Finding Dory – 2016

Director Andrew Stanton
Screenplay Stanton, Victoria Strouse, Bob Peterson
Starring Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy

If there is a movie in the Pixar lineup that was ready for a sequel, it’s The Incredibles. If there is a second movie, it’s Finding Nemo. The good thing in both of these cases is that they did not rush to capitalize on the success of the first film. Dory is 13 years in the making and The Incredibles 2 will be along in 2019, 15 years after it’s first film. The decision to make sequels in the world of Pixar is not based entirely on capital gain. There has to be genuine inspiration somewhere in there too.

Finding Dory does have that inspiration, and it has a collection of new side characters that are just as memorable as Gill, Nigel or Bruce. The 3 best new characters are Kaitlin Olson’s Destiny, Ty Burrell’s Bailey and Ed O’Neill’s Hank. Destiny and Bailey are tank mates at the Marine Life Institute. The former is a near-sighted whale shark while Bailey is a beluga whale who has lost his echolocation due to a concussion. The irony here is that Destiny spends most of the movie running into things but she never gets a concussion herself.

O’Neill gets the best moments and some incredible animation as a grouchy red octopus who had lost a tentacle but now just yearns to get on the transport to Cleveland, so he can get away from the ocean and just be left alone.

The very existence of these marina bound characters is a slight of hand played by the film makers. The goal of giving the second film it’s aquarium setting is to belie the fact that they are all tank bound by giving them a malady of some sort that needs to be rehabilitated within a nebulously indeterminate time in the future. This way we get to keep them all in tanks and still be responsible humans.

How do we get to the Marine Life Institute at Morrow Bay , California? Only in a movie, to be sure. It doesn’t exist in the real world. There is a Marine Reserve there, but nothing like the aquatic zoo they represent in this film. That’s okay, though. We are not here to save the ocean, only to pretend we are doing so in the framework of a movie.

The movie starts out with a young, doe-eyed Dory trying to learn with her overly “concerned” parents. She is taught that she has “short term remembery loss,” though it will take the course of the film to realize the gifts that come with that situation. Somehow Dory is lost from her parents and we see her wandering through life right up to the day she meets Marlin. It’s not exactly as inspired an opening as Up, but there is nothing that can equal that.

One year later, something triggers a memory in Dory’s mind and she quickly convinces Marlin to leave his Hobbit hole and venture forth. That their journey is accomplished with the current riding turtle Crush and company. That this is virtually the same manner and speed that Han and Chewie travel from planet to planet in the Millennium Falcon would be more disconcerting if it didn’t save the viewer so much time.

Once we are in California, we see an endless procession of trash off the coast. I mean endless. I get the feeling the gang at Pixar is trying to send a virtual message to us viewers.  Don’t vote for conservatives for Governor, perhaps?

Once there, somebody hits their head (it happens a lot in this movie) after being chased by a giant squid. Marlin gets mad that somehow Dory has endangered Nemo. Then Marlin grouches at Dory basically to move the plot along and have her wander towards the surface where she is captured by some do-gooders who are there to rescue her from the six pack ring loosely wrapped around her. It’s a stretch, and not the last one involving Marlin’s culpability. After all of the hugging and learning in the first movie, to have poor Marlin caught up doing the same thing he supposedly overcame is a disappointment.

The point of a Finding Dory title is to have Dory in need of finding. So this does make that a possibility. And besides, how else do we meet all the delightful new characters?

From here, Marlin and Nemo plot to get in and Dory plots to finally find her parents. I won’t go into the details, other than to say I never complain about movies going on too long. I hate it when someone says a movie has too many endings. I mean, what if there is never another film?  Then you’d sure be happy that they tagged that non-essential 2 or 3 endings on.

That said, this film has at least 1 to many climaxes and most likely two. I would personally have forgone the car chase and it’s wasteful ending that just adds more litter to the bottom of Morrow Bay.

The performances are great in all cases except for Marlin and Nemo, who are there basically to be separated from Dory and spend 1/3 of the movie upset with events and each other. The movie could have been just as good without them, or perhaps better if they’d found a more plausible way for them to be separated or even kept them on separate tasks together. Anything but what they did. It is a waste of Brooks talent to make him the fall guy in a film that doesn’t need one.

Dory is delightful, and her journey with Hank contains most of the best moments of the film. I am not sure there was ever a better match of actress and character than DeGeneres and her alter ego.

Unfortunately they don’t stick with her version enough. It’s a rule of diminishing returns the number of times we are forced to see young, wide-eyed and hapless Dory. What is effective at first becomes cloying after a half-dozen flashbacks.

If anything, this film shows us who the real star of the series is. There would have to be some major work done to incorporate Marlin as essential at this point. I am not sure Nemo ever mattered less.

There are some spectacular one (or even two) off’s with Fluke, Rudder and Gerald the sea lions, Becky the anything but common loon and a great if improbable post-credits scene with very familiar faces.

This film will not disappoint for most people. It’s got the same amount of pluses and minuses the first movie had. Even so, Finding Dory is already doing better than any other Pixar film, and that’s alright with me. I know that Ratatouille isn’t for everybody.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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