FINDING DORY (Movie Review)

**1/2 out of ****
Rated PG
for mild thematic elements
Released: June 17, 2016
Runtime: 97 minutes
Directed by: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Starring (the voices of): Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Sigourney Weaver, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Kate McKinnon, Bill Hader

Sequels are not Pixar’s strong suit because, seemingly, their hearts are rarely in them.

Aside from the two powerfully rendered Toy Story follow-ups, Pixar sequels are at best flat comparisons to the originals and, at worst (*cough* Cars 2 *cough*), an embarrassment to the brand. Finding Dory, at least, lands firmly among the former, and it’s certainly charming enough (Baby Dory is adorable), but it’s a calculated inverse of Finding Nemo that plays things relatively safe.

(The same could be said of Piper, the Pixar short that precedes the feature, about a baby bird that overcomes its fear of water.)

Finding Dory would be more accurately titled Dory Finding. Everyone’s favorite Blue Tang fish with short-term memory loss is back, and now she’s the center of the story. Separated by accident from her loving parents at a very young age, Dory – once again voiced with the dry, innocent charm of Ellen DeGeneres – begins to have flashes of long dormant memories. They serve as clues to where she may find her Mom and Dad. And so, with the help of her surrogate family Marlin and Nemo, Dory sets out on a quest to find the parents she barely knew.

Throughout the journey, the trio makes new friends and braves new perils, summoning courage and skirting danger while encouraging each other along the way (“Just keep swimming” being the requisite “Never give up” variant). It’s all bright and colorful, too (becoming a virtual life-size public aquarium in 3D IMAX), as its cutesy humor elicits pleasant smiles but few big laughs.

Finding Dory is cinematic comfort food, playing off of your nostalgia but never expanding it. It’s pleasant enough, and the visuals are the obligatory stunners, but just don’t expect this by-the-numbers (even predictable) tale to turn you into an emotional puddle – like its superior Pixar siblings Up and Inside Out did (and still do, on cue).

The lack of emotional punch is of particular disappointment; and honestly, it’s a missed opportunity. Thematically, Finding Dory should be an orphan story, and dare to explore the psychology of that in some detail. The script needs much stronger dynamics along those lines than it has (or even attempts), ones that tap into the emotional challenges that orphans face, of self-worth, and the voids they’re burdened with.

Dory’s anxieties are only occasional, and brief. The self-doubts are perfunctory, as are the few concerns she expresses about meeting her parents. Only one fear actually struck a chord when she verbalized it, because it was Dory’s truest “orphan” moment. But other than that, the screenplay gives tepid service to these struggles – more as if they’re merely plot beats – when it could (and should) have really dug deep.

The script is so plot-driven, in fact, that the relentless pile-on of one obstacle after another actually starts to get old, particularly since it’s not rooted in a more resonate emotional experience. By the final stretch, it’s borderline obnoxious. This story is too inevitable to be this monotonous.

Look, Finding Dory is certainly amiable enough for the whole family, and it’s gorgeous to look at. But its shelf life, over time, will largely be that of a very reliable babysitter and little else. As Pixar sequels go this doesn’t sink to the lows of Cars 2, but it’s far from the heights (or depths) of Toy Story 3.

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