I wasn’t a huge fan of Finding Nemo. The film was enormously successful for Pixar and one of its biggest crowd pleasers. I thought it was cute, but that the plot structure was really meandering, and that its message was weak compared to a lot of Pixar’s best. Worst of all, I didn’t connect to the protagonist Marlin (Albert Brooks). In fact, I actively dislike him. I don’t see Marlin as having any positive character traits. He’s a neurotic, snippy worrywart. Sure, he loves his son. He’s not a monster. But honestly, Nemo’s blank slate innocence and growing up story was a far more compelling part of the story to me.
And then there’s Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). Dory’s a great character. She’s sweet and earnest and caring, but has a distinct flaw (short-term memory loss) that causes a struggle for both her, the characters around her, and the journey they’re on. She was really only used as a foil to Marlin in Nemo, but Finding Dory wisely places her in the role of protagonist.
Which is odd, right? If the film is primarily about Dory’s adventure, does its title even make sense (other than for franchise continuity)? Tag-along Marlin and Nemo do lose Dory during the adventure and have to find her again, but their arc seems to be more about understanding Dory. Dory’s arc seems to be more about understanding herself, so the “Finding” in the title seems to be more a reference the self-actualization of Dory… which is pretty awesome!
Dory is a great hero, and I vastly prefer this film to its predecessor. The plot is still a bit meandering, but it helps that each new obstacle is designed to meaningfully explore Dory’s internal struggle. Some of Dory’s “memory unlock” moments feel a bit forced, but the fact that the movie is essentially about a woman learning to cope with learning disabilities is incredible. The new supporting cast is also great, and their journeys smartly parallel our hero. Hank (Ed O’Neill) is an octopus with PTSD, who is terrified of being touched. Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) is a short-sighted whale shark, who is lucky to have a flat face by nature. Bailey (Ty Burrell) is a beluga who has lost the ability to use his sonar, despite there being nothing physically wrong with him. The characters are great, and add both heart and a lot of humor to the adventure.
Oh yeah. This movie is FUNNY. Finding Nemo had some nice little chuckle moments, but Finding Dory is hilarious, and just gets funnier as it progresses. I won’t spoil the film’s climax, but let’s just say that applying action film tropes to a movie about fish is comedy gold. As far as the drama goes, I didn’t quite get “the feels” to the same extent I have in some of Pixar’s best, but there are still some incredibly touching moments.
I’d call Finding Dory just short of a Must See. It’s definitely entertaining, and has a great message about how sometimes our greatest weaknesses can become our most inspiring strengths. It’s also nice to see Pixar continue their female protagonist streak. (Hooray for representation!) The film just squeaks by in a few too many places though, and it’s carrying a little more baggage from its predecessor than I’d like (*cough* Marlin *cough*). That said, it still comes highly recommended, especially for folks with special needs and the people that love ’em!
3D Recommendation: Dory‘s balance of the format is fantastic, adding beauty and nuance to an already gorgeous film. Native 3D CG movies are usually a safe bet for the format in general, but it would be a shame to miss out on this one!