FINDING DORY: A Fine Swim In Shallower Waters

I am a huge Pixar fan and Finding Nemo is one of my favourite films, so I was thrilled to know a sequel was being made. However, I was a little reticient. Toy Story 2 & 3 were remarkable sequels to be sure, but they are unique in cinema, Pixar also made Cars 2.

I know enough by now to know that Finding Dory probably wasn’t going to blow me away, but whatever happened I would be happy to see my most beloved Pixar character again. Or at least that’s what I thought. What I actually felt was confused; a little disappointed in Pixar, but somehow staunchly optimistic that I would learn to love Finding Dory one day.

Pixar Storytelling

I have to hand to Pixar, they always know how to tell a good story. Dory looking for her parents is a brilliant idea and one so obvious you have to wonder why it took so long for Pixar to announce this sequel.

Finding Dory begins with Dory being her typical loving, but heartbreaking nuisance self. This sets the tone for the film, as her optimism is constantly thrown in shown in sharp contrast to the way people treat her. After a sudden memory flashback Dory, along with Marlin and Nemo go off into the unknown to find her parents.

FINDING DORY: A Fine Swim In Shallower Waters
source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

But it’s not exactly the unknown. The accuracy and speed with which Dory gets to the exact aquarium in California where she once lived is kind of perplexing. The rapidity of the script and simplicity of the dialogue also confounded me: why is everything moving so quickly? Where are the philosophical, introspective moments we saw in Finding Nemo? Suffice to say the story does even out, and the real narrative begins once they are at the aquarium.

While at the aquarium Dory, Marlin and Nemo are confronted with obstacle after obstacle as they try to find Dory’s parents. This is the real crux of the story, but it doesn’t feel particularly scary or difficult. Obstacles are quickly traversed as flashback after flashback enables the story to progress.

The character of Hank, an injured octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neill) who can move around outside of the water, is hugely convenient. Though, there wouldn’t be a story without him, so we’ll let that slide. Still, Hank should be the perfect foil to Dory’s optimism but the character never really develops. Which, for me, is a major disappointment. In fact, overall, I expected better of Pixar.

A lot of these script problems might have arisen from the fact that writer and director Andrew Stanton was writing with Pixar newbie Victoria Strouse. She doesn’t have a great wealth of writing experience, and according to the film’s credits Bob Peterson (a Pixar veteran who worked on the first film) and Angus MacLane (who directed with Stanton) added to the original work.

Even then, MacLane is an animator who has only worked as a writer and director on a couple of Pixar shorts. Not to say that any of the writing in Finding Dory is bad. However, it is certainly under par.

The Good Stuff

If you can forget for a second me grouching over what I expect of Pixar, as a stand alone film Finding Dory is good fun. The story is full and interesting. Dory’s character develops, she becomes what we only glimpsed in Finding Nemo. She is smart and optimistic, but at the same time she struggles with what is a major malady.

I have to hand it to Pixar for ingraining Dory with a sense of her difference in abilities. She becomes more aware of her memory problems, and learns techniques to help her, as her parents used techniques to help her as a child.

FINDING DORY: A Fine Swim In Shallower Waters
source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Ellen DeGeneres, as before, brings a delightful, adorable optimism to Dory. So perfect is she that inevitably other voice performances pale in comparison, although Ty Burrell is kind of fun as Bailey the whale. The animation, of course, is beautiful. It shows how far Pixar have pushed themselves since the making of the original film; the scenes of the stingray migration, the tanks within the aquarium, but particularly the attention to isolated areas of water (the cups Dory is placed in), are some of their best work to date.

While I feel Marlin and Nemo are left on the side of the story they do still get a few good moments and Marlin’s relationship with the bird Becky delivers endless jokes. Hank isn’t as interesting as he could have been, but you can’t have it all. Whale friends Destiny and Bailey are a fun side story, plus there’s lots of jokes to be had from cuddling otters and the voice of Sigourney Weaver over the aquarium PA.

While Finding Dory kind of rushes over the philosophical importance of ‘just keep swimming’, it does get to the heart of something a little more raw. The difficulties that go along with having an incurable medical condition is known to a lot of people, and these days we’re learning more and more about what it means to have memory problems, Crohn’s disease, bipolar disorder et cetera, and how people have to manage themselves. Because of this attention to detail the film is quite successful in teaching a new generation about what it means to live with an illness or condition.

The Subjective Critic

You probably think I’m being too hard on Finding Dory, and you would be right. But I have my reasons, I promise. I’m sure if you’ve seen Finding Nemo you’ll understand that it’s about much more than a father trying to find his son. It’s about loss and fear of the unknown. Most importantly, to me anyway, it’s about showing how taking chances can yield tremendous experiences. I was looking for more of the same in Finding Dory. Even knowing that sequels can never live up to their originals I still had high hopes.

I’m not sure why I held on, and maybe am holding on still. Though it may because of simple, old-fashioned, subjectivity. I love Finding Nemo, and it is one of my favourite films, of course I am going to look for all that I love about it in Finding Dory. But I think I was also holding on because a few days before I watched Finding Dory I re-watched Finding Nemo and for the first time I saw it completely objectively.

FINDING DORY: A Fine Swim In Shallower Waters
source: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I saw the incredible ease of how Marlin found Nemo, I saw the dialogue I would have changed, the direction I would have done differently. What I saw was a film, but once I saw it as something else. I was looking to Finding Dory to help remind me of what I once saw, and I didn’t see it. I’m not sad about this, I certainly haven’t lost my love for the original film.

Maybe Finding Nemo just came along at a time when I needed it, it did its job, but now that I’ve changed I can look on it without that emotional attachment, and enjoy it for what it is. Because of this, on reflection, I can see that Finding Dory almost lives up to its predecessor. What it doesn’t live up to is the inspiration I once found (but will maybe find again) in Finding Nemo.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to review a sequel without comparing it to the original film. While Finding Dory doesn’t live up to the surprises of Finding Nemo and its philosophy on life, it gives us something different and maybe even better. It gives us a highly enjoyable film with a great story to tell about hope and optimism even in the face of outstanding obstacles. It has action, it has laughs, and a definite feel good factor.

I said at the beginning of this review that I had a hope that I would learn to love this film. Because most of the time, and I think this happens for a lot of people, the films I truly love don’t hit me that hard first time around. I walked away from Finding Nemo in 2003 thinking not much of it, I almost turned off Monty Python And The Holy Grail when I first watched it, and I thought Shaun Of The Dead was just okay.

My point is that while Finding Dory seemed very good to me, I can see it has enough potential, and one day I know I’ll think it’s pretty great. ‘Cause you know what you gotta do when life gets you down? You just gotta keep swimming.

What did you think about Finding Dory? Did you find yourself comparing it the original?

Finding Dory is now showing across the US & UK, for the release date in your country check here.

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