Posted in: Review

Finding Dory

No longer does Toy Story get to claim sole credit for generating a Pixar sequel that surpasses the original. Finding Dory, the latest tentpole from the trailblazing animation studio, manages what no other non-Buzz-and-Woody-centered Pixar extension has – rejuvenating a classic original with a deeper narrative and more delicate human themes within its anthropomorphized world. Andrew Stanton’s film doesn’t merely place familiar characters in creative new scenarios, but broadens their scope, expands their canvas, and achieves grander emotional resonance. Rare is the Pixar sequel that feels as creatively and emotionally fresh as one of its original works, but Finding Dory pulls that off.

Most admirable – and most surprising – about this sequel is that even while it has to kinda-sorta replicate the base search-and-rescue formula of its predecessor, its mystery is derived solely from its central character, the famous blue tang fish with a bad short-term memory. Whereas 2003’s Finding Nemo was very much a plot-driven entity – cute clownfish gets lost and goes on a zany adventure while his beleaguered dad embarks on his own zany adventure to find him – Finding Dory is a character study in which the character’s adventure happens to occasionally be zany. Since our guide on this journey can only remember short bursts at a time, our discoveries as an audience are as impactful as hers, allowing a depth and intimacy of focus that wasn’t there the first time around. In a manner not dissimilar from Inside Out’s exploration of human emotion, Dory probes the source and impact of memory – how it influences, sometimes distorts, but always helps define who we are and how we interact with the world.

If one stops to consider life under the sea for Dory (once again voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), it’s remarkably treacherous – surviving on a combination of instinct and whatever memory fragments she can piece together in the moment. It helps to have Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and Nemo (voiced by Hayden Rolence) as constant presences, an adopted family for a wandering lost soul. And yet Dory’s thoughts are occasionally haunted by the recollections of her parents, from whom she was separated as a child for reasons that have long since evaporated into the black hole of her memory. Who were they? What happened to them? And what do those answers mean for who Dory has become?

Oh, the lofty questions posed in this would-be children’s movie. Finding Dory is about the search for those answers – indeed, the search for who Dory really is. Sure, she gets lost in a manner of speaking, wandering from her standard confines and netted into a rescue boat on its way to a conservatory. And sure, worrywart Marlin and adventurous Nemo embark on another zany adventure to find her. But the brilliance of this screenplay – by Stanton and Victoria Strouse – is that it’s about self-discovery, not some rote game of hide-and-seek.

As ever, the Pixar team conjures breathtaking images – land and sea alike are rendered as beautifully as any environment Pixar has ever created – and disarming narrative and thematic stokes that are as affecting as they are clever. Stanton, who crafted the ultimate Pixar synthesis of creative comedy and polemical politics in WALL-E, infuses this material with a none-too-subtle message about preserving wildlife and allowing animals to roam free in their natural habitats, but delivers it via one impressive set piece after another, ranging from intensely claustrophobic to broadly madcap. Through it all, though, the beating heart of the film lies, appropriately, with its namesake, willfully indomitable even if she can’t always remember why. Dory’s well-worm motto is “just keep swimming,” and if she follows those words, she might just find something…maybe even herself.

The Blu-ray/DVD combo release includes the original theatrical short plus a new one, deleted scenes, and numerous making-of featurettes.