You could well argue that a film as beautifully made and emotionally impacting as Finding Nemo doesn’t require a sequel; that it is perfectly complete in and of itself.
That argument would likely stand until you see Finding Dory, Pixar’s latest animation masterpiece which takes the forgetful Pacific Regal Blue Tang sidekick, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres (who spent 13 years campaigning for a follow-up movie) who helped dad Marlin (Albert Brooks) find his clownfish son Nemo (Hayden Rolence), and gives her a storyline and an emotional journey that makes her a worthy protagonist in her own right.
Picking up a year after the events of Finding Nemo, and featuring many of the same characters plus a host of new characters including breakout star Hank the Octopus (Ed O’Neill), Finding Dory tells both the titular character’s backstory, including some heartwrenchingly sad scenes where you see her with her parents and then not, and her current day rush to go find her parents after her memory inexplicably starts returning.
Well, the part relating to her parents, her life with them and their distressing separation anyway; in every other regard, its business as forgetfully normal.
That by the way is one of the delights of Dory as a character; Pixar never treat her like an object of ridicule or the punchline to a cruel joke, Dory is simply goofy, funny, and sweet, and increasingly through this film possessed of far more talent and chutzpah than she gives herself credit for.
In other words, she gains a huge amount of character development throughout her eponymous film, much of which harkens back to qualities she displayed in Finding Nemo, which weren’t given as much emphasis due to her supporting character status.
But now in her own fully-fledged film, Dory is a force to be reckoned with, but also one who despite her never-say-die attitude and bravery is still emotionally wounded and sad, all too aware now her memories are slowly resurfacing that she has lost a great deal in her life and must do everything in her power to get back to her parents.
Which she does, in the company of Marlin and Nemo, all the way across the ocean courtesy of Crush the surfer dude sea turtle (Andrew Stanton) to the Marine Life Institute, “the jewel of Morro Bay” where Sigourney Weaver is omnipresent thanks to her narration of the theme park in which supposedly reside Dory’s parents Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy).
It takes some work to get them though into the Marine Life Institute, with all the attempts to get inside providing some genuinely enjoyable, inventive ways of creatures who need to remain in saltwater at all times moving across dry land.
Thus Dory finds herself in a child’s sippy cup at one point, in a portable coffee carried in another, while Marlin and Nemo end up in a bucket carried aloft by a daffy Loon (Torbin Bullock) and then forced to use fountain spurts as stepping stones of sorts to the welcome embrace of a shallow sea exhibit.
Much of the credit for Dory’s ability to journey through the Institute, which turns out to have been her childhood home, comes down to irascible Hank the Octopus (who’s lost a leg causing Dory to refer to him as a “septopus” throughout), who finds truly clever ways to move through the theme park thanks to his camouflage abilities and willingness to do whatever it takes to live out his days at a new marine park in Cleveland, Ohio (yep nowhere near the sea which is how Hank likes it).
He begins his time with Dory grumpy as a curmudgeonly old man, only helping in exchange for the tag on her fin which is his ticket onto the truck going to Cleveland; but as Finding Dory progresses, he warms to the indomitable, charming spirit of the Blue Tang, taking ever escalating risks to bring about her longed-for reunion with her attentive, always-loving parents.
Helping out too are some delightful new characters such as Destiny the shortsighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey the echo location-averse beluga whale (Ty Burrell) and two British accented sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West), all of whom are swept in Dory’s inspiring search for her long-lost family.
And trust me, you will be too; it is well nigh impossible not to be profoundly moved, once you’ve stopped laughing at the slapstick gags, the hilarious character interactions and pithy oneliners and witty retorts, by Dory’s richly-developed and superbly-delivered tale.
As is true of pretty much of Pixar’s properties, as much effort has been expended on the characters and their stories as the animation that surrounds them; thus Dory’s backstory, which features heartrendingly intense scenes where she is separated from her parents as a child and plaintively seeks help to find them, touch you deeply.
You want to reach out and hold Dory close, assure her everything will be OK and that she is loved and has a greater and richer family than she could possibly know.
That she comes into her own throughout the film is hardly a surprise, but it’s how Pixar accomplishes this that is so impressive in a narrative that towards the finale especially ends up more than a little larger-than-life and over-the-top, but which never surrenders its emotional core.
Dory is adorably and heartwarmingly the centre of this film, one which takes much the same bare bones story as Finding Nemo but fashions it into a complex, visually-lush, emotionally-moving story of love and loss, devotion and tenacity, the light and dark of life, and a healthy dose of plain old silly goofiness.
Everything about the film is a joy from start to finish, a sequel which perhaps strictly speaking wasn’t needed but without which we would all now be the poorer.