Mark Reviews Movies

Finding Dory


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Andrew Stanton

Cast: The voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O'Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Sloane Murray, Idris Elba, Bob Peterson, Kate McKinnon, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver

MPAA Rating: PG (for mild thematic elements)

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 6/17/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 23, 2016

As it turns out, the loveable and forgetful blue tang from Finding Nemo has spent most of her life lost. In a unique form of cruelty brought about by psychological and maybe even cosmic forces, though, she simply can't remember that fact. Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres), the fish who suffers from short-term memory loss, primarily may have been the comic relief of the 2003 film, but the sequel Finding Dory reveals her to be something of a tragic heroine.

The transition works, too, because the screenplay by director Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse is fully invested in the concept. The film doesn't just create a back story for Dory in order to justify a sequel. The film also doesn't treat her condition as a gimmick, even though the screenplay might rely upon it too much as a way to keep adding complication after complication to Dory's quest. The plotting may keep hitting the same beats over and over again, but the film's heart is focused on portraying, examining, and further developing the ramifications of the character's unique dilemma.

We learn that Dory always has had a problem with her memory. The film's prologue follows her life until the moment she ran into Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks), the clownfish whose son Nemo (voice of Hayden Rolence) was taken from the ocean to become a dentist's pet, in the first film. She came from protective parents (voices of Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) who encouraged her to live a relatively normal life despite her condition.

One day, though, Dory comes to in the open ocean with no sign of her parents or anything familiar in sight. She asks various fish and sea creatures for help finding her parents, and as the years go by, she continues asking. Over that same period, Dory begins to forget, too. She still possesses a vague feeling that she's looking for something or someone, but the specifics of what or whom that something or someone may be are as lost as she is. Later in the film, she begins to forget everything again, and as she swims out into the open ocean, the water begins to cloud like her memory.

All of this might sound like some sort of nightmare, and there is something undeniably haunting and mournful about that prologue. It's a quality that puts Dory's plight into a completely different, far sadder context than it had in the original film.

The good news, of course, is that, at the start of the story proper, Dory has become part of a new family of sorts. A year after the events of the first film, she lives in the same patch of seagrass as Marlin and Nemo. The better news is that Dory begins to remember little pieces of information about her past. The brief flashes of memory lead her, along with Marlin and Nemo, from the Great Barrier Reef to a marine life park/rehabilitation facility in California. The bad news is that the trio separates after an attack by a squid makes Marlin question the quest. Dory continues her search for her parents, while Marlin, realizing his error, and Nemo set out to find their friend.

The father-son pair doesn't serve much of a purpose here, as Marlin simply learns that Dory's carefree, dumb-luck way of going through life might be better than his cautious way. It's Dory's tale, and just as in the first film, there are a lot of eccentric helpers along the way.

Unlike its predecessor, the film emphasizes the notion that each of these ancillary and supporting characters possess a disability of some variety (The idea was present in the original but not quite as obvious). There's Hank (voice of Ed O'Neill), an octopus with camouflaging abilities who also has lost a leg (making him, as Dory says, a "septopus"). He's a loner who's desperate to transfer to an aquarium across the country so that he doesn't have to put up with other sea creatures (His fear of physical contact is put to the test in an exhibit that allows kids to touch the animals). Dory's old friend Destiny (voice of Kaitlin Olson), the whale shark from whom the fish learned to speak whale, is near-sighted, and the shark's tank neighbor Bailey (voice of Ty Burrell), a beluga whale, has lost the ability to use echolocation after a head injury.

The message—that, even with these handicaps, these characters are able to succeed in whatever task is before them—is good, if obvious. There might, in fact, be too much business here, as Dory and her pals constantly encounter obstacles of their own and fate's devising.

There are only so many times that the film can set up a barrier and follow it up with a daring escape before it becomes repetitive. It helps that the specifics of each sequence are diverse enough to prevent the plot from becoming dull (A scene set in a maze of pipes has an added layer of tension, since Dory has trouble remembering even simple directions). It's also of significant benefit that Stanton, who oversaw the stunning recreation of the vast ocean in the first film (In particular, the lighting effects through the water remain a marvel), and the animation artists have once again provided a beautifully lifelike backdrop against which to set the action.

Most importantly, Finding Dory doesn't lose track of the character's particular predicament. The film isn't adverse to following the character's condition through to its logical, dreadful effects. That's the struggle that matters here, and none of the external obstacles distracts from that reality.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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