Finding Dory and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Well… I guess we’re back again. Pixar has gotten pretty passé for me recently and making a sequel to my least favorite of their movies that ISN’T a rip off of Maximum Overdrive is probably not gonna be what ends up turning them around for me. Still, the studio never makes a lazy movie (except for those G rated Christine films) so we can at least expect a certain level of quality from them, and maybe I’ll be a bit more receptive to their fish story this time around. Does it manage to bring back that Pixar magic that has gotten kinda dull and played out recently? Let’s find out!!
The movie takes place a year after the events of the first one (which I guess means this takes place in in the heydays of George W Bush and Nickelback) and since then Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) has been living with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). One day during their day to day life of… swimming I guess, Dory sees something that triggers a memory that had long been forgotten which is that she has parents and lost them many years ago; probably due to her short term memory condition. Now that she’s aware that her parents are out there somewhere, she manages to rope Marlin and Nemo into going with her to the last place she remembers being at before losing them forever which was somewhere in California. That somewhere just happens to be the Marine Life Institute which is a rescue center to provide care to, rehabilitate, and eventually release the sea creatures that they either catch or are sent to them for treatment. As you’d expect, Dory manages to separate herself from Marlin and Nemo who have to then FIND her, and while they’re doing that Dory meets up with an octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill) who is willing to help her find whatever exhibit her parents are in if she’ll do something for him. See, Dory was sent to the medical wing and immediately got a tag put on her to send her to the Cleveland Aquarium because… I actually don’t know why come to think of it. The tags are only placed on fish that are too sick to survive in the open ocean, so… is there gonna be a really sad third movie coming out in ten years? Anyway, Hank wants to go to the Cleveland Aquarium but isn’t sick enough for them to send him off, so he’ll take her tag in exchange for carrying her around until they find her parents. Oh, and they’re on a timer because the truck to Cleveland leaves in the morning so Hank is not in the mood to mosey about take their sweet time. Will Dory manage to find her parents in this place? What about Marlin and Nemo? Are they gonna find her before… I guess something bad happens? Will Pixar ever get to The Incredibles 2!?
The movie is… fine. It’s got the Disney Pixar polish that ensures that, outside of EXTREME cases (*cough* Cars 2 *cough*), their movies are of a certain level of quality that is admirable from a studio that has already cemented itself as the cornerstone of an entire genre of films; but then I guess that’s why they’re STILL on top. My feelings about Pixar have been mixed recently and I’ve honestly been growing less and less interested in whatever they put out. Hell, I didn’t bother seeing The Last Dinosaur last year, and while I did see Inside Out I as very lukewarm about it. Finding Dory falls into a similar place for me. There’s no denying that it’s brilliantly thought out and looks great, but all that attention to detail and the carefully constructed story beats were in service to a story that I just couldn’t get invested in. I wasn’t a big fan of the first movie either though, so what do I know? I think I like this better because of the interesting setting and some of the side characters, but for the most part I was only passively impressed; appreciative of what they were doing with this movie, but unengaged throughout.
The issue for me begins at the very premise itself which is the hunt for Dory’s family and basically how easy it is for her to succeed in this mission. Okay, EASY might not be the right word as there are clear struggles throughout the movie (and her grappling with the problems her memory can cause are genuinely triumphant), but the movie never wants you to question Dory’s actions and ends up contorting itself in order to serve the purpose of making her out to be heroic and amazing in everything she does; the worst offender of this being the finale where she JUST SO HAPPENS to give right directions out of pure luck (she really doesn’t know where she’s going) and how ultimately dangerous what she and Hank are doing in this scenario. There honestly should have been A LOT of bodies left in their wake by the end of the movie, but it ends up tactfully avoiding them so that Dory can come out on top. It’s the most extreme example, but so much that happens in this movie is about Dory showing everyone just how capable she is and how wrong they are to think she’s less than able to do what she wants to. That’s a fantastic message for this film to impart, but aside from one brilliant scene towards the end where she’s using what she knows to overcome her situation and find what she’s looking for, what she ends up doing feels less a product of her own ingenuity and strength and rather a stroke of dumb luck that worked out for the best.
Something else in this that bothered me that maybe I just don’t know enough about is the way they portray aquariums and marine rescue efforts. Now I won’t argue that there are abuses all around that can happen in unscrupulous places and that’s something that should be discussed, but it feels like the creators of Finding Dory weren’t committed to any specific message which means this aspect of the story feels really muddled. Aside from some jaded (not ABUSIVE) staff, the Marine Life Institute seems pretty great. Clean and spacious tanks, hard-working staff, medical treatment centers, hell they even have Sigourney Weaver narrating the place! Now they do throw in two examples that I can recall where the wildlife weren’t treated great; one of which being the touching pool where starfish, anemone, and other such creatures were being straight up tortured and assaulted by the kids who were sticking their hands in their environment. You know what? Fair enough. I have no clue if these creatures appreciate being touched in real life and the scene is actually really well executed; reminding me most of the toy torture scene from daycare in Toy Story 3. The other less than stellar situation in the park is when it comes to Destiny the Shark Whale who keeps bumping into the walls of her tank. Now again, knowing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about caring for these creatures, I could only read it as the explanation that they gave which is that Destiny has terrible eyesight (hence why the institute hasn’t released her back into the wild). Some I’ve seen interpret this as her tank being too small which… I can’t say is true or not.
Now maybe the not so committed nature to their view on these kind of locations is intentional (even the best of care places aren’t always perfect), but it’s kind of distracting that it’s in there at all and may be a byproduct of the rewrites they did to the script after Blackfish was released. The end result (whether or not this is their actual feelings about these places) ends up not lending itself to any real point other than their CLEAR feelings on those touch exhibits, and so the setting where all this takes place feels very much in flux as sometimes it’s good and they’re treating animals with respect, and other times the fish are all gung ho about freedom. Whatever their feelings are about aquariums and marine rescue and rehabilitation centers truly are, I don’t think this movie is gonna change a lot of hearts and minds on the issue one way or the other; it just felt rather pointless to bring these questions up and then mumble out a halfhearted response.
Now I know I’ve been railing on this movie for the majority of this review, so let’s stop it there and get into what’s ACTUALLY great and why I still would recommend this, albeit unenthusiastically. All the voice acting is great, each character in here has a lot of solid jokes to work with, and the animation is top notch. Well… except for the humans. They aren’t a big part of this movie, but they appear often enough for it to be noticeable that they don’t look too great. Still, the animals here are brilliantly rendered and realized with some great talent backing them up. The sea lions were a pretty big stand out as far as laughs (GET OFF GERALD!), Katlin Olson and Ty Burrell have great chemistry as the two whales at the Marine Life Institute, and Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton are just fine as Dory’s parents. The best among them though is Ed O’Neill as Hank the Octopus (technical Septopus considering they lost a tentacle in the wild). WOW. This guy stole every scene he was in and thankfully was in A LOT of scenes. I honestly felt more for his quest to get sent to the Aquarium than for Dory’s quest to find her family and wish they’d gone more into his backstory as to why he’s so afraid of going back into the ocean. I mean SURE, we can take an educated guess, but this guy had perfect comedic timing, lots of great visual gags, and a character arc that turned him from a grumpy curmudgeon into a lovable grumpy curmudgeon.
This movie wasn’t made for me. For one, I’ve been growing colder and colder to Pixar’s model over the last few years, and I wasn’t even a big fan of Finding Nemo when they were still on the upward swing. I can say that I’ll probably remember this unlike the first film if for no other reason than Ed O’Neill, and that it does have that Pixar magic that makes them one of the few animation studios willing to tackle really challenging issues instead of pandering to what some studio exec thinks a kid would want to see. I probably wouldn’t have even bothered seeing this, at the theater or for the home release, if I wasn’t planning to review it, and it was a decent enough experience for me. If you still feel the Pixar magic or were a fan of the first one, I absolutely think you’ll at least like this movie. Everyone else? It’s not bad, but it’s also not a turning point for the company who I feel has pretty much plateaued since Toy Story 3. You’ll probably want to check it out at some point, but it’s not really essential viewing from a studio that has already made some of the most endearing and imaginative animation features of all time.
If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below! I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite! In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed! Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage! You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop! HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?