Saturday, August 6, 2016

Film Review: Finding Dory

Directed by: Andrew Stanton, Angus Maclane
Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Alber Brooks, Ed O'Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba
Rating: PG
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Runtime: 1 hr. 37 min.

Finding Dory is a very solid, but not spectacular, addition to the Pixar canon. Featuring a fantastic vocal performance by Ellen DeGeneres and the company’s trademark animation it’s hard not to love another swim through the deep with the gang. A promising second act, however, gives way to a bemusing ending which some viewers might find heartwarming, but others might feel was a bit too easy for Pixar.

To further explain I will have to go into detail regarding some of the plot, so if you want to avoid spoilers skip to the final paragraph for the verdict.

Finding Dory is - as one might guess - about Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who in the first act has memory jolts, which slowly lead to her to realization that some time ago she wandered away from her parents and into the deep. After a bit of “think, think, think”, Dory remembers her parents are from California; more specifically a Seaworld-esque theme park, where the gang eventually finds themselves. There’s a lot of hijinx as Dory gets separated from Marlin (Alber Brooks) and Nemo, and works with a human-fearing octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill), who -in exchange for a ticket out of the aquarium- decides to help Dory find her parents. Later, she also meets her childhood friend, Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a whale shark with poor eyesight (whom she ironically learned to speak whale with) and, Bailey (Ty Burrell), a beluga unable to utilize his sonar capabilities. Eventually the whole crew learns how to overcome their disabilities and work together to escape the park in one of the most “blockbuster” finales Pixar has animated yet. The side plot with Marlin and Nemo is handled well-enough, though it’s never fully engaging, since we know they will eventually find their way through the increasingly obtuse obstacles to find their absent-minded friend for the third act. It’s in this final act where the main through plot begins to unravel.

Before we get to those events, let me provide some background. The most intriguing aspect of Dory’s character -at least for me- has been her ability to live life fleeting from one memory glimpse to the next, but still maintain a powerful bond with people she meets. She lives in the moment, and doesn’t take a second for granted because she knows she might not remember it later. This dichotomy of a character who wants to have deep, meaningful relationships, but struggles to maintain a memory of these individuals despite trying her best is the essence of Dory’s charm and why so many felt attached when she finally remembered Nemo’s name at the end of Finding Nemo. “Dory did it!” we all cheered with our hearts racing as she quickly swam to meet Nemo. Dory was the crux of Finding Nemo’s heart, but sadly Finding Dory fails to do well by its protagonist.

The major flaw rears it’s head as Dory searches for her parents alone in tall seaweed, slowly forgetting her memory of exactly what she was up to. This is a fantastic parallel with the events of it’s predecessor that had me on the edge of my seat. Slowly she finds shells, which she has by now remembered were used in her childhood as breadcrumbs by her parents so she would always find her way home. She slowly follows them piecing together her many memories, which eventually leads her to an empty shell her parents were using as a home, while they awaited her return. Many viewers at this point are probably hoping that she would then turn to find her parents and live happily ever after with them. I, however, was hoping Pixar would take the higher road and have her come to the conclusion that she already had a family in Marlin and Nemo, and that being able to find where her parents had been waiting allows her to find ways to keep her memory strong, and therefore be able to have less fleeting relationships with those she considers family. Pixar, however, disappoints and Dory turns around to see two figures holding shells slowly swim out of the hazy waters.

Pixar as storytellers have largely been built on tales wherein the protagonists are searching for something, but find something else that’s greater. For example, in Toy Story, Woody wants to keep Andy to himself, but in the end learns all he needed was a best friend in Buzz. In Up, Carl is searching for the place Ellie and he had always wanted to go, but instead finds a new meaning in life in being a father figure to Russell; a kid who’s more like himself than he originally conceived. It’s along these themes that Finding Dory could have been most powerful. Instead of giving Dory what she was searching for, she could have realized that she already had the family she was looking for, but now had the confidence and skills to engage within that structure. Dory had found the key to her memory she was looking for and could now use it to make endless ones with Marlin and Nemo.

I might be being a bit hard on Finding Dory, since it really is a very solid film with plenty of great laughs and fine performances that swimmers of all ages can enjoy. 3.5/5

- The Catalyst