Film review: Finding Dory is a different fish, slightly different story

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In Finding Dory, the lovable, forgetful Dory uses her ability to speak whale to move the tale along. Photo: Disney In Finding Dory, the lovable, forgetful Dory uses her ability to speak whale to move the tale along. Photo: Disney

On the one hand, the mere fact that Finding Dory is not the best or worst sequel Pixar has made is quite an accomplishment, and illustrates another area in which the animation studio has managed to defy expectations. Between this and the fact that it is a light-hearted and well-meaning children’s movie about silly fish with feelings, any potential shortcomings are nothing to get bent out of shape over. It’s an entirely appropriate and pleasant way to spend 95 minutes with your child, niece, nephew or babysitter.

On the other hand, as the title itself suggests, Finding Dory follows its predecessor, Finding Nemo, not only in narrative but in every other way it can manage. It is largely the same journey with familiar themes, jokes, images, callbacks, you name it. As far as cash-in sequels go, Finding Dory can be funny, charming and touching, though most of the time it is content to echo the first film’s best moments to diminishing returns.

Remember “just keep swimming”? How Dory speaks whale? You might expect the occasional reference, but Finding Dory is so committed to pleasing its fans that what were once pleasant quotables are now key plot points never more than five minutes away from being tapped if the movie starts to drag.

We meet Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) as a very young fish, being coached by her supportive yet struggling parents (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton) on ways to function in the world with her chronic short-term memory loss. Before long, Dory is swept away by the undertow and, due to her condition, remembers that she is looking for someone but cannot recall who or why. It is during this search that she runs into Marlin (Albert Brooks). Flash forward one year, and Dory is living happily with Marlin and Nemo at their idyllic reef, when her memory starts coming back in brief flashes with no additional context. This leads her to Morro Bay, California, to an institute dedicated to the rehabilitation of marine life. There, with the assistance of a cranky “septopus” (Ed O’Neill) and other assorted sea creatures (Kaitlin Olson as a nearsighted whale shark, Ty Burrell as an injured beluga whale, Idris Elba and Dominic West as sea lions), Dory’s search takes her on a tour of the institute’s many facilities.

True to Pixar form, Finding Dory manages to pull an emotional punch when it examines Dory’s condition as a realistic mental illness. Before she became aware that she was capable of committing anything to memory, she was at peace with herself and her mistakes. With the ability to remember comes the knowledge of how to feel guilt, loss and regret, feelings that are completely new to her, and seeing carefree Dory plagued by these emotions will not leave a dry eye in the audience.

But between the occasional earned laugh or genuine emotion are tricks that Pixar has mostly avoided, such as big-eyed kids with too-cute voices and pop culture references in place of jokes. Finding Dory is by no means bad and can be quite a good time, finding a respectable middle ground between Pixar’s stellar heights (Inside Out, Toy Story, The Incredibles!) and chasmic lows (Cars and Cars 2, The Good Dinosaur).

Finding Dory PG, 95 minutes
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