Finding Dory Review

Posted: December 18, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

finding-dory-movie-posterWritten by Daniel Simpson

Ever since it was announced, I’ve watched from a distance as much of my generation has clamoured in excitement for Finding Dory. I was especially surprised by comments along the lines of, “we’ve been waiting thirteen years for this” as if Finding Nemo had ended on some cliffhanger. Really though, my detachment stemmed largely from the fact that I’ve never been big on Finding Nemo. Even as a kid, the movie always seemed like more of a “baby” movie than a lot of Pixar’s other films. It’s also important to consider that nine year old me was very much into action movies at the time. In 2003 I remember having my mind blown by stuff like X-Men 2, The Matrix Reloaded, and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In that company, a cutesy movie about some talking fish just seemed lame. I did revisit Finding Nemo over the summer and my feelings on it are still pretty average. The father-son bond is really strong, but the humor is really lame and the film feels a lot more like a kid’s movie to me than Pixar’s better work. Needless to say, I was not going in to Finding Dory with much expectations, but to my shock this is actually a pretty enjoyable movie.

The film is set one year after the events of Finding Nemo and our three central fish of Marlin (Albert Brooks), Nemo (Hayden Rolence), and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) are all living comfortably. However a chance incident sparks a memory of Dory’s family, whom she was separated from as a child. This puts Dory on a quest to find where she comes. This journey soon leads her, Marlin, and Nemo to a Marine Life Institute. There, Dory soon meets a disgruntled octopus by the name of Hank (Ed O’Neil), who has his own goals, but is willing to meet with Dory if it means he can get what he wants.

I’ll say upfront that one of the reasons I don’t care much for the original film is that Dory herself is an annoying character and the idea of her being the protagonist of her own film was not very appealing to me. However I actually find her character to be pretty interesting here and really the only difference is that the filmmakers take Dory’s short-term memory loss problem a lot more seriously this time around. Where Finding Nemo treated it more like a quirky movie trait, this film frames it as a legitimate disability. Dory actively struggles with her memory problem and other conversations are evocative of real ones about living with a disability or caring for someone who has one. Ultimately, the film doesn’t say much about disability beyond a generic, “you can do anything as long as you try” message, but I still respect the film for treating the topic seriously.

Finding Dory is also generally a more well-executed movie than its predecessor. As far as comedy goes, I found this to actually be pretty witty and charming. There are a few groaners here and there, but I also got some genuine chuckles and laughs here and there. A big part of this is the supporting cast. It’s clear the filmmakers spent a lot of time coming up with some fun personalities and finding the right voices for them and while a lot of these parts are played by major celebrities they all fit pretty naturally. The highlight is easily Ed O’Neil’s Hank the octopus whose gruff demeanor works really well and he’s also animated in a very fun way. The movie also works pretty decently as an adventure movie of sorts as we watch our characters try and navigate through tricky situations. The filmmakers make really good use of the Marine Life Institute location and there are some creative little set-pieces sprinkled throughout. However the film does go a little too far with what the fish are able to do in the human world and pushes the logic of the world. I realize this is a movie about talking fish, but one of the few things I like about Finding Nemo is the ways in which it created set-pieces while still holding to some sort of reality. That’s really stretched here, particularly in the finale which is pretty ridiculous even if it ends on an amusing gag.

So Finding Dory works pretty well as a fun romp but I do take issue with some of the film’s messages. In particular, I think the way the film holds up Dory and her way of behaving as some sort of major virtue. I’m not saying she’s a bad role-model, but the characters in the film quite literally ask themselves, “what would Dory do?” and ultimately celebrate her impulsive and reckless behaviour. There’s a time for that I suppose, but there’s also value in being cautious, analytic, and making informed decisions. Would it have been so bad for Dory a lesson too? I’m reminded a little bit of Cars 2 and that movie’s insinuation that despite Mater acting like a bumbling idiot who constantly fucked things up for others it was really is friends who should just accept Mater for who he is. Finding Dory is not nearly so stupid or insulting, but it is also guilty of holding up a character as something to aspire to when in reality that character could stand to learn something.

I do wish Finding Dory was able to say something a little more insightful or interesting, but it’s still solid for what it is and certainly better than I expected it to be. Dory herself is more well-realized as a character, more jokes land, and there’s also fun to be had in the adventure storyline. In fact, “fun” is probably the ideal word to describe Finding Dory. I did have fun watching it, but I also don’t think it’s a movie that will last with me in particular. It’s only been a few days and already I can feel it slipping away. I also think that the film is still representative of a Pixar in decline. It’s a good movie, but isn’t as good as last year’s Inside Out and I also don’t think it’s as good as other animated films from 2016 like Zootopia and Kubo and the Two Strings. Still, if you’re looking for some family entertainment, Finding Dory will satisfy that need and I’m also willing to bet it’s still in the higher ranks of 2016 family movies.

B-

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