THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Finding Nemo is the kind of movie that makes one trepidatious about a sequel. That's because it is a nearly perfect family film, as well as arguably the best Pixar effort to date. When you have such a precious jewel, doing anything to tinker with its legacy seems needlessly risky. We've certainly had plenty of examples over the years of horrible sequels diluting fan affection for the originals. (Hello, The Matrix and The Hangover follow-ups!) Finding Dory, thankfully, is quite good, maintaining many of the things that make the original beloved, while still bringing some new elements to the table.
Ellen DeGeneres returns as the voice of Dory, the blue tang fish with short-term memory loss. Early in the film, she is shocked to have a memory of her parents come back to her. She then decides to head out into the ocean to find them, with the help of Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). The search takes her to a California marine hospital/aquarium. Inside, a color-changing octopus named Hank (Ed O'Neill) makes a deal to guide her around the park. As she weaves her way from exhibit to exhibit, Dory encounters a host of wacky ocean creatures who lead her toward the spot where she expects to find her parents.
Setting Finding Dory inside a marine center was a smart approach. It's just different enough to keep this sequel from feeling as though it's covering the same ground. There are plenty of new environments for the characters to explore, including the infirmary, the whale tanks, the pipes that connect buildings, and, in one of the most clever sequences, a “touch pond.” (The scene is hilariously played like something from a horror movie, with innocent creatures desperately trying to flee the poking fingers of little children.) And while there's no attempt to hammer kids with any kind of ecological message, the story certainly pays nice tribute to workers who care for aquatic life.
The key element to the movie's appeal, however, is Dory herself. Ellen DeGeneres brings every ounce of her comedic skills to the role, ably shifting Dory from a supporting player to a lead. There's real warmth in her performance. DeGeneres spent years lobbying for this sequel, and the passion she has for the project rings through in her voicework. Dory becomes more developed here, moving beyond the short-term memory loss bit to reveal a deep emotional need to find connection with her family. Certainly, DeGeneres does animated hall-of-fame work in both movies.
Finding Dory focuses more on comedy than Finding Nemo did. The comic moments are bigger and more elaborate, especially a grand finale that finds – among other things – Hank driving a truck. That shift means the tender aspect Nemo had isn't as strong this time. The film still tries to go for a lump-in-your-throat vibe at about the 80% mark, but because of the broadness of everything else, that moment doesn't quite deliver the same impact. The “soul” of the story is nice, it just lacks the punch that its predecessor had at a similar point.
That is one small quibble in a movie that otherwise delivers a lot of pleasure. The bright, vibrant animation is even better than it was the first time around. All the actors do great work voicing their characters, with Ed O'Neill, in particular, proving to be a valuable asset. There are lots of laughs and ingeniously imagined scenes of Dory overcoming obstacles that threaten to impede her progress. Finding Dory might not hit the emotional highs of Nemo, but it's right on track with everything else. Pixar has managed to avoid the typical sequel pitfalls to create an immensely satisfying family film.
( 1/2 out of four)
Finding Dory is rated PG for mild thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.
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