MOVIE REVIEW: Finding Dory

(Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios via


Unless the title begins with "Toy Story," Disney/Pixar has not had very good luck with effective sequels.  "Cars 2" aimed too high for a bigger international stage and "Monsters University" failed as a bonding origin story prequel.  Thirteen years after the original, "Finding Dory" changes that weak trend with a winning flourish.  Teeming with plenty of vibrant energy and anchored by Pixar's signature punch of finely tuned emotional storytelling, this sequel will delight audiences young and old and earn its mature place as a companion piece to the classic "Finding Nemo."  Those of you reading the title "Finding Dory" and fearfully expecting an unoriginal repeat of the first film with the shoe placed on another foot, err fin, breathe easy.  This isn't a carbon copy akin to something like "The Hangover 2."

"Finding Dory" begins a year after the events of "Finding Nemo."  The eternally forgetful blue tang Dory (the effervescent Ellen DeGeneres) has become an adopted neighbor to clownfish father Marlon (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence).  Needing a little smarts, she commonly tags along with Nemo to school until one day a memory of her childhood is triggered and Dory begins to remember her parents, Charlie (Eugene Levy) and Jenny (Diane Keaton).  Desperate to learn about herself and her family, Dory becomes determined to follow the clues of her flickering memories.  She is convinced her parents are looking for her after all these years as much as she is looking for them.  Worrying about her careless inattention and knowing what it's like to lose family, Marlon and Nemo dauntlessly join her search.

The clues and a tubular sea turtle current ride expeditiously bring the three to the California coast and the Monterey Marine Life Institute, an aquarium and sea life rescue center.  Dory is innocently snatched up by the local marine biologists and separated from Marlon and Nemo.  She is brought into quarantine and tagged for transport away to Cleveland.  In containment, Dory meets a gruff "septapus" named Hank (Ed O'Neill) who is trying to stay in captivity and avoid going back into the wild.  He agrees to aid in her search in exchange for her ticket tag out of California.  

Meanwhile on the ocean side, Marlon and Nemo seek the assistance of Fluke and Rudder (Idris Elba and Dominic West), a pair of sea lions, for a way to get into the Marine Life Center and go after Dory.  Between their two predicaments and pursuits, the main characters intersect and befriend a kooky cast of new supporting players, including Ty Burrell's concussed beluga whale Bailey and Kaitlin Olson's near-sighted whale shark Destiny.  The shared adventures of Dory, Marlon, Nemo, and company have their cute, charming, and indelible moments of humor and glee.  The smiles and laughs wash over easily.  Some of that, at times, especially near the wild climax, veers to unnecessary (but forgivable) mayhem and zaniness.  Be sure to stay after the credits for one more satisfying payoff too.  

What is unexpected and entirely appreciated in "Finding Dory" is its progressive thematic resonance.  This journey is far more emotional than the original's and the credit for that goes to its new titular figure.  Dory is, for one, a strong female character with no cheesy romantic angle to make her arch self-important or cliche.  Dory is also, when you realize it, a handicapped character with legitimate mental illness.  Remember that she is played by Ellen DeGeneres, a proud independent woman herself.  Ellen's characterization of Dory goes beyond her plucky real-life cuteness.  With new goals, she embodies a fantastic heroine that earns a respectful place in your heart.

At its core, "Finding Dory" is a two-sided missing persons story between parents and a child longing for knowledge of present fates or the dreamed chance at reunion.  There are lingering moments where you will be reminded of youthful fears of losing someone or yourself.  Younger viewers might not be ready for that and parents might not be ready to have those conversations.  Take the PG rating seriously and stick with ages 5 and up.  Rest assured, those difficult moments are gracefully joined by inspiring turning points of optimism and success.  Both ends of that impassioned and sentimental balance have the power to rightly reduce you to a beautiful, blubbering mess.  In true Pixar fashion, that is superior substance you will not find in your typical run-of-the-mill summer animated entry (yeah, we mean you, worthless "Minions"). 

LESSON #1: SIGOURNEY WEAVER IS THE VOICE AND SOURCE OF ALL WISDOM-- This is one of the best name-dropping cameos of all-time.  You'll see and you'll be laughing.   

LESSON #2: THERE IS A POINT WHERE MEMORY LOSS STOPS BEING FUNNY-- In "Finding Nemo," Dory was the funny sidekick and comic relief thanks to her clueless quirks.  This time around, she's the star and her biggest flaw gets a truer interpretation.  This film makes you stop with any dismissive "oh, silly forgetful Dory" laughs and excuses, and shows Dory's mental challenges for the difficult and damaging scars they truly are.  One can make an argument that this, of all films, could be the most beautiful movie about memory loss since "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."  Yeah, I said it.  

LESSON #3: THE ETERNAL HOPE THAT RESTS INSIDE FAMILIES OF MISSING PEOPLE-- "Finding Dory" is not trying to be a kid's version of the Oscar-winning "Room," but similar parallels of despair and sympathy can strike a chord.  Those senses are present enough that you won't look at those missing children posters by the entrances of Walmart (while likely buying your Disney merchandise) quite the same way again.  The highs and lows of the constant belief of these types of families are fully on display in this film.  

LESSON #4: JUST KEEP SWIMMING-- Dory's little ditty of a manta (and hashtag) gains a greater significance from learning her history and struggles.  More than a catchy chant, it has advanced into a message of positivity and perseverance.  That's a simple and tidy message of life advice we all, young and old, should be following.  Start with these nine suggestions from The Huffington Post and go find you own.