Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Movie Review: Finding Dory

Finding Dory is the third Disney movie featuring talking CG animals released in 2016 so far, and the third to exceed my expectations. If you haven't seen it yet, I'll tell you it's surprisingly intelligent, extremely entertaining, and hilarious. It returns to the world and characters of Finding Nemo, and even uses a superficially similar premise, but the movie doesn't rehash the same story or concepts. It could have - I don't think anyone would have complained if it reused the same epic adventure template that made the first a success, despite the fact it would have felt a little like a cash grab. But it didn't feel like Finding Dory was conceived as a cash grab: it felt like they saw an opportunity to tell a different story.

And, if you haven't seen the movie, that's your cue to stop reading until you've rectified that. From here on out, we're crossing into deeper waters. And spoilers lurk within these depths.

While its predecessor was an external adventure - a father's odyssey where he overcame obstacles in an attempt to get his son back - Dory's journey is primarily internal. Marlin and Nemo have a B-plot in which they're looking for her, but this is a red herring (or clown fish or whatever). This is a movie about Dory finding herself.

In a lot of ways, Finding Dory is as much a companion piece to last year's Inside Out as it is a follow-up to Nemo. Only while Inside Out was about emotion, Finding Dory explores memory and identity. Symbolism is used heavily, with dark depths standing in for lost memories, coral reminiscent of folding brain tissue, and even the music evoking firing neurons.

But while there's a cerebral aspect to Finding Dory, the movie also provides zany antics, ridiculous characters, and a little excitement. On top of the cognitive science, there's a sort of heist/escape movie going on, centered around a Marine Life Institute in California. Despite the film's layered themes, this is one of Pixar's most cartoonish productions - they play much faster and looser with animal behavior, appearance, and abilities than they did in Nemo. A few minor characters feel more like they wandered in from a rival studio, but the movie does a good enough job developing relationships to avoid any issues.

Without a question, the movie's break-out star is Hank, an octopus who just wants to retire and live in a tank somewhere. He's grumpy and timid, but he's also something of a master escape artist, able to infiltrate anywhere on land or sea.

Sigourney Weaver's minor role is also fantastic (not to mention reminiscent of her part in Wall-E). I hope Pixar finds a way to slip her into more movies in a similar fashion. With all due respect to Pixar's good luck charm, I'd have a lot more fun trying to spot Weaver's cameos than Ratzenberger's.

If I had to log a complaint, it would be that Marlin's story felt wedged in here. He essentially winds up having to grow and develop in almost the same way he did in part one. His scenes were still fun, but it was the one part of the movie that felt redundant.

Asking whether Finding Dory rises to the heights of Finding Nemo is the wrong question. Wisely, Andrew Stanton didn't try to compete with the classic. Instead, he saw elements in the character of Dory that could support a very different movie and offer a completely different experience. This was a great film that exploited our affection for the character of Dory and delivered an entertaining, thought-provoking story.

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