Pixar has long set the standard of children’s animation and it’s a pleasure to say that its latest release, Finding Dory, more than lives up to expectations. As the sequel to the critically acclaimed Finding Nemo, the film focuses on the surprising ensemble dark horse, the forgetful blue fish Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres).
This could have easily backfired, as putting side-characters front and centre (particularly comedic ones) can rob them of the very qualities that made them so beloved in the first place. However, directors Andrew Stanton (Finding Dory, WALL·E) and Angus MacLane (Toy Story of Terror) have a deft hand and a keen understanding of the character. They take Dory’s defining quality from the first film – her hilarious short-term-memory – and gently deconstruct its implications.
The film starts with Dory hanging out on the reef with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). A chance event triggers a memory of her lost family and with her friends’ help, she sets out to find them at the Marine Life Institute in California. Along the way she meets a range of quirky characters who offer clues to her past.
Interestingly, Finding Dory has no villain or antagonist. The Institute appears to be this on the surface, but in reality is a mostly benevolent supplier of medical care. The true obstacle in Dory’s way is her faulty memory, which is acknowledged as a legitimate mental health problem. While Stanton milks plenty of humour from Dory’s situation he’s also straightforward about the difficulties she faces. Her tendency to wander off puts her in danger and strains her relationships. Even the patience of her good friend Marlin wears thin when Dory accidentally leads his son Nemo in harm’s way.
It would be easy to misstep with such sensitive subject matter, but the story doesn’t miss a beat. Dory’s troubles are clearly outlined for children, with the understanding that Dory’s memory isn’t something that can be fixed or because she’s not trying hard enough. It’s just the way she is. Even better, she’s not a victim of her condition. She finds her “own special Dory way” to get around seemingly impossible barriers, even if it’s not what other people would do.
Perhaps the only possible criticism that can be made about Finding Dory is that it imparts exactly the same message as its predecessor. Namely that a person’s mental or physical limitations – Nemo’s fin in the first movie and Dory’s memory in the second – doesn’t necessarily prevent them from partaking in life and achieving their goals. On the other hand, while the themes are similar, they’re also viewed from a different perspective, giving them a more resonant weight. Instead of Dory being the object of the hero’s goal, as Nemo was, she is the hero.
DeGeneres kills it as Dory, delivering side-splitting humour and tear-jerking pathos as required. If your vision doesn’t become at least a little blurry during Dory’s tearful apology for getting lost, you have no soul. Other cast standouts include Ed O’Neil as the grumpy seven-tentacled octopus who just wants to get to Cleveland and seven-year-old Sloane Murray as the ridiculously adorable baby Dory seen in flashbacks.
At the end of the day, Finding Dory is a thoroughly enjoyable film that’s more than an echo of its predecessor. It balances its funny moments with the sad, and despite some heavy themes never once talks down to its audience. Children will love it and adults shouldn’t need an excuse to see it either. Just remember, this is a Pixar production, so bring along a box of tissues; you’ll need them.
THE REEL SCORE: 10/10