FINDING DORY – a review by JJ Heaton

Starring: Ellen DeGeneres (Finding Nemo), Albert Brooks (Drive), Ed O’Neill (Modern Family), Diane Keaton (Annie Hall), Eugene Levy (American Pie), Hayden Rolence, Kaitlin Olsen (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Ty Burrell (Muppets Most Wanted), Idris Elba (Pacific Rim), Dominic West (Punisher War Zone)

Director: Andrew Stanton (WALL-E)

Writers: Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse

Runtime: 1 hour 37 minutes

Release Date: 17 June (US), 29 July (UK)

Finding Nemo remains one of the most beloved jewels in Pixar’s collection, telling a beautifully relatable story about a father and son whilst also mixing in all of the fun and humour the studio is known for. But of all their films, it doesn’t scream “sequel” like some of their others do (I’m still waiting, The Incredibles 2), so upon the announcement of Finding Dory I was very sceptical. Sure, the Toy Story sequels are both fantastic, but then there’s Cars 2 (need I say more?). But now that I’ve witnessed it for myself, I’m satisfied to say Finding Dory comfortably sits next to Monsters University in the category of “good, but not great”.

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The film’s opening 20 minutes is when my doubts began to rise, as the set-up does rely heavily on familiar characters and scenarios from the original. It all feels too safe and repetitive, but once the film gets past this and into the meat of the story it thankfully changes gear. Instead of the ocean-spanning adventure of this first, Finding Dory’s enclosed setting of a sea life sanctuary allows for a welcome change in story dynamic and puts our characters in fresh situations. The change in locale also changes up the film’s tone, feeling much lighter and more comedic than the more emotionally driven original. The film’s sense of humour is what keeps it entertaining throughout and it makes sense given the change of character focus, but that’s not to say that the film doesn’t have heart or strong themes at its core. Dealing with subjects like the unity of family and overcoming affliction, it doesn’t attempt to outdo its predecessor and instead focuses on trying to give its own unique but complimenting message. Even so, it’s not what I came out of the film really thinking about. I was having more fun just being with these characters again and seeing what situations they’d end up in next, and from that perspective it works perfectly well. However, I will say that even with all of the new elements, the story will be pretty predictable to anyone with a decent grasp on the tropes of kids’ movies; I simultaneously called two major plot beats well in advance, and I doubt I’m the only one that will. I don’t think it’s going to hamper anyone’s enjoyment of the film, but even as Finding Dory tries to do new things it does often still feel too easy.

Taking a supporting character, especially a comic relief character, and giving them their own movie almost never works out. Dory was a great character in Finding Nemo, bringing levity to a dire situation and acting as the optimistic figure that keeps Marlin going despite the odds. In most hands, a story centred on her would get grading fast, but the filmmakers have figured out how to make Dory a dramatically compelling character simply by flipping her defining trait. Instead of using her short-term memory loss purely for the sake of gags, they make it a dramatic obstacle that she has to overcome and a key part of her character journey. The film does this without sacrificing what made the character so lovable to begin with, and Ellen DeGeneres’ performance as Dory is just as adorable as ever but with some added dramatic weight to boot. Marlin and Nemo take a backseat this time around, and their evolved dynamic this time around reinvigorates what could have again been rehash territory. Yes, Marlin remains a bit overprotective and easily stressed, but that’s what defines him as a character; he’s certainly learnt his lesson from last time, but that doesn’t mean his personality has completely changed. What ultimately keeps the film fresh is its lovable set of new supporting characters that will no doubt become as memorable as those in the original (many of whom return also). Ed O’Neill as the beleaguered octopus Hank will certainly become a favourite, his spindly nature and ability to camouflage providing a lot of great physical humour. Kaitlin Olsen and Ty Burrell as a pair of problematic whales are a fun addition, and, whilst mostly inconsequential to the plot, Idris Elba and Dominic West as the seals are great fun when they’re there. Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy don’t get so much to do as Dory’s parents, mostly relegated to inspirational flashbacks for Dory herself, but these two know how to play the bickering but lovable old couple better than anyone.

Even to this day, Pixar’s vision of the ocean in Finding Nemo remains a breathtaking achievement in animation, perfectly replicating the way the underwater world looks and feels barring, you know, giving the fish human eyes for the sake of empathy. Finding Dory doesn’t spend nearly as much time in the open water, but the new setting of the sanctuary is well realised with unique designs for all the different areas. The quality of the animation is certainly improved with an impressive number of human and aquatic life on screen at once, and characters with unique movement like Hank showing how much computer technology has moved on in thirteen years. Thomas Newman returns as composer and, whilst not as instantly classic as his score for the original, the music is undoubtedly from the same mind as its predecessor.

Finding Dory certainly does not surpass the original, but it’s not really trying to because it knows it can’t. It wisely changes up its tone to fit its main character rather than trying to shove Dory into a box she doesn’t fit in. Is the film perhaps a bit safe and unambitious? Perhaps, but that certainly doesn’t mean Pixar haven’t tried, and I think they’ve made a solid movie that lives up to the studio’s calibre. Unless your expectations are ridiculously overblown, I think anyone who loves Finding Nemo are going to get a kick out of spending a little more time in this aquatic world.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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