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How do you top the comedy and charm of “Finding Nemo,” perhaps the funniest Pixar film to date? After all, we’ve been disappointed before. The answer is simple: bring back the team.
With Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E”) back as director and writer, what results is a delightful story that doesn’t merely rehash “Nemo,” but “just keeps swimming” toward new oceanic and emotional destinations.
If you’re here for laughs, “Finding Dory” has plenty, just not as many as “Nemo.” But in place of chuckles, you’ll find a story that pulls every one of your heartstrings to the very end of their lines. Remember Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), Marlin’s (Albert Brooks) charming short-term memory-impaired sidekick in the search for Nemo (now voiced by Hayden Rolence)? Sidekick no more.
It turns out Dory lost her family years ago, but something jars a memory of their location. So Nemo and Marlin join up as she embarks on another adventure across the ocean. But this journey isn’t about finding someone physically lost. They’re on a mission to find Dory’s family and perhaps just help her piece together who she really is.
You’ll run into the occasional characters from “Nemo,” but “Finding Dory” is its own adventure, telling a totally original story. Luckily, Stanton is a narrative master who knows better than to regurgitate anything for its own sake. Instead of a treacherous journey across the ocean, we arrive at the primary destination rather quickly, providing ample time to explore one central locale.
There’s still plenty in common with the first film, but this is Dory’s story, and she swims with a different school of fish. Meet Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) a short-sighted whale shark, who tends to swim into walls. Beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) fears his sonar capabilities, often complaining about his tragic existence. It’s wonderfully melodramatic thanks to the amazing voice talent of Burrell.
The most fleshed out new character, however, is octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill), who doesn’t like the open sea very much, acting rather selfishly to avoid returning. Dory and Hank strike a deal to find her parents, and the two are off, partaking in many antics. Their bond soon transforms into something adorable along the way. Like Dory, Hank never quite found a home, but that’s the point of this film, how a new family forms and how the old family stays together.
I’m warning you now, you’ll cry. Like in the first three minutes. And then a few more times later on. Don’t worry too much – they’re tears of joy. The story begins with how Dory got lost prior to “Finding Nemo.” Cue baby Dory. Super adorbs.
After the opening scene, she begins to experience flashbacks, but she doesn’t know how to cope, largely relying on the help of others. It’s rare for a film to take a central gag from a previous film and turn it into a site of trauma. “Finding Dory” includes several hilarious moments and repeating gags, but her short-term memory loss is not among them.
Switching the lead from Marlin to Dory might seem like a risk. After all, the first film is based on a father trying to keep his family together. But in the process, Dory becomes a pivotal part of that family, even though her disability might seem like a burden to those around her. Still, “Finding Dory” focuses equally on our three leads – Dory, Marlin and Nemo – an important decision if Dory is to understand what family really is.
“Finding Dory” is the kind of emotional ride meant to make you call those closest to you and find some way to hug them through the phone. Don’t mistake my meaning, it’s loads of fun, but at its core, the cutesy moments are just one part of a splendid film about the road to recovery and self-discovery.
I’m sure for some “Finding Dory” comes more than a decade too late. For me, Pixar needed to wait this long to tell such an emotionally endearing yet playful story.
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Tim I am going to take my daughter and her friend today. Your review is terrific!