Finding Dory is a solid Pixar sequel, but never comes close to reaching the emotional or comedic highs of its predecessor.
Finding Dory picks up a year after the events of Finding Nemo and finds its title character tracing the fleeting memories of her past back to where she came from and hopefully find her parents. The memories lead them (Nemo and Marlin come along, of course) across the Pacific to the California coast, specifically a sea life sanctuary that rehabilitates many creatures before re-launching them into the wild. The trio get separated upon their arrival, with Dory being taken to the quarantine section of the sanctuary while Nemo and Marlin must find a way to get into the facility. Adventures ensues, with a fourth major player of the film developing on Dory’s side of the drama in an octopus named Hank.
As you might know, I am quite the fan of Pixar, and I would place Finding Nemo in the second tier of Pixar greats (Yes, Pixar has two tiers of greatness. The top is out-and-out masterpieces. Finding Nemo falls in a group where every film in it is better than most films released in their respective years, they are GREAT, they are just missing something). Finding Dory I would place as the best film in Pixar’s bottom tier.
I would never have thought that is where I would place it while watching the film, as I was never bored and enjoyed the film throughout, but upon reflection I don’t really know what the film was going for. Sure, we get some shades of what it’s like to live with or be someone with disabilities, but Andrew Stanton’s sequel doesn’t ever really commit to the idea either. In fact, you could argue it even marginalized disability a bit by having a character actively faking injury to keep his spot at the sanctuary (for the record, I laughed a lot at Bailey the beluga whale so maybe the trade off was worth it?) Ultimately, the movie is a low stakes chase film that mostly just spins in low stake circles. Yes, the drama around Dory’s parents is there, but I never really connected with it outside a beautiful visual near the end of the film. The film tries to up the stakes for the final act, but this chase sequence (this time an actual car chase scene with a fish and an octopus driving a car) never feels like the worst might happen which leaves us with just a silly and fun set piece. I appreciate that the film is still able to find fun, but Pixar is held to a standard that they will, probably, transcend that fun into something more.
It also doesn’t help that Finding Dory doesn’t feel fresh or try to find a new genre to play in as Pixar has in every other one of their sequels. It really feels like a retread and callback of the first film, and it all feels very intentional. Yes, there are mostly new faces, and the trio are put in a new environment, but nothing felt particularly new. Not even the animation inspires much awe for the viewer, which is again by design, as the film is going for the same visual style of the first film; which is admittedly pretty gorgeous. Hank the octopus is an impressive feat, sure, but even though The Good Dinosaur didn’t really work on a visual level it AWED on a technical level. I know these issues I have were very intentional choices by Stanton and Pixar, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t make the film less interesting as a standalone work or sequel.
The pre-existing voice cast is a sharp as they were before, with Hayden Rolence stepping in as Nemo without missing a beat. Ed O’Neill is the biggest addition to the cast as Hank and he is adequately grumpy for the part. O’Neill doesn’t elevate the role the way Ellen DeGeneres does Dory, but the character itself is kind of forced along an arc that doesn’t give O’Neill much wiggle room to do much regardless. Kaitlin Olson and Ty Burrell are a standout duo as a pair of recovering whales in captivity, Burrell particularly standing out as the doofus Bailey the beluga whale. Idris Elba and Dominic West are also quite great in their brief appearance as a pair of sea lions, I kind of wish we got a bit more of them beyond being a pair of spectators for the finale.
Finding Dory is a solid Pixar effort, but it fails to reach the heights we have come to expect from the studio and this film franchise. It’s nice to revisit these characters and have a new adventure, but the film doesn’t innovate or try to mix things up enough along the way. This might be the safest Pixar film yet, and safe isn’t an adjective I wouldn’t use to describe any Pixar film to date. Fans of the studio and characters shouldn’t miss it, but it’s a shame it couldn’t elevate above being another fun little adventure.