[Review] - Finding Dory

In which Sigourney Weaver solves all our problems, as usual.

First off, the good news: this is Pixar’s best film since Toy Story 3. The bad news: the end result is still a film that I left the theatre wondering if it was at all necessary. From a business perspective, it’s a no-brainer. Finding Nemo is probably their most loved film, behind the Toy Story trilogy, and Dory is easily one of their most loved characters. A sequel is a license to print money. Now, I’ve always felt that the studio showcased true artistic integrity in the early years by not pumping out sequels to their hits. But with their original works faltering since their Disney-integration, now is the age of revisiting their former glories, but it seems for purely financial reasons. With Monsters prequels, Finding sequels, Incrediblers and another Toy Story in the works, I struggle to find a reason to get excited about the films coming out of the studio these days. And it seems that the film makers are suffering the same problem.

Is this film necessary? One of the tenants, almost a cliché really, is that any story written surely must tell of the most important day of a character’s life. Otherwise, what is the point? The challenge of a sequel then must be to tell a story of equal importance to the original for the character. While Finding Dory skirts this somewhat by shifting the focus from the former protagonist to the former sidekick, I left the theatre feeling entertained, but less than satisfied. Did we learn anything new in this adventure? I feel like the answer is no. I almost certainly feel that Finding Dory lacks the lasting impact of its predecessor. It is likely that I will never feel an overpowering need to rewatch Dory. It absolutely needs to end here, with no need for a Finding Marlin, or Finding Gerald to follow up some years from now. Finding Dory is yet another in Pixar’s regrettably growing list of “turn and burn” films: make it, release it, make money, and move on. And from the audience’s perspective: release it, take our money, watch it, and forget about it.

To Andrew Stanton’s credit, he did find the story with the most potential in which to plum. Dory’s backstory was not demanding to be told, her mysterious origins not a screaming plot hole in which the logic of the original threatened to sink. But, as a hook, it does the job. Where does she come from? The problem is, like so very many sequels, the movie falls into the trap of revisiting elements from the original. Not blatantly, but thematically. Instead of seagulls, there are otters. Instead of sharks, there are sea lions. Instead of angler fish, there are giant squid. And instead of a dentist’s office, there is an aquarium. The aquarium, by the way, the writers never settle on being a love letter or a rather aggressive condemnation of such facilities. The journey itself isn’t that much of a journey, and if the film falters in a single, massive way, it’s that the first act is rather quick and dirty, and not much of an act at all. Dory’s memories of parents long forgotten resurface, a destination is immediately established, and a quick ride on turtle back gets the characters from Australia to California faster than a montage. It’s understandable that Stanton would want to avoid the road trip vibe of the original, but it also takes away from the discovery element of Dory’s journey of discovery. Imagine Lord of the Rings if Frodo left the shire, hopped on the Middle Earth express to Mordor, then spent the rest of the film just kind of wandering around the base of the volcano.

Dory also isn’t a character that can support a film on her own. She was perfectly utilized in the first, as emotional support and comedic relief. Dory herself is actually much more annoying as a protagonist than as a supporting character, mostly because her short term memory gimmick gets real old real fast. Here, she is still the comedic relief, but never manages to elevate herself to the emotional core of the film. Perhaps it was because her journey felt truncated. Perhaps it’s because she’s surrounded by more interesting characters for whom she is still an emotional support (Hank, played by Ed O’Neil, is the film’s best character). Or maybe it’s because, at the end, when the writers had the opportunity to give Dory some real, harsh and substantial emotional development, they decided against that, and went for the disingenuous happy ending. But at least Dory still had somewhere to go. Marlin and Nemo’s story is well and truly over, and the writers spend this film either not knowing what to do with them, trying to avoid them, or turning them into dicks for the sake of some forced development. And as much as I love Albert Brooks’ performance, and as much as the banter between Marlin and Nemo is fun, the clowns should have stayed on the reef, leaving Dory to surround herself with a new cast. Or better yet, why involve Dory at all? It seems that the film could have taken place entirely in the aquarium, without needing to involve characters from the former film in any way. Certainly, from a marketing and branding perspective, Finding Dory is an easier sell than Finding Hank or Finding Destiny, but the old Pixar mentality would have went with that harder, but more fulfilling and original option.

Is this a charming film? Yes, absolutely. Fluke and Rudder (Idris Elba and Dominic West) are stand outs, and baby Dory steals the show (the animation combined with Sloane Murray’s performance are heartbreaking). Is this a funny film? Yes. There are absolutely laugh out loud moments, and a broad range of levels on which the jokes hit. Is it technically laudable? Of course. Though nothing as impressive as the water effects when the first film was released, but the RenderMan, Katana and Presto engines are working at full bore on this one. Is it stacked with talent? Absolutely, though I would argue that Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton aren’t given nearly as much to do as they could have done. But does it have a lasting oomph? I don’t think so. The lessons and themes aren’t that different, or are entirely the same as the ones learned in the last film. The first act is a mess and the third act and climax are borrowed from other, better Pixar films (and they take the easy way out, which I won’t forgive). While Finding Dory is a fine way to spend a couple hours on a summer evening, it isn’t a film that lives with you afterwards.

Except for baby Dory. If you don’t melt in those eyes, you might just be made of coral.
Share on Google Plus

About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.