Among Pixar’s many masterpieces, Finding Nemo easily makes my Top 5, which is why confirmation of a sequel both elated and terrified me. It seems like every movie directed towards children and teens nowadays is crafted so as to build a franchise rather than a strong story. While these two can go hand in hand, there’s no doubt that the money-making machine that is Disney can afford to crank out half-developed projects without batting an eye.
Yes, I’m looking at you Cars 2 and Planes.
Thankfully, Finding Dory is not one of these films. With its charming ensemble of both new and returning characters as well as valuable commentary on mental disabilities, this early contender in the summer lineup is a must-see.*
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
The movie opens with a young Dory interacting with her parents, and as expected, the fish’s shtick (pun intended) is the short term memory loss that caused her to literally butt heads with Marlin in the first film. But in true Dory fashion, she manages to work with it and “just keep swimming” to her own tune. However, we do catch glimpses into the troubled psyche behind Dory’s optimism when she begs the protagonist to stay by her side – arguably the most tear-jerking scene Finding Nemo had to offer. Viewers beware, her personal journey is even more likely to require a tissue or two.
But such is necessary to do the beloved blue tang justice.
Regarding premise alone, the sequel held a lot of potential. Upon leaving the world of Finding Nemo, we were also left to believe that Dory had been by herself for quite some time before joining in on the action. And in Marlin and Nemo, she finally found the family she so desired – that is, until she begins missing her parents. I must say that I enjoyed the first half of the film significantly more than the second. The film is solid as a whole, but the former did a better job acting on the danger and wonder of not knowing what was to come that made Finding Nemo so immersive. The second half of Finding Dory on the other hand felt a little too convenient and predictable at times. I blame Crush and newcomer Hank the septopus for this.
While the first film really felt like a Marlin and Dory vs. The World scenario, the sequel has them reach their destination via the turtles in a matter of minutes. A majority of the movie actually takes place at a Marine Life Institute in California where Dory believes to have grown up. She and the father-son duo are inevitably separated and play a dragged-out “hide and seek” across the Institute until the climax. Hank, Dory’s new friend, attempts to help reunite her with her parents in exchange for the possibility of being transferred to a permanent facility. As much as I love Crush and most of the new cast, their contributions took a great deal of the challenge out of Dory’s journey. However, I understand that the sequel wishes to emphasize her inner conflict more so than the reunion itself.
Accompanying Hank are secondary characters Destiny the whale shark, Bailey the beluga whale, and of course, Dory’s parents Jenny and Charlie. We also encounter a trio of sea lions and a somewhat disturbing loon who reminded me of the krill from Happy Feet Two in the respect that they were completely unnecessary – borderline annoying – additions. With the exception of these characters, the others were impressionable if not a little underdeveloped. But such is an issue that overshadows any production boasting a large cast. Despite the considerable screentime devoted to the grump with a heart of gold, we’re never given a reason why Hank desired solitude in the first place nor what exactly endeared him to Dory by the end of the film. Bailey was often played for laughs while Destiny and Dory’s parents were the most fleshed out in my eyes. Marlin and Nemo were on the sidelines for the most part, but still incredibly fun to watch. To my relief, the dynamic between Marlin and Dory grew, but retained its buddy status.
So how well do premise and characters come together? One thing to keep in mind is the perspective through which we navigate the story. No, I’m not strictly talking about Dory, but the film’s marine life in general. There are scenes in which we visit a gift store, a quarantine, and an exhibit in which children are allowed to touch starfish and sponges – scenes exaggerated to the tenth so as to reflect the claustrophobia and comedic terror experienced by the creatures being handled. All of this makes Dory’s plight all the more humbling. As much as we’re reminded that she and the other characters are indeed fish, her moments of anxiety, confusion, and triumph are no short of human. Her “helplessness” is even turned into strength when Marlin and Nemo decide to “think like Dory” in order to get out of a sticky situation. In a similar vein to Finding Nemo, the sequel highlights what makes Dory unique and the importance of never having to apologize for who you are.
Considering how essential media has become in the education of our youth, films like Finding Dory will undoubtedly plant the seeds to destigmatizing mental health. And as if the movie wasn’t amazing enough, it managed to surpass Shrek the Third for the highest grossing animated film in its opening weekend. With such an unforgettable heroine and a truly human story to boot, Finding Dory is the Pixar sequel we never knew we needed – but are overjoyed to have partaken in.
*Ever wondered what happened to the Tank Gang? If you plan on watching the sequel, be sure to stay in the theater until the very end of the credits.