Finding Dory (2016)
Dirs: Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane
Sequels are hard to get right without overusing (and potentially ruining) things from the first film, however this just about gets away with it by using Dory’s key characteristic to justify all those nods to ‘Finding Nemo’.
When Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) remembers details about her family, she sets off on an adventure of her own to find them, piecing together long lost memories as she goes.
The film starts in a way that could have continued to make it a prequel, with little Dory who is very cute indeed, being helped by her parents to cope with her memory issues. Eventually the story gets to the point we met Dory in ‘Finding Nemo’ (which I’ll probably just refer to as ‘Nemo’ from here on) and then continues with the new adventure, with frequent flashback sequences.
Cleverly the film brings back moments from ‘Nemo’ by showing they are things Dory learnt from her parents, memories she remembers only fragments of. That’s actually a very smart way of getting around things feeling too shoehorned in, reusing little bits as triggers for flashbacks to Dory’s youth. It’s also part of why the film works so well, as Dory’s parents (voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) are a beautiful depiction of parents trying to raise a child with special needs. They demonstrate great patience and understanding with their daughter, yet are also shown as worrying about how she’ll cope without them, a situation that occurs far sooner than expected. Marlin had to learn to trust Nemo with his ‘lucky fin’ in the first film, yet I think this time the theme is much more fully developed in a more subtle way that references more than just physical disabilities.
Something that helps to make this film feel different from the first is the new settings, moving things more out of the ocean than I’d expected. ‘Finding Nemo’ was an epic quest that already took Marlin far around the world in search of his son, so this change of location for most of the film actually works well. Venturing into a marine life center poses some completely new challenges that the oceans wouldn’t present, even if the journey is for a very similar reason as before.
There are a load of new characters, a few of which take large roles in helping Dory. Most notable is octopus (technically septopus) Hank voiced by Ed O’Neill from ‘Modern Family’. He’s an interesting character, whose grumpy personality turns surprisingly mean at times, even borderline manipulative as he pursues his own agenda while assisting Dory. If he wasn’t an animated creature in a Pixar film I’d say Hank was almost sinister, though there are hints at a backstory and a character arc that are developed to help redeem his questionable behaviour and endear him by the end.
There are many other new and reprised voice performances, so many are instantly recognisable. A few of the smaller roles are particularly good, such as the sea lions voiced by Dominic West and Idris Elba. Some of the other new characters don’t work quite so well, a few just feel a little underdeveloped and only there to fill a specific need, merely to answer a question or offer a key skill. I’m sure if there’s a third ‘Finding’ film these will make a return and be further developed, the foundations are there with character traits and personalities to build upon but this film never gets to rounding them out in a meaningful way.
I found the film sufficiently tense in places (and I’m a full-grown adult), adventurous enough to keep me interested although I was sure things would work out well in the end. The final third takes fish out of the water a little too much, though for kids I’m sure they’ll love how funny it is, though I felt it was something I’d seen before even in a Pixar film. It’s worth staying for the credits as there’s an animated background throughout, including a post credits scene with cameos from some lovable characters from ‘Nemo’.
Some Pixar prequels & sequels have really failed to live up to the high expectations, not just of a follow-up to the original beloved film, but even to the expectation of a Pixar film, something that for years was a guarantee of quality. Though this isn’t quite ‘Nemo’ it certainly doesn’t rehash the same material in a way that spoils the enjoyment of the film or what came before, it goes out in search of itself and finding it’s perfectly enjoyable Pixar movie on its own.
A massive success internationally at the box office, ‘Finding Dory’ is an enjoyable successor that will almost certainly be followed by another underwater adventure. Nominated for ‘Best Animated Feature’ at the BAFTAs, it faces tough competition from other Disney films ‘Moana’ and ‘Zootopia’ which look far more likely to win. It’s available to rent or buy from all the usual places.