Past the Popcorn: Disney and Pixar Get a Sequel Right with Finding Dory

by Jeff Walls

Unless they star a toy cowboy and his space ranger pal, sequels to Pixar movies have been somewhat underwhelming.  Cars 2 and Monsters University were both moderately entertaining, but neither of them came close to approximating the magic of their respective originals.  Now the animation giant is revisiting one of their most beloved movies, Finding Nemo.  Although it has been a full thirteen years since that movie first hit theaters in 2003, and Finding Dory may be late to the party, it is well worth the wait.

finding-dory-insetAs Pixar does so well, the movie tugs at your heartstrings immediately.  A wide-eyed baby Dory is separated from her parents and due to her short-term memory loss, her frantic search to find them falters as she soon can’t even remember whom she was looking for.  Her forgetful search goes on for years until she bumps into a clown fish named Marlin who is looking for his son Nemo.  Suddenly, Dory’s search has purpose again.

A year later, Dory has become part of Marlin and Nemo’s family, but she still does not remember her own family.  While watching stingray migration, Dory gets caught in the undertow and hits her head.  Suddenly, a memory comes rushing back to her in the form of a location in California.  She convinces Marlin and Nemo to join her on an adventure across the ocean where she hopes to be reconnected with her long lost parents.

Finding Dory is a delightful follow-up that is every bit as entertaining as its predecessor.  Dory is a wonderful character, brilliantly voiced by Ellen DeGeneres.  The actress earned raves and even some Oscar buzz for her vocal performance in the original movie and she is no less entertaining here.  Albert Brooks also returns as Marlin and Hayden Rolence takes over as the voice of Nemo from the now thirteen-years-older Alexander Gould, who does have a small cameo.

The movie gets all of its callbacks to the original movie out of the way early by briefly reintroducing us to characters like the teacher Mr. Ray and the father-son sea turtle duo of Crush and Squirt, but then lets them go in order to introduce us to whole new cast of characters.  Key among them is a mischievous, camouflaging Octopus named Hank, voiced by Ed O’Neil.  O’Neil’s Modern Family co-star Ty Burrell is also on board as a Beluga whale named Bailey and Kaitlin Olson voices a whale shark named Destiny.  Hank is the most crucial new character to the story and Bailey was my favorite by the time it was all said and done, but a pair of sea lions voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West inspire the movie’s biggest laugh-out-loud moments.

The movie’s visuals are stunning with the animators absolutely nailing the murky fog of the undersea and contrasting that with the clearer, brighter colors of everything going on above the surface.  There are also some terrifying visuals in this movie, such as when Dory and Hank find themselves trapped in a touch tank.  Few scenes in either this movie or the original do a better job of letting us see things from the perspective of the fish than this terrifying scene that has giant human hands exploding through the surface of the water to attack the poor sea life trapped underneath.

Finding Dory is a wonderful story about learning your strengths and overcoming your weaknesses that reminds us everyone has the ability to find their way back home.  It is a funny, charming, and exciting movie that will have you by the heart from the very first moment that baby Dory encourages herself to “just keep swimming.”   For these reasons, Finding Dory stands out as Pixar’s first truly great non-Toy Story sequel.

Finding Dory opens today at the Century Federal Way, AMC Kent Station 14, and AMC Southcenter 16. Won’t it be nice when Des Moines has its own theater again? Until then, eat local before you go!

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