Upon the introduction of Dory the regal blue tang fish in Disney/Pixar’s 2003 hit Finding Nemo, her short-term memory loss was more of a lovable eccentricity than a serious problem. Of course, Dory was at that point merely a side character, a companion for Marlin the clownfish as he searched the Great Barrier Reef for his missing son. But now we have the sequel, Finding Dory, and as the title makes perfectly clear, she’s no longer off on the sidelines. Because of this, her short-term memory loss isn’t quite as charming as it once was; a flashback sequence at the start of the film informs us that her inability to retain information has been a lifelong issue, leading to her wandering off from her parents, get lost, and not return home. As she grew, she knew she was looking for something, but she couldn’t remember what. And by the events of Finding Nemo, she no longer remembered she was looking for something.
Of course, we know from Finding Nemo that she can jar her memory when she really puts effort into it. And so it comes to pass in Finding Dory that she remembers her parents and immediately goes on a journey to find them. It will take her across the Pacific Ocean to a marine exhibit in California – modeled, I have no doubt, after the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Naturally, Marlin and Nemo tag along, because of course their friendship has grown to the extent that they all consider each other family. And there will be an entirely new set of obstacles and mixups, adding excitement, humor, and even some poignancy to the film. All will depend not just on Dory’s tenacity, but her ability to incrementally remember the events of her childhood as well.
The one thing that becomes increasingly obvious as the film progresses, and firmly cemented when it enters its final act, is that the intention is to make younger audiences aware and presumably tolerant of those who are differently abled, whether we call it “handicapped,” “autistic,” or even “special.” Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is not the only character with special needs; aside from Nemo (voiced by Hayden Rolence), who we already know has a malformed fin, there’s an octopus named Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neill) who’s missing a tentacle, a whale shark named Destiny (voiced by Kaitlin Olson) with nearsightedness, a beluga whale named Bailey (voiced by Ty Burrell) who struggles to regain his echolocation abilities, a googly-eyed bird that can get you from point A to point B with just a little patience, and a sea lion that will immediately remind older audiences of Ed the hyena from The Lion King.
The filmmakers want children to understand that, while it may take them longer or force them to approach a given situation differently, handicapped people can be just as capable of doing things as those who are not. It’s a noble message, and I agree that children need to hear it. I wonder, though, if the filmmakers were being a bit overambitious when creating the story. Dory’s mental deficits have already been established, and are strong enough to carry a story on their own; there really wasn’t a need to populate the film with so many characters with their own deficiencies – unless, of course, the purpose was for us to find them funny, in which case the folks at Pixar ought to be ashamed of themselves.
This is a successful movie. It tells a good story, it has likeable characters, and as was the case with the previous film, the undersea renderings are absolutely stunning. This is especially true if you pay extra to see it in 3D, specifically IMAX 3D. I’ve noted in past reviews the effectiveness of underwater shots, whether real or simulated, in 3D, although I’ve never been able to determine for sure why this is. I’ve theorized that it has something to do with the fact that water, no matter how clear, does have some degree of visible sediment. The 3D really pops in Finding Dory – sometimes literally, with gimmicky shots of objects and even characters flying directly towards the camera.
Though successful, this is definitely not one of Pixar’s best. It feels every bit like a sequel, the kind in which a story is forced into continuing. It lacks the sense of imagination present in several of their previous works, including masterpieces like WALL-E and Up. It also repeatedly ruins suspension of disbelief with blatant factual errors. Even in an animated fantasy in which fish talk, there’s no excuse for saltwater fish like Dory, Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks), and Nemo repeatedly finding themselves in freshwater and not getting harmed. And how could an octopus desperate to get on a truck for a Cleveland aquarium be able to stay out of water for such long stretches? I recommend Finding Dory, but only as a way to spend ninety-seven minutes out of the house. By the way, make sure you stay the full ninety-seven minutes; like the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s a post-credit sequence.