When Finding Nemo was released in 2003, Pixar were nigh on untouchable when it came to top quality animation. A string of critical and commercial hits cemented the studios place as the leaders of the genre with only Dreamworks managing to come anywhere close to taking their crown thanks to the success of Shrek. Things change, however, and since then Pixar has faltered a bit when delivering new films. From lackluster sequels (Cars 2), to below average prequels (Monsters University), and the studio’s first uninspired, financial flop (The Good Dinosaur), Pixar is not as impervious to criticism as it once was, but a return to some fan favorite characters in an already established world with Finding Dory may be just what the studio needs.
That’s not to say that Pixar is actually struggling at all, the strength of last year’s beautiful Inside Out is a testament to the studio’s ability to still produce fantastic stories with colorful characters. Thankfully, Finding Dory is similar in tone and features similar themes to 2015’s Academy Award winning tale of personified emotions than it is The Good Dinosaur, with Pixar once again finding the perfect balance between laughter and genuinely heartfelt moments that may cause viewers young and old to shed a few tears.
Opening with a younger Dory separated from her mother and father, the film quickly races to the point in Finding Nemo when Marlin and Dory first meet before jumping forward a year. The characters are essentially at the same place they were in the previous film, with Marlin maintaining his surly, overly-cautious attitude and Dory remaining as forgetful as ever – until an encounter with migrating stingrays causes a flashback that reminds her of her family. It’s here that the adventure begins once again with Marlin, Nemo, and Dory crossing the ocean (with the help of some old friends, Crush and Squirt) in order to reach California, the last place Dory remembers seeing her parents.
It’s a journey that doesn’t feel quite as big as the one in Finding Nemo, nor are there as many stakes involved apart from an entertaining chase scene which sees the trio go up against a giant squid. The mystery surrounding Dory’s family that is slowly revealed through short flashbacks helps keep the narrative engaging, as does the balance between realistically animated environments and colorful, cartoon characters which is much more effective than it was in The Good Dinosaur, but the epic sense of adventure that was present in Finding Nemo feels absent during these initial stages of the film. Despite this smaller scale journey, however, the film picks up once the three reach their destination as they become separated and attempt to navigate a public aquarium using a number of inventive techniques, including Dory’s escape from quarantine thanks to a cunning Octopus named Hank.
Though the return of Finding Nemo’s beloved characters is more than welcome, it’s the new additions such as Hank that strengthen the film. Voiced by Ed O’Neil, Hank is desperate to live his life in a fish tank due to his fear of the open ocean and his attempts to fulfill his dream have led him to become a talented escape artist that spends the majority of the film cleverly avoiding capture. Elsewhere, Idris Elba and Dominic West are hilarious as sea lions Fluke and Rudder who are overly protective of their rock, while Kaitlin Olsen and Ty Burrell are an entertaining double act as Destiny and Bailey, a whale shark and a beluga whale that help each other overcome their problems. It’s the return of Ellen Degeneres as Dory, however, that is the most pleasing aspect of the film. Ellen seems to be having a great time in each scene and once again makes the forgetful fish more than just a gimmick, bringing real charm and likability to her performance as well as inspiring sympathy during the film’s more tender moments.
These tender moments are reminiscent of some of Pixar’s finest work and include all the touching message that we’ve come to expect from one of the studio’s productions. The love between family and friends is at the core throughout as it has been in so many titles over the years, yet the colourful cast of characters that inhabit the narrative keep it from becoming stale. The jokes that feature alongside these heartfelt scenes also help keep it fresh, with a reoccurring Sigourney Weaver mention being the highlight. Mixed with some entertaining set pieces including a high speed chase which sees Hank behind the wheel of a truck – no, really – and an encounter with some children in a ‘poking pool’, Finding Dory is a fantastic family film for the summer which will appeal to people of all ages.
Is it as good as it’s predecessor? Probably not. Finding Nemo is a more fleshed out story that has stood the test of time as an original property, but if the one weakness of Finding Dory is the fact that it’s not quite as good as one of Pixar’s classic films then that’s not exactly a negative by any means.
Funny, touching, and featuring vibrant animation, Finding Dory proves that Pixar is capable of making successful followups to more than just Toy Story. The voice cast are on perfect form throughout and though the story is smaller in scale, it’s still inventive enough to entertain.