There’s something fishy about Finding Dory, and not just because of all the fins and fishtails. If you look at the Pixar movies that director Andrew Stanton has helmed they’re fine, individual pieces – no one’s clambering for a Wall-E repeat, as the storyline effectively went from A-to-Z. The same can be said for A Bug’s Life, a charming film that’s hardly demanding a return. Finding Nemo was pretty much the same – after all (*spoiler*), they found Nemo, so we had our catharsis.
Thus no one, except maybe Ellen DeGeneres, was anxiously awaiting an aquatic return, and Dory’s inability to remember was hardly the most engaging thing about the first film. Yet here we are, stretching out another journey across the vastness of an ocean in order to reunite the Pacific Regal Blue Tang with her long forgotten parents.
Set a year after Nemo’s return home, we see a bunch of usual suspects – Mr. Ray, the surfer-dude Turtles, and a few new friends to add to the menagerie. There’s Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a near-sighted whale shark who knew Dory from her childhood, and Bailey the Beluga (Ty Burrell) who has lost his mojo, convinced his sonar abilities have been hampered. A couple veterans from The Wire make for a pair of convincing sea-lions, with Dominic West and Idris Elba giving bark and bite to these creatures that serve equivalent purpose (as opposed to porpoise) to the Aussie sharks in film one.
Then there’s Hank, an irritable Octopus voiced by Ed O’Neill that’s sure to be the fan favourite. Hank injects most of the film’s zaniness, crafting a Great Escape vibe out of his slitherings. It’s a terrific character, but it’s also clear that he’s doing much of the heavy lifting, as if the filmmakers fell in love with their secondary players after realizing that the central theme is a bit of a dud.
Even the title is stretched, as while we know where Dory is, we don’t know who she is. That’s what needs to be found, and when it all works out pretty much the way you’d expect there’s no real “a-ha” moment. The film ends up going to even more preposterous limits to protract the tale, devolving into full on action farce that had me trademark Fast and the Fishiest as a new title for the flick.
The water sims and environments have obviously improved since the 2003 original, and there’s more subtlety in performance from the fish, even if all characters continue their recognizable traits. Albert Brooks is still neurotic as Nemo’s dad, Marlin, and they snagged Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy to play Dory’s attentive and patient parents.
Overall, however, it feels like we’re revisiting something that had run its course sympathetically. If anything, it enforces the slightness of the original, a fine voyage that lacked some of the depth of Pixar’s best work. Expanded to this new adventure retroactively makes the first feel superfluous, simply riding the currents of narrative rather than really getting to the core of a rich, timeless story. Dory’s adventure, in short, is less an archetypical heroes journey and instead a forced repeat of what’s come before, a kind-of greatest hits of the last film cobbled together with some splashy action pieces.
In other words, Finding Dory is a Pixar sequel that feels like a sequel, the kind of stuff that gets generated by other studios looking to mine the past in order to give audiences a familiar and easily marketable gimmick, whether the story is there to justify it. We’ve come to expect great things from this studio, but with floundering new works like The Good Dinosaur and satisfactory if not satisfying works like Dory it’s clear that the momentum’s on the Disney Animation side, with Zootopia and the upcoming Moana looking miles ahead of what we’re getting from the House that Toy Story built.
Broadly, then, Disney is still as rich as ever on the animation front, but we’re still waiting for a return to form from Pixar. Finding Dory is a fine, if forgettable addition to the Pixar canon, and this fan would have wished all this talent be spent on crafting new, edgy, original works that captivated the early years of Pixar. Alas, with the latest outing it seems that they’re treading water, and while they can do so better than almost anyone out there, we can hope that their sights are set further out for the next round of stories.