013) viewing kicked in, the marine center is so over-the-top about letting you know these fish get released again (except for those like Hank going to Ohio, but we’ll ignore that for this viewing). But really the big disappointment for me was Dory’s family. See, Pixar has never been shy about not having the happy ending be the cookie-cutter kind. For every happy ending they’ve done (the Parr family fitting in and being heroes, Buzz and Woody becoming friends, etc), they do something where the ending isn’t quite what you’d expect a happy ending to be. Sully and Mike get kicked out of college. Andy gives his toys away. Gusteasu’s still closes. Finding Dory had the opportunity to say something profound about making a new family, about loss, maybe something really sweet for adopted kids in their new lives- but exactly how you think Finding Dory‘s happy ending should be is exactly how it is, which is almost a lukewarm moment.
Finding Dory is not a bad movie. It’s a cute movie, and I’m sure that kids are going to enjoy it just as much as kids did 13 years ago. That’s probably because these new kids haven’t been waiting for Dory to come back and raising their expectations of how fun this sequel would be. That’s okay though- there’s still plenty to be appreciative of. The visuals are stunning, the characters are so fun to listen to that you wish you had more time with them, and there’s a happy ending. If you want all those things, Finding Dory will give them to you, and you’ll walk out happy. If you don’t, well, then you can rematch Finding Nemo and just enjoy the memories.
All three of Hank’s hearts are probably liking this movie. Secretly. While he tells you he doesn’t like it.