I can’t remember what I thought the first time I read my favorite book. I can’t remember what I thought when I first sat down to start writing in this space. I can’t even remember what I thought as I walked away from the theatre that showed me FINDING NEMO in the summer of 2003.
But I can remember what I felt the first time I kissed a girl. I can remember what I felt the night The Boston Red Sox won their first championship in 86 years. And I can remember what I felt the first time I travelled away from home all alone.
Funny thing, ain’t it? The way our memories of feelings can be more powerful than our memories of thought.
FINDING DORY is set one year after the events of FINDING NEMO. Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) still live in their cozy anemone, with the memory-impaired Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) living happily next door. One day, as Dory listens to a marine biology lecture from Nemo’s teacher, a long-supressed memory is triggered. Dory remembers disjointed details about where she comes from, how she got here, and where her family is. She begs Marlin to help her get home, and reluctantly, he agrees.
So it goes that Nemo, Marlin, and Dory hitch a ride with the sea turtles along the current, and journey to California where Dory was born. Once there, they face certain peril in the form of a giant squid, and Marlin loses his temper with Dory – accusing her of putting them all in harm’s way. Dejected, Dory slinks away, and gets swept-up by humans working at The Marine Life Institute.
Inside the aquarium, Dory is quarantined and meets an octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill). Hank’s deepest desire is to follow the path of every sea creature that gets to leave quarantine. To him, their destination sounds absolutely magical: Cleveland. He makes a deal that he will get Dory closer to her parents if she gives him her specimen tag – essentially, her ticket to Cleveland.
Back in the nearby coastline, guilt begins to consume Marlin. After some encouragement by Nemo, the two clownfish decide to track down their friend in the hopes of mending fences and helping her on her quest. However, their support system isn’t nearly as clever as Hank. For Marlin and Nemo, their hopes are pinned to a pair of Sea Lions named Fluke and Rudder (Idris Elba and Dominic West), and their twitchy feathered friend, Becky.
The obstacles to overcome are high – what with Dory’s memory being spotty at best, and an entire amusement part standing between she and her friends. Will she be able to put the puzzle pieces together? Will her parents remember what she has seemingly forgot? Are the family ties of Dory, Nemo, and Marlin enough to withstand this sort of separation?
Basically, this time around Dory is in it pretty deep.
If nothing else, the journey FINDING DORY takes is a worthy one because of who she, Marlin, and Nemo get to meet. One of the toughest things about “sequelitis” is the tedium of seeing the same characters play out the same beats another time, only bigger, louder, and more outrageous. To that end, it could have been so easy to bring back the whole gang from FINDING NEMO and send them off on a quest to save their forgetful friend. Happily, that’s not what FINDING DORY does. It has enough respect for its audience to hang the story on the three core players from the first movie, and introduce us to all-new supporting roles.
This confidence in the creation of new characters is what allows the film to succeed. We find that we could spend day watching Hank move his slink body around, and that we get constant giggles from loveable idiots like Fluke and Rudder. Every stop is a chance to meet a new creature, hear a new voice, and let the games begin.
What’s more, the film gives the team at Pixar a chance to play with their new toys. If you saw THE GOOD DINOSAUR last year (a film I wasn’t fussed about, but appreciated on a visual level), you might have noticed how far animation has come when trying to render water. Such new tricks prompt desires to revisit beloved characters and give re-create them with fresh detail. It can even prompt wishes to re-create their worlds with fresh detail.
In FINDING DORY, this is sometimes seen in the lines on Marlin’s face, and sometimes in the murk of the ocean habitat’s Dory swims through. It’s a film that demands our attention to its visual splendour. That demand for focus in some ways mimics the challenge Dory herself faces in remembering things, but also seems to mock how restless and unfocused we as an audience at large have become.
The only real criticism one could hang on FINDING DORY is that it doesn’t do anything special on a story level, and that’s an area Pixar usually excels at. The importance of family, and the feeling of being home are wonderful themes, ideas, and values to explore in an animated film…however, they are wonderful themes, ideas, and values that we already explored in FINDING NEMO.
If this fish story feels a lot like waters we have waded in before, it’s because…well…we have.
So why return? Well, perhaps because it’s been thirteen long years and a new generation of filmgoers deserve a chance to watch this sort of aquatic homecoming on a big screen. Perhaps that stretch of time has given kids who adored the original a chance to come back as young adults, and be moved by their beloved heroes in way their young minds never appreciated.
Perhaps a little of both.
FINDING DORY is a lovely quest about the true nature of family; the sacrifices we make in the name of it, and the way it can inspire us to keep faith. In a world that is growing ever more insular, the power of family ties isn’t something to be taken lightly. Sometimes the best way to learn that lesson is to go back to where you came from.