This review contains mild spoilers
Finding Dory is the long-awaited sequel to everyone’s favorite childhood film. Coming 13 years after the release of the original, this sequel represents Pixar’s hesitancy to create sequels to just about any film they’ve made. Their first sequel, admittedly, was also their third film. Toy Story 2 came only four years after Toy Story. Toy Story 3 was released 11 years after that. Pixar, even as a subsidiary of Disney, is allowed a lot of creative freedom with regard to what films they produce. Very few seem mandated by their parent company, and Pixar’s plans often take years and years to finally come to fruition. WALL·E was advertised as having come from an idea that was a result of brainstorming shortly before the release of Toy Story, which would mean the timeline for that film, from inception to release, was 14 years.
Andrew Stanton, writer-director of both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, has said that Pixar needed to make the sequels of its films “creatively,” as opposed to releasing films out of financial concerns. It’s arguable that this has always been the case; some have accused Pixar of selling out after the release Cars 2, a film which critics have not taken kindly to, and which has been seen as merely a form of big-budget promotion for Cars-brand merchandise (Disney sold so much merch with the Cars brand that both films could have bombed and they still would have turned a profit overall). Monsters University was also seen as a disappointment in the eyes of many people by not living up to its predecessor. Indeed, Pixar itself has been seen as being in a creative slump. Critical reception to their films has gone from consistently stellar to consistently “pretty good.” With this in mind, and with the shadow of corporate-mandated production looming over this movie, does Finding Dory live up to Finding Nemo?
Unfortunately, that’s a tall order. Too tall an order to say that Finding Dory is as good as Finding Nemo, but it is definitely in the same league as the original film, and it’s a good enough movie that it justifies its addition to the Pixar canon.
Per the title, the movie focuses on Dory, but our old friends are along for the ride as well. Though we don’t get to hear from Marlin and Nemo as much as in the first film, due to the necessity of having to introduce several new characters, they are present for a goodly portion of the movie. Harkening back to the first film where Dory’s ineptitude was somehow instrumental in navigating the myriad dangerous situations faced by the main characters, the plot is driven along by the effectiveness of her quirks. She is able to see seemingly inescapable situations in such a different light that she finds her way out.
The premise of this film is that Dory is haunted by memories of her parents. Throughout the film, she regains her memories piece by piece as her friends and the circumstances she’s in help to facilitate the reemergence of her childhood life. Separated from her family at a young age, she wandered the ocean for years, looking for them. That’s how the story connects her to Marlin, as she accidentally ran into him while on the hunt for her mom and dad. Marlin, knowing what it feels like to have lost family, agrees to help her find her own.
Despite being for children, this movie deals with very adult themes. Themes of loss and love, and what efforts someone would go through to help or find family. This is one of the reasons that Finding Nemo resonated so well with audiences around the world, young and old. It tapped in and worked with the basic themes of love and family on a level rarely seen in film. Another reason is that both Nemo and Marlin had their own arcs in the film. Marlin learned what it was like to trust in others again, and Nemo learned how to be brave and independent. We wanted the characters to see each other again because of how the film connected us to each of them separately. In addition, Nemo is an active character, with agency. He doesn’t function as “the damsel in distress” because of his own efforts to reach his father, just as his father was attempting to reach him. Once the reunion happens, the emotional stakes are doubled because of our two leads having simultaneously achieved the same goal.
In Finding Dory, we’re only ever given one side of the story: Dory’s. The only times we see her mom and dad are through her jogged memories. We’re told that they made efforts to search for her on their own, but we don’t see it. They’re given such comparatively little screen time that their emotional stakes are pithy compared to their daughter’s. They are given no agency, and they themselves do nothing to help drive the plot along. Finding Dory, try as it might, just doesn’t reach the same emotional highs as Nemo did. It feels smaller as a film, thematically and physically (it only takes place in a few select locations; with Nemo, you felt that, at the end of it all, Marlin had truly been across the entire ocean to get his son back).
It’s not a bad movie at all. It actually replicates many of Nemo’s themes successfully. There are some nice new characters who are likable and have a purpose for being there. There are good jokes, good character moments, and an intriguing story. And the animation is fantastic (although, here, it’s outshone by the animated short, Piper, shown before the movie in classic Pixar tradition and also animated by Pixar).
All in all, Finding Dory rates a solid 8/10 from me.