It’s been 13 years since ‘Finding Nemo’ ruled theaters and really catapulted Pixar into the stratosphere of quality family entertainment. ‘Toy Story’ may be the original masterpiece, but ‘Nemo’ showcased what the studio could produce both technically and creatively, it being the most Disney-friendly feature it had produced in tone at the time. In effect a road trip movie under the sea, it followed homebody single father clownfish Marlin (a fittingly neurotic Albert Brooks) on a mission to find his lost son, aided (and sometimes accidentally thwarted) by breakout character Dory, the blue tang fish with short term memory loss indelibly played by Ellen DeGeneres in the role that cemented her as a pop culture icon.
Original leads Brooks and DeGeneres are back for the painstakingly crafted and funnier, if well-tread sequel, ‘Finding Dory.’ This time around the focus is on the story of Dory herself as she attempts to find her long-lost parents, a plotline that’s a natural progression of the narrative and adds a layer of depth and tragedy to a beloved character. Her quest sets in motion another adventure and leads to the introduction to a wide variety of interesting and hilarious new denizens of the ocean, many with ties to the backstory that Dory is piecing together – a history that leads her to a Californian marine life rehabilitation center and aquarium, digitally hosted by the voice of Sigourney Weaver in one of the film’s many hilarious running gags.
It’s here where Dory meets one of, if not the most intricately rendered characters in the history of Pixar, Hank the octopus (or more accurately septopus since he is missing an arm), brought to cranky but ultimately soft-hearted life by the perfectly cast cantankerous Ed O’Neil. Just as Dory opened the experience of Marlin, who with son Nemo in tow gets into his own crazy situations and meets his own cast of characters trying to break into the center to rescue his life partner Dory, she gets Hank to aid her and opens his three hearts (another great gag) out of a life of camouflaged solitude.
The fact that the characters are so rich in graphic detail and dimension hides the fact that ‘Dory’ is in really familiar territory both structurally and tonally. There’s never any doubt over the plot and story beats, but as always, the fun and heartache lie in the path to get to the inevitable uplifting finish. ‘Finding Dory’ succeeds because the talented filmmakers and cast are committed to putting the highest quality product up on screen and the minds at Pixar never cease to amaze with the level of creativity they achieve . . .
Directed By: Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane
Written By: Andrew Stanton & Victoria Strouse
Running Time: 103 min. (not counting the most incredibly, realistically rendered and possibly cutest Pixar short yet, ‘Piper’)
* * * 1/2 (out of 4 stars) -OR- B+