Finding Dory Review: Still Swimming Strong

When it comes to sequels, Pixar’s track record is shaky. Sure, there are the Toy Story 3s of the world that justify every moment and evolve themselves and its predecessors with astounding grace. But then there’s the awkward Monsters Inc./Animal House mashup that is Monsters University. Finding Dory is somewhere between. Like Toy Story 2, it’s funny, powerful, a bit unnecessary, and totally harmless. It’s not as much of a classic as the original, but you could do significant worse, even within the famed studio’s own catalogue.

The opening moments are among the film’s most important. Finding Dory immediately justifies itself by bringing us all the way back to Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) childhood for a moment that changes our perspective on a character previously played for laughs. There is a story before she crashed into Marlin (Albert Brooks) as he raced to find his son, but that story is interrupted by that very search the first film beautifully showed us. Finding Dory gets to show us how it ends.

Here, Dory is positioned as a child with mental illness, with some very real flashbacks showing how good parents work around this issue with positive reinforcement and just plain love. But she loses her parents at a young age, because this is Disney, and spends the film trying to find them. As Dory’s world gets larger, Marlin and Nemo (Hayden Rolance replacing Alexander Gould) rightfully take a backseat for our lead blue tang to learn not to rely on others despite her disability.

After a clunky first act, the journey takes her all the way to a marine institute in California that rescues sea creatures and then either releases them again in the wild or ships them off to the dreaded (by some of the inmates) Cleveland Aquarium. This is where the sequel finds its groove, as the trip takes her on a path of discovery and recovered memories, running into old friends and making new ones along the way. Of the latter, the best is a grouchy octopus, Hank (Ed O’Neill), who camouflages his way in daring, and often hilarious, escape attempts. He’s paired with Dory for much of the film, with his grumpy demeanor perfectly bouncing off of her positivity.

As she gets closer to finding her parents, all the bells and whistles of a classic Pixar film go off and everything clicks into place. That is to say, bring tissues.

So even while not quite matching its predecessor, Finding Dory has enough going on to freshly reward viewers new and old. The deepening of Dory’s character is surprisingly rich and takes you places you may not have expected for what many saw as a money grabbing sequel. But, as she did 13 years ago, Dory will win you over with her charm, sunny outlook, and hint of tragedy. As she so delightfully sings, “Just keep swimming,” the strong current takes you right along with her right where she’s supposed to be. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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