REVIEW: ‘Finding Dory’ a fun-filled feast for the eyes

Finding Dory, Disney•Pixar’s sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo, starts with everything you loved about Nemo all those years ago and builds out into a beautiful film all its own. With a film story that sure to tug at heartstrings and animation that sets yet another new benchmark for the very best in the field, it’s a must-see for those who loved the original, and a sure-fire good time at the movies for everyone else.

What’s it about?

A year after she helped Marlin (Albert Brooks) find his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is living with her friends in their reef. She’s still dealing that little short-term memory loss problem, but otherwise she’s happy as the proverbial clam (as opposed to a clam that appears in this film, who isn’t very happy).

One day, out of the deep blue that surrounds them all, the most remarkable thing happens: Dory remembers something. And not just any “something” — she remembers that she has a family somewhere out there that may be looking for her, may be worrying about her, the way Marlin once worried himself crazy over losing Nemo.

With her friends at her side, Dory ventures out to find her long-lost mom and dad. Their journey takes them to California’s Marine Life Institute, where things of course start to go awry.

But if Dory is good at anything (aside from forgetting things), its improvising in unexpected situations. With the help of some of MLI’s more interesting residents — Hank the octopus (Ed O’Neill), Destiny the near-sighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olson, TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia“), and Bailey the beluga whale (Ty Burrell, TV’s “Modern Family“) — Dory does her best to “just keep swimming”, hoping her path and the occasional memory or two will take her back home.

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13 years make a big difference

The first thing that’s glaringly apparent about Finding Dory is just how far Pixar’s animation has come since 2003. As breathtakingly beautiful and sweeping as Finding Nemo was all those years ago, Finding Dory is an leaps-and-bounds improvement.

Arguably, that improvement is most noticeable in the way textures and features of the different marine species who star in the film are brought to life. Yes, it all still retains an “animated” quality to it, but at the same time, everything on screen simply pops as though ready to swim into your lap. Especially in the film’s shots where subjects are in the distance, the sensation felt in watching Finding Dory is that of being in the water or in the aquarium — it’s that immediate and striking.

New characters a delight

But all of that visual splendor might be diminished if story and character didn’t live up to or at least aspire to the heartfelt heights that Finding Nemo reached way back when. Thankfully, writer/director Andrew Stanton, who directed the original film, returns to his characters and treats them and their stories with reverence, and gives audiences new characters to fall in love with.

Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks return to the roles of Dory and Marlin as though they’d never left them, as though they’ve been playing them all these years. But this time DeGeneres really gets to show some range, as Dory’s emotional arc and the film story’s exploration of what’s at Dory’s core beneath all that irrepressible optimism and brightness demands a great deal that she delivers. Dory’s memory issues were played for laughs in the first film — this time, some very real consequences of that problem get a good look, and it makes for thoughtful fare.

As for the newbies to the ensemble, admittedly, the most prominent, Hank the octopus, is a bit of a cliché. The initially hard-hearted, cantankerous lout who works hard to not be won over by Dory’s effusiveness is not much of a stretch for Ed O’Neill’s voice talents, but the production does have a lot of fun with Hank’s ability to camouflage, as well as a particular deficiency that Hank’s very sensitive about.

Dory’s other new aquatic acquaintances all have fun quirks which prove to be instrumental to the story’s resolution and its subtle theme of overcoming obstacles that seem impossible. Destiny and Bailey are a fun comedy duo, but they’re almost outshined by a pair of hilarious sea lions voiced by, of all people, former “The Wire” castmates Idris Elba and Dominic West. If you don’t giggle even just a little bit during their scenes, you may need to reassess your own sense of humor.

Worth seeing?

Without a doubt, Finding Dory is worth seeing, and worth seeing at the premium 3D price, if at all possible. It’s a film experience that’s meant to be as immersive as it is emotional and funny, and thus the larger the screen and the immersive the sound, the more audiences are certain to enjoy. Even if you haven’t seen Finding Nemo in a very long time, or your only experiences with Nemo, Marlin, and Dory come from visits to “The Seas with Nemo and Friends” at Disney’s Epcot, Finding Dory should still awe and delight you if you allow it to.

Finding Dory

Starring the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Eugene Levy, Diane Keaton. Directed by Andrew Stanton.
Running Time: 97 minutes
Rated PG for mild thematic elements.

Felix Albuerne
Felix Albuerne
One-time Blockbuster Video manager, textbook editor, trivia host, and community college English/Humanities teacher. Now a digital media producer, part-time film critic, amateur foodie, semi-retired beer snob, unabashed geek, and still very much a work in progress.

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