ixar’s follow up to 2003’s Finding Nemo manages to successfully navigate the choppy waters of making a good sequel, striking an equilibrium between capturing the spirit of the original, and taking the franchise to a profound new place. While still at its core an epic underwater journey to reunite family members, this time we follow Dory, the amnesiac tang fish – ironically the most unforgettable character from the previous film – on her voyage to find her long-lost parents, one year after the events of Nemo.
As we have come to expect from Pixar, we are presented with a colourful, visually stunning adventure that pushes the boundaries of CG animation. However, Finding Dory is delivered with a remarkable restraint. While built on familiar foundations, it is not seeking to upstage its sprawling predecessor. Smaller in scale, but not short on emotional ambition, this is a fundamentally more intimate exercise – a tale of one fish’s battle with mental illness and identity.
Director Andrew Standon is no stranger to delivering decidedly adult themes wrapped in a child-friendly exterior. From the apocalyptic critique of consumerism in WALL-E (2008), to the burden of immortality eating at characters like a cancer in Toy Story 3 (2010), Standon has worked with Pixar writing and directing some of the studio’s most affectual texts. But Finding Dory may be one of their most human tales yet.
Dory once again steals the show, eclipsing the supporting cast of comparatively uninteresting characters. Ellen DeGeneres’ voice delivery provides ample laughs and a mastery of comic timing. But this forgetful fish is much more than the comic relief in this instalment. There is an underpinning tragedy to her condition. Her parents struggle with the burden of their handicapped daughter, and through Dory’s perspective we are able to experience a poignant exploration into overcoming disability.
On her adventure, Dory teams up with reportedly Pixar’s most challenging to animate character ever, a grumpy octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill), who only has seven tentacles (his backstory was rewritten when animators found they couldn’t fit all eight on his body). Dory also encounters Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), an accident-prone whale shark suffering from nearsightedness, and Bailey (Ty Burrell), a beluga whale with a dysfunctional echolocation system. The group must work as a team to conquer their afflictions.
With this cast of misfits, the film risks belabouring its core message, but Finding Dory manages to deliver a parable more fine-drawn than many of Pixar’s previous morality tales – blatant anti-SeaWorld sentiment notwithstanding. The film’s story was altered after Pixar executives watched the 2013 documentary Blackfish – its aquatic park setting was changed to a Marine Biology Institute. Refreshingly, the primary source of antagonism stems not from a predatory giant squid or an evil shark, but the character’s own impediments.
While predictable in many respects, Pixar’s latest escapade is a nuanced, bittersweet tale of personal discovery and determination. It is packed to the gills with gags and eye-popping visuals, and even has a jocular Sigourney Weaver cameo thrown in for good measure. The film builds effectively towards its satisfyingly ridiculous climax, although it never quite reaches the tear-jerking apex of last year’s Inside Out.
Finding Dory is another commendable addition to Pixar’s catalogue, and that rarest of breeds – a sequel that really works.