Finding Dory  is the latest Pixar project and long-time-coming sequel to the iconic 2003 animated feature Finding Nemo. In 2003, when Marlin (Albert Brooks), quite literally, lost his son Nemo, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) ends up joining Marlin in his cross-ocean quest to find him. 13 years later. However, it is no longer Nemo who needs to be found, but rather, it is Dory who, in embarking on a quest to find her parents, ends up finding herself.
Piper… If Finding Dory is not enough to entice you to get your butt to the theatre—as I too have a touch of sequel distrust—then rest assured that even if you flat out dislike this film (which would be unlikely), there’s still the Pixar short to save the day. The short that screens with Finding Dory is called Piper. It’s about a baby sandpiper and it’s so well done that it held the theatre full of kids that I ended up watching this film with completely entranced. There was nary a peep—and why would there be—Piper is a thing of beauty. Find a big screen on which to watch it: the animation work in Piper deserves the biggest screen possible. Every little feather, every ebb and flow of the ocean seems to live and breath and Piper is one of the best 6 minutes that can be projected onto a screen.
Beauty & Brains… Piper’s animation is a thing to marvel at, but the animation in Finding Dory is not too shabby either. The film is set partly in the ocean and partly in a Marine Life Institute inspired by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Part of why the animation is impressive is that not only is it technically stunning, but that it is also both thoughtful and whimsical. For instance, at one point in the film, Dory rapidly swims through the ocean trying to escape a predator. When she finally loses her predator, we see that, in the frenzy of escape, she has actually been caught in one those heinous plastic 6-pack rings. They say, “God is in the details,” and it’s details like this one that both boosts the verisimilitude of the image before our eyes and also gives us pause as save for nature documentaries, its unlikely images of wildlife caught in pollution is mentioned ever at all. Finding Dory is clever in many ways and as with any good Pixar film, it’s actually as much a film for children as it is a film for the grownups amongst them. For one, it’s likely that only the adults in the audience will be able to appreciate the serendipity, and almost topicality, of seeing Hank the octopus (or, really, septopus, voiced by Ed O’Neill) as an expert escape artist when only a few months ago, an octopus slithered its way out of an aquarium in New Zealand.
Moving Moments & Funny Moments… Finding Dory is no small accomplishment as it is not only a moving and humorous film, but it’s a moving and humorous sequel. Director and writer Andrew Stanton manages to find just the right composition of familiarity and novelty for Dory to work as both a sequel and a standalone film, and perhaps, it’s this that makes Dory enjoyable: That work has been put into the story and it’s not just a re-hashing of the first film; but rather, it invents a new story to fit an established framework. This is evident even in small pieces of dialogue where, for instance, when Marlin and Nemo take a reckless route of travel through dry land and, at one point, it looks like they may not make it to the pool of water that is their destination, Marlin grunts out, “Just… Keep… Gasping…” which is a reference and a joke that’s both amusing on its own and as a play on Dory’s famous song. If there are any qualms to be had about the story, it’s only that the ending felt a little rushed; because, if for a second this film seems like it’s vacuous fan service, then brush aside that thought immediately. Finding Dory is about family (biological and non-biological), about overcoming obstacles and about believing in yourself. This is a film that will likely put a goofy grin on your face and make you well up a bit. You can tell yourself it’s allergies, but you and I both know it’s the darn animated fish.
I Think I’m Gonna Remember You… The cuteness factor in Dory truly is at an all-time high. Baby Dory almost gives the baby sandpiper, in the accompanying short, a run for its money. And not only is cuteness dialed up to 11, but so is memorability. For a film that’s about a forgetful fish, the characters are anything but forgettable. Hank the Septopus, for one, is one of the most interesting characters to join the Pixar universe. Watching him sass and shapeshift around the aquarium is half the fun of watching Dory. The team behind the film is clearly aware that they’ve made a memorable film filled with memorable characters as the film closes with a spellbinding rendition of the song “Unforgettable” as performed by Sia. (Yes, this song is on a loop as I write this.) At one point in the film, Dory says, “The best things happen by chance,” but sometimes the best things also take a lot of work and Finding Dory is one of these things.