Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Finding Dory Movie Review

The Pixar Animation Studio has been a little hit or miss with their sequels. The two Toy Story follow-ups are stellar, but Cars 2 doesn’t even measure up to its predecessor, which wasn’t great to begin with. Monsters University carried on the story in a really interesting way, going back to show us how Mike and sully got where they were. It enriches Monsters, Inc. So who knew what to expect with Finding Dory? The biggest error of Cars 2 was the belief that a great supporting character could be the centerpiece of a movie. Dory Added so much to Finding Nemo and she was the most beloved character there. But could her short term memory loss affliction carry an entire movie?

It’s reasonable to say that Andrew Stanton, who directed and created the original story, was not lazy. He pulled elements from Finding Nemo such as Dory’s “Keep Swimming” song she sings and other minor details and provides little origin stories for them, all set against a good adventure tale about another fish that goes missing and must be rescued by a fish that is incredibly cautious of the world around him, never wanting to venture beyond the borders of his small environment for fear of the dangers that lurk. In minor ways here and there, Stanton’s story is as much prequel as sequel because it fills in the blanks of where Dory came from. Not that I can imagine many people were asking that question in the first place, but sometimes those kernels of ideas come from the strangest of places.

Like many sequels, Finding Dory dutifully hits all the familiar beats that the first movie already laid down. It opens similarly with Marlin (Albert Brooks) taking Nemo to school. Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) has a flashback to her childhood and remembers that she has parents out there somewhere. So the “finding” bit of this story is not about Dory getting physically lost, but going on a journey of discovery after she has a flash of a memory of her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). There’s another ride along with sea turtles, another sequence involving a predatory sea creature trying to eat Marlin and Dory, and on and on.

Their travels take them to a marine wildlife center in California, which has a hilarious introduction and use of Sigourney Weaver’s voice. Most of the adventure in the film takes place here and involves the aid of a new character, Hank the octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neill). Hank’s motivation for helping Dory is perhaps less clear than what I’ve come to expect from the great Pixar storytellers. At this point in the story is when the scale of believability tips so heavily in the direction of, “Oh, come on!” Accepting that Pixar movies are animated fantasy adventures in which children’s toys come to life and a world of monsters exists behind every child’s closet door, there is still a system built into these stories of consistency.

In Finding Nemo you have to accept that the underwater creatures live in the real world ocean that we humans know about, but they have perhaps a whole communicative network and emotional relationships we are not privy to. But then Finding Dory takes that premise and jumps the shark by having sea creatures navigating the artificial environment of an aquarium. Dory and Hank make their way from one tank to another using drains (reasonably believable), two harbor seals voice by Idris Elba and Dominic West (okay), a bucket-carrying bird (what?), and whales (Kaitlin Olson and Ty Burrell) using echolocation to “see” where everything is (hmmmm). But the piece de resistance is an escape in a truck, controls taken over by Hank the octopus. This sequence devolves into an action set piece of such absurdity that I wasn’t really sure I could continue even wanting to enjoy the movie. And before you point out that the toys in Toy Story 2 drove a car, I will point out how that scene at least takes place in a world where toys already have human qualities. The mental leap, the willing suspension of disbelief, is not nearly as great.

The real question is whether or not Finding Dory expands upon the themes established by the first film. The Toy Story franchise is layered more complexly with each outing. But here we get a familiar tune about the dangers of going beyond your established boundaries and the benefits of learning to let your children venture out and grow up, all of which was handled well the first time. There is the journey of self-discovery, which is exciting, but not all that compelling in this case. Dory is enjoyable to spend time with and she continues to teach Marlin some of the same things she taught him in the first film which leads me to wonder if the lessons I thought he learned thirteen years ago were completely disregarded.

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