When Andrew Stanton conceived the story of Finding Nemo its premise was a simple one. What would happen if you lost your child? This is a powerful theme that would resonate with parents, and even with children to some degree, that would serve as the foundation for what would become one of Pixar’s most popular movies in their catalog. Now the famed digital studio has come back hoping to capture lightning in a bottle again by bringing back Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks in Finding Dory.
When Finding Nemo came out in 2003 one of the biggest standout performances was that of Ellen DeGeneres as the fish plagued with short-term memory loss. Ellen’s comedic timing, along with the genius writing of Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, and David Reynolds, gave the perfect touch to a movie that could have buried itself under too much emotional weight given the almost delicate nature of the plot. However the character of Dory provided the perfect counter-balance thereby allowing for Pixar to create the perfect family film. With Finding Dory, the emphasis is on our favorite Blue Tang and how her memory problems caused this new dilemma she finds herself in.
The issue is simple. What do you do when you want to find your long-lost parents? While this could be a very strong storyline, the part of Dory is still written with that comedic quality to it. Unlike one intensely serious moment she had in Finding Nemo that gave her character some much needed depth, we don’t get that same type of development with Dory here, making her quest seem almost like just another adventure instead of the serious desire to be reunited with ones’ parents.
The movie throws us a slew of additional characters to assist in Dory’s search, and to even provide some sort of complication for Marlin who, along with his son Nemo, has reluctantly agreed to help Dory find her family. And as with Finding Nemo, much of the story rhythm is there with the innocent and fun beginning, the start of the quest, the clearly too soon potential for resolution diversion, the second part of despair and hopelessness, followed by the final adventure bringing about the denouement. And while we do get some terribly amusing characters along the way in the form of a “Septapus” named Hank (voiced with the kind of sarcasm that only Ed O’Neill can deliver), as well as one hilarious turn by Ty Burrell as Bailey, a Beluga Whale with sonar issues, the movie simply feels like an attempt to merely top many of the great gags given in Finding Nemo. This is not to say that the film completely lacks any emotional resonance.
One of Disney’s greatest gifts in their long history of movies is the idea of family. Going back to Snow White, all the way to the recent live adaptation of Jungle Book, Disney continues to demonstrate that family goes beyond that of blood. Family can be who you choose, and two of the finest moments come from, not just the reunion of Dory with her parents (voiced to perfection by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy), but also the reunion with her new family, namely Marlin and Nemo.
The biggest problem with Finding Dory could be the same problem that Pixar experienced with Cars 2. In Cars and Finding Nemo we are introduced to a character who is beyond silly, that makes us laugh, and is usually who we remember most when the theater lights come up. For Cars it was the character Mater, and for Finding Nemo, it was of course Dory. These are great supporting characters meant to add just the right amount of levity to a somewhat serious storyline. This is the balance that makes Pixar movies work. However, when you take those great sidekick characters and make them the stars of their own films, we find something that is out of balance, where too much comedy is given to us making the heart of the story actually suffer. Still, Finding Dory is not a bad movie. It doesn’t live up to its predecessor, but it is worthy of viewing. Children will love this film, and there are one or two moments that might bring a bit of a tear to a parent’s eye.
On a scale of A (Excellent) to F (Fail) I would give this movie a B.
Have you seen Finding Dory? What were some of the film’s strengths and weaknesses for you? Were there any story points that you would like to have seen done differently?
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