In my list of favorite Pixar movies, 2003's Finding Nemo is closer to the bottom than the top. Not because it's bad — it's actually pretty great — more because I never really felt a personal connection to the story, like I have with other Pixar films. Perhaps that's because I'm not a parent, and the fear of losing my kid (and the other trials of parenthood) aren't things I've ever had to deal with.
Still, it's a tremendously funny movie, and like many of its fans, the Ellen DeGeneres-voiced Dory was my favorite character in it.
Thirteen years later, Dory gets her own story in the slightly misleadingly-titled sequel Finding Dory. Sure, she gets lost during the course of the film — short-term memory loss will cause that — but the real story is centered on Dory's quest to find her family.
In a poignant pre-credits sequence, we meet Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy), the loving and ever-patient parents to the tiny, Keane-eyed blue tang Dory. They do their best to help little Dory manage life with what could be perceived as a learning disability: Her short-term memory loss. When the worst happens, and Dory gets lost, she spends an ever-increasing number of days swimming through the ocean, asking passing fish if they've seen her family, slowly growing up to be the Dory who meets Marlin, the father in search of his son, Nemo.
The majority of Dory takes place one year after Nemo, with Dory happily co-habitating with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (now voiced by Hayden Rolence, since the original Nemo, Alexander Gould, is now twenty-two. How is that even possible!). But when she gets a flash of memory centered on her parents — realizing she actually does have a family somewhere out there — Dory decides to find them, and Nemo and Marlin (he, reluctantly, per usual) agree to help.
The vastness of the ocean was the partial setting of the first film, adding a real sense of insurmountable odds to the quest. Most sequels tend to go bigger than the movie that preceded them, but what's bigger than the ocean? Instead, Dory makes a smart choice by going a little smaller, with the majority of the film taking place in the "jewel of Morro Bay," an aquarium closely modeled after the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Once there, memories of her parents start to come back to Dory, and as she begins to piece together her origin story, she discovers some old friends she never knew she had, as well as some new ones. At his first camouflaged appearance, Hank, the seven-tentacled Octopus (voiced by Ed O'Neil) would appear to be the de facto villain, as Dory has something he desperately wants, but she isn't eager to part with. But in a nice change of pace from the majority of animated films, there really is no enemy to conquer; there are just odds to beat, and situations to keep swimming through. And Dory's perseverance, which stems from her "disability," becomes something to emulate.
Some of the plot gets a little a repetitive, with characters getting separated a lot, then trying to get back together, all while trying to go unnoticed by all those humans wandering around. (One of the film's funniest bits exposes those "touching tidepools" as the most terrifying place on earth for an aquatic creature, especially one as misanthropic as Hank.) And at times the story can jump around a little too much, skipping story continuity. (Just how do Dory and Hank get in that baby carriage?)
But the film's number of memorable new characters are enough to mask its story problems. My favorites were Idris Elba and Dominic West (The Wire on a rock) as a couple of territorial cockney sea lions, forever tormenting a fellow sea lion, the mono-browed, crazy-eyed Gerald. (Stick around till after the credits for more of that trio)
Finding Dory, like Finding Nemo, is about the search for missing family. But whereas Nemo really centered on a parental relationship, Dory deals more with the potential loneliness of adulthood, and the ever-fading memories of one's youth, innocence, and parents. I've cried during almost every Pixar I've seen, and while I wasn't holding back sobs like I was during last year's Inside Out, I definitely had to get my handkerchief out at least once during Finding Dory.
Finally, the movie is, as always, preceded by a Pixar-produced short. This one is called Piper, and it just may be the cutest goddamn thing I've ever seen. The animation in it is also some of the most realistic ever rendered. The animation in Dory is also leagues above that seen in Nemo, but I have to say, 3D does nothing for it, and in fact made some of the darker water scenes hopelessly murky. Save yourself those extra bucks and skip the 3D version.