Back in 2003, audiences were blown away by Finding Nemo. Many have said this before myself, but at that point in time, it seemed that Pixar could do no wrong and were going to churn out an animated masterpiece every year. But these feelings didn’t last very long; three years later, Pixar released Cars, and everyone started to become skeptical. Their fears were confirmed when Pixar announced that they would be making their first sequel outside of the Toy Story trilogy (a series in which each film has been well made and well received), and that it was a sequel to their worst film yet (yes, even worse than A Bug’s Life). As expected, Cars 2 hit theaters in 2011 and was thrashed by critics and audiences. The emotional scars left by this thrashing seemed they would never heal until last year when Inside Out seemed to give the studio a sort of rebirth.
But, at least for me, that fear and doubt returned when I heard that their next film (after The Good Dinosaur, which no one seems to care about) was going to be a sequel to Finding Nemo called Finding Dory. See, not only did this sound like an unnecessary sequel, but it seemed to share many of the same ideas as another animated film that came out last summer, of which I had the absolute pleasure to see in the production company’s own theater in Orlando.
That was sarcasm by the way. Seeing Minions in the Universal Studios movie theater was easily the worst movie-going experience of my life. And you can’t sit there and tell me that you didn’t or can’t see any similarities in the two films without even having seen them. They are both “spin-off sequels” whose primary focuses are side-kick type characters from their prospective originals. What was appealing about the side-kick type characters in both the originals? They were both cute and often served as a kind of comedic relief for the more serious parts their stories. In other words: they worked as the side-kick characters. Take them away from their story and put them in the spotlight, and they would probably get old pretty quickly. This is exactly what happened to Minions (although I will admit to not enjoying the minions as characters in the original Despicable Me).
This was my fear for Finding Dory: that it would be a soulless cash-grabbing sequel that relied on the cuteness and “lovability” of the side character to get people to pay for a movie ticket.
After seeing it last night, I can confirm that these fears were proven wrong. Finding Dory is an original, fun movie that has a creative new story to tell and lots of great new characters to help tell it with.
As I mentioned above, this story uses a lot of great new characters despite being a sequel. No matter how short their “screen-time” may be, each character is very well developed because they have clear and distinct wants that drive them throughout the film. This may seem like it creates 2-dimensional characters, but it does the opposite, and creates an excellent character focused and driven film.
Every Frame a Painting (that one YouTube Channel I keep referring to and will continue to endorse) has a video about Chuck Jones and the Looney Tunes that I think speaks volumes about what Pixar did right in Finding Dory as well as other films from their past. If you want to learn more about the subject, you can watch the video here.
Had it not been for the Pixar’s brilliant character design and execution, this film probably would have fallen to pieces. At a glance, the story has way too many conveniences, is too quickly paced, and doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do with itself (seriously though; this movie could have ended in about five different places but instead of trying to find a good ending, they drag it out in order to keep the action flowing and to have closure for every minor character which is totally unnecessary). It also wanted to really impact its audiences emotionally in several different scenes, but I was personally pretty detached from them. The story also tries to be pretty exciting, but ultimately fails in doing that as well, but I don’t know what they expected since Dory, Marlin, and Nemo are being carried around in cups/buckets/bowls of water for more than half of the movie.
We all know Ellen DeGeneres is great as Dory, its hard not for her to be since they seem to be so similar… Albert Brooks is also good as Marlin because he just does the helicopter-panicky-dad voice so well. But the person I was most surprised with was Ed O’Neill as Hank. As someone who used to enjoy watching Modern Family, I was shocked that O’Neill pulled off the voice acting so well, because it seems that a lot his comedic/acting style comes from body language. While this may be an attribute to his character, I thought Hank the Octopus was the most interesting and enjoyable character in the film.
Idris Elba and Dominic West also play two seals who definitely steal the spotlight for what little time they appear in the film.
Oh, and I almost forgot about Sigourney Weaver’s cameo, which ends up being a pretty funny running joke.
As we’ve come to expect from Pixar, the animation is superb. There are shots of “set-pieces” that would look real if it weren’t for the cartoony characters in them (which is a compliment even though it may not sound like one). The way the characters move is also very methodical and impressive. For example: instead of Hank just moving like an Octopus might, his movements also reflect his character by showing you that he is cunning, clever, and above all, paranoid (go watch the Every Frame a Painting Video because it talks about exactly this).
I also gave it a slight bonus because of the animated short, “Piper,” that shows just before the film starts (if you see it in theaters anyway). It wasn’t an overly funny or emotional short film like we’ve gotten used to seeing from Pixar; instead, it was a display of their true animating powers. It was probably the best animation I’ve seen in any animated film or video.
As much as I love Thomas Newman, he didn’t do much original work for this film. The score is almost the exact same as the score for Finding Nemo (which is great, but not new). Most of the music went unnoticed for me and was overshadowed by the use of Louis Armstrong and Dory’s constant singing.
X-Factor: 4/10, Octopuses (or Octopi, apparently there is no true correct form, look it up yourself) are smart but not that smart
Having the toys use team work and ingenuity to drive a car worked great and was pretty original in Toy Story 2. However, the same gag/idea just doesn’t work when it’s an Octopus getting directions from a fish who literally can’t remember the road sign she just read five seconds ago. Am I complaining that it’s not realistic enough? No; I’ve sat through a house being flown to South America by balloons, Toys going unnoticed as sentient beings despite outnumbering humans, and a cockroach having the same characterizations of a dog, all while not having problems with it. But for some reason, when you put animals that supposedly live in a world identical to ours and have them just know how to drive a car, I have a problem with it. It’s not imagination, it’s just plot convenience, and I don’t approve.
Finding Dory was fun to watch, but it was not nearly as good as some of the other films Pixar has done and doesn’t come close to the quality of story telling found in the original Finding Nemo. If you have a free afternoon (and especially if you have kids), I would recommend going to see this film in theaters. It’s a decent film, especially if you can appreciate how difficult it is to do a totally character-driven story. It’s one of their more forgettable films (like Brave and Ratatouille) but it’s not down right bad or mediocre like Cars, Cars 2, or how Cars 3 will probably be.