The first time I ever heard of Dory was back in 2003 when I was on a Disney cruise with my family. Finding Nemo was a few weeks shy of being released, but the cruise held a special advance screening of the film for its passengers. I attended not knowing a thing about the film itself, but thought I would give it a try regardless. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with this scatterbrained blue fish and all the joy and humor her creators attached to her. Dory instantly became one of my favorite Disney characters of all time to the point that whatever hits and misses the summer blockbuster season may bring forth, the return of such an endearing character in Finding Dory is certainly one of the year’s highlights.
Picking up a year after the original story ended, Finding Dory follows the titular character, once again voiced by Ellen Degeneres and suffering from short-term memory loss, as she lives a happy existence with Marlon (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) in the ocean. However, when a sudden burst of memory from her childhood offers up a number of clues to her past, Dory sets out with her friends in tow on a hilarious and unforgettable quest to find her parents, Charlie (Eugene Levy) and Jenny (Diane Keaton).
Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older or perhaps because the writing team over at Pixar and Disney have gotten softer, but I can’t remember the first film relying so much on the tugging of heartstrings. So much of Finding Dory is shamelessly sentimental that many of the opening and third act scenes elicited huge amounts of “awws” from the audience for a multitude of reasons from shots of a family of otters having a “cuddle party” to Dory feeling that she is to blame for losing her own parents. And yet this sentimentality highlights the film’s idea of the importance of family and going to the ends of the earth (or the ocean) for them. Furthermore it’s hard not to applaud the film’s idea of family coming in different shapes and forms. By having Marlon and Nemo constantly trailing Dory as she gets into one dangerous situation after another, the film deftly shows how the term “family” extends beyond those who gave you life and ultimately applies to anyone who shows you love.
Before I sat down to write this review, I discovered that Dory was named the most “liked” Disney character on Facebook — and rightfully so. Dory is the kind of character that deserves to exist as a central figure. She’s positive, optimistic and joyful for no other reason but the fact that that is her essence. Dory suffers from something that is hard to comprehend, let alone live with, which gives her no choice but to live moment by moment. But she embraces every one of those moments and manages to find the light and brightness in each of them before they are taken away from her. She’s a great role model for children who might find themselves stricken with an affliction which sets them apart from everyone else. Sure, Finding Dory should delight every child who goes to see it. However if it also manages to make certain children feel less alone, then that more than justifies the movie’s existence.
Dory will probably go down as Degeneres’s defining acting role thanks to the warmth and love she gives the character. Her performance stole the show the last time around and it’s a sheer thrill to see her slip seamlessly back into the iconic character she helped create. Likewise, it’s always a treat anytime Brooks gets to perform, even if its via animation. The medium doesn’t matter as the comedy legend brings his trademark comedic neuroses once again to the role of Marlon, proving, like Degeneres, he hasn’t skipped a beat. The rest of the cast, including Keaton, Levy, Ed O’Neill as a grumpy octopus, and Kaitlin Olsen as a whale shark add plenty of laughs, heart and pathos to the proceedings.
I saw Finding Dory in 3D, a feature which I found to be non-existent for the simple reason that the film is just as glorious without it. The animation remains top notch as Pixar continues to raise the bar in that world. This is helped by a number of sequences taking place in a marine theme park/institute, which gives the film’s characters plenty of wild predicaments to get lost in, and the animators a chance to turn the tale into a truly wild ride. Yet it’s Dory which makes the film as special as it is. Her optimism, reckless abandon and endless capacity for love gives off far more than any spectacular form of animation or wise-cracking side character. I’m not sure where her creators will take her next, or even if there’s anywhere left for her to go. All I know is that I’d sure like to see that scatterbrained fish again. So here’s hoping they try.