“Finding Nemo” hooked Roger Ebert so deeply he called the animated fish tale “a delight.” Families loved the story of clownfish Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks) and forgetful blue tang Dory’s (voice of Ellen Degeneres) underwater road trip to find the wayward Nemo so much they reeled in millions of digital video discs, making it the best-selling DVD ever.
That film is held near and dear by many, including me. Years ago my now wife and I went to see a particularly grim horror movie. Despite “watching” the entire film through her fingers the creep fest rattled her so badly we had to go see “Finding Nemo” directly afterwards as a palate cleanser. It worked, the story coupled with gorgeous animation and warm-hearted humour soothed her jangled nerves and because of Pixar there were no nightmares that night.
Disney and Pixar are clearly hoping those good feelings have lingered over the thirteen years since Nemo first made a splash. This weekend “Finding Dory” enters a crowded summer season, one already stuffed to the gills with sequels, reboots and reimaginings.
As the new movie begins it’s one year after the events of the first film. Dory is still a charmingly dippy and forgetful fish—“ I suffer from short-term memory loss,” she says, “it runs in my family. At least I think it does.”—now living with her adopted family, Nemo (voice of Hayden Rolence) and the overprotective Marlin inside a sea anemone in the Great Barrier Reef.
When Dory accompanies Nemo on a school trip old memories are stirred up when she sees manta rays migrate back to their homes. “I remembered something,” she squeals. “That’s not possible, is it? Okay, is it like a picture in your head and then you think I’ve seen this before?” Struck with a bad case of homesickness, she has hazy childhood memories of her folks Jenny and Charlie (voices of Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) and a place called “the jewel of Morro Bay, California.” With Nemo and Marlin at her side, she sets off to find her biological family, eventually arriving at the Marine Life Institute where a cranky octopus named Hank (voice of Ed O’Neill), Bailey the beluga whale (voice of Ty Burrell) and whale shark Destiny (voice of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s” Kaitlin Olson) help in her quest.
As a-Dory-ble as “Finding Dory” may be, it swims in slightly murkier water than “Finding Nemo.” Director Andrew Stanton—the mind behind two classics “WALL·E” and “Finding Nemo”—mines “Nemo” nostalgia for all its worth, occasionally relying on that movie’s goodwill to smooth the way for the new story. He has lots to fall back on, likeable characters with expressive fish faces and fun voice work from Degeneres, Brooks and franchise newcomers Keaton, Levy, O’Neill and Burrell, but it isn’t just a nostalgia fest.
Stanton skilfully weaves in many heart-tugging moments, particularly as Dory’s journey nears its end. No spoilers here, but after a familiar-feeling first half the movie carefully balances action adventure with touching family flourishes in the second half.
Visually, this may be Pixar’s most accomplished movie to date. Spectacular, imaginative 3D animation provides visual interest even when the story sporadically washes out. Stanton and his Pixar wizards create underwater, and sometimes-above sea level, worlds that immerse the viewer.
“Finding Dory” is wonderfully made all-ages entertainment with lots of heart, in fact, octopus Hank has three of them! That it somehow makes us feel real emotion for cold-blooded fish may be its greatest achievement. It suffers only in comparison to its classic predecessor.