Finding Dory – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Well before a small clownfish with a stub-fin was lost and found again, Dory was a tiny baby Blue Tang fish suffering from the mental disability of short-term memory loss. Despite her condition, she was well loved by her parents, and had a fairly happy life. However, a terrible accident separated Dory from her parents. Though she tried to find them, she slowly lost her memories of them until they were only vague impressions in the back of her mind.

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The primary events of “Finding Dory” take place one full year after the events of “Finding Nemo,” the previous film in this series by Pixar studios. Dory is living as best she can with Marlin and Nemo, and while the clownfish have affection for her, it’s also clear that everyone also has to tolerate her and her condition. One day, however, an incident sparks memories of her parents and the name of the place they used to live. With this revelation, Dory sets out with a determined Nemo and a reluctant Marlin to find her parents on the far side of the ocean.

On the way, they will run into challenges to overcome. They will see many new faces, as well as a couple cameos from familiar ones. Dory’s memory and determination will be put to the test, as will Marlin and Nemo’s trust in Dory. Will Dory be able to find her parents after all this time?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

“Finding Dory” comes from the same patented Pixar mix of humor and touching sadness that permeates all of their work. If you are a fan of the first film, “Finding Nemo,” then this film was definitely made for you. The relationships between Dory, Nemo, and Marlin all make more sense when you have the first film in mind, and Dory’s behavior and character is odd even with that background. I’m not certain how a given person’s perspectives on the film would change if that person was a newcomer to the series and they only had this film to get to know Dory. That said, the humor and silliness is actually aimed at a slightly lower aged audience than the first film, so if you’re sensitive to ridiculousness, then this film might be a little less appealing to you than the first.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“Finding Dory” is funny, adventurous, and heartfelt. It is visually stunning. Pixar’s artists are masters of their craft. The music flows smoothly with the events of the film, and the voice actors all do a wonderful job of bringing their characters to life.

The plot, though borrowing heavily from the first film, is still enjoyable and easy to follow. The characters are mostly well defined and all have their charms. The dialogue is fairly natural, though it doesn’t have quite the level of wit I hope for from the studio that also made the Toy Story franchise. Most importantly for me, Pixar tends to tackle themes and ideas that are flat-out avoided by most other studios, and Finding Dory is no exception.

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All that said, “Finding Dory” is not a perfect film. It really does borrow too heavily from “Finding Nemo,” and while familiarity doesn’t mean lesser quality, it can mean that there isn’t the same sense of wonder and newness that comes from seeing a brand new world for the first time. The side characters are either interesting, or funny, and sometimes both, but they aren’t given enough time to really shine, and it feels like we only get to know them in passing. For all it is a cartoon, it increased the level of ridiculous action to a point that stretched my suspension of disbelief based off of the previous film. These are nitpicks, but it does mean that this film isn’t quite joining the ranks of the Pixar classics.

Though I think it’s worth noting that it does not reach the same heights as the first film, “Finding Nemo,” much less “Toy Story” or “Inside Out”, “Finding Dory” still has much of Pixar’s typical polish and care. It manages to raise itself head and shoulders above Pixar’s lesser offerings, like “Cars 2.” While it may be a “B” tier film for Pixar, than makes it an “A+” tier from most other animation studios, and because of that, when “Finding Dory” comes out…

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.

If you enjoyed this review, keep on reading for “The Long Take” and “Spoiler Talk,” and don’t forget to support me on Patreon!

Review Format 4 - The Long Take

I have some nitpicks about the film that I think I should get out of the way first. I noted in the short-take that “Finding Dory” isn’t quite as good as previous films because it borrows plot elements from “Finding Nemo.” I think I should expand on that a little.

It’s not just that the plot elements are similar (crossing the ocean to find missing family members, a main character with a disability, escaping an enclosure of some sort, wacky side characters), it’s that even the emotional beats are repeated. Pixar’s better sequels managed to add new wrinkles to the formula in sequels like Toy Story 2 that gave them a sense of difference. This film lacks that, and because of it, the emotions aren’t as pitch perfect as Pixar’s better films.

In regards Marlin and Nemo, I’m not quite sure how I feel about the way they were used in the movie. They were either in it too much, or they were in it too little. What I mean is that their presence is just enough to distract from some of the new characters I would have liked to have gotten to know better, but not quite enough to make it feel like they were necessary to the story. The filmmakers should have either committed to sidelining them, or they should have involved them more.

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Because of the limited time we get with Marlin, one particular character moment between him and Dory leads to him acting like a complete jerk. Without more time to balance out Marlin’s curmudgeonly nature with other sides of his character, he comes across as an even bigger jerk than he was in the first film. In “Finding Nemo” the audience was given reasons to sympathize with him more, and see other sides of his character. Here, he feels like he’s back to the way he behaved near the beginning of that film, before he grew a bit. I guess he backtracked as a character?

Just a note on the plot, the ending set piece is a bit forced. I feel like the story writers were trying to come up with some sort of showy climax – something that would make the little kids who crave action giggle – and what they came up with showed that they had to force it to happen. Of course even when they put out something forced, they do it well. It’s a fun spectacle, certainly. However, it just isn’t as good as it perhaps could have been.

My final nitpick deals with the disconnect between the the seriousness of the themes and the ridiculousness of the action. For comparison, the original “Finding Nemo” had similar, but slightly less difficult themes, and a level of silliness that managed to about match the themes for the target age group. In “Finding Dory,” however, the slightly harder themes are paired with a level of ridiculousness that aims at a lower age bracket. This led to a clashing tone that was a little bit of a problem for me.

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I keep telling myself it was a cartoon and that cartoonish elements are just to be expected, but the occasional lapses in logic jolted me out of immersion, and there were a lot of them. I give a list of some of the more ridiculous bits in the spoiler talk. I think it’s not a particularly legitimate criticism overall, but I think it’s my job to tell you how I personally responded to it.

As for things I liked, there are plenty to talk about. The plot is strongest when it does something unique to itself. The film does a decent job making the search for Dory’s parents a little bit more of a mystery to unravel than “Finding Nemo’s” plot, and it’s at its best when Dory is piecing things together as she discovers them with the fragments of her memory. I will say, though, that the method of discovery (she sees something, it triggers a memory that gives her juuuuust enough to work with) screams of plot convenience.

The side characters are good and funny. The sea lions are hilarious, even if they are bit parts. Dory’s friend Destiny is sweet and delightful. Bailey is funny, even if I wasn’t fully sold on his transformation from hypochondriac to Daredevil on steroids. Becky is hilarious in her own twisted way (birds really get the short end of the stick brain-wise in these films, don’t they?).

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Aside from maybe Destiny, none of them are as terrific as Hank, the octopus (oops, septopus, my bad). He was terrifically world-weary and gruff. I actually wish there had been much more of him and his own story, but he does still play a fairly big part in the plot, so there is that.

As for the titular character, this film manages to make Dory a more relatable and emotionally resonant character. In the first film she was beloved largely because she was a perfect personality foil for Marlin, who was so distraught and serious in his search for his son. However, I wasn’t at all confident that they would be able to flesh her character out enough to make me care about her as something more than a wacky sidekick. They managed to do just that, partially through the excellent vocal talents of Ellen DeGeneres, but more importantly, in how they treated her throughout the story.

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I sympathized with the characters who had to deal with Dory, but I like how the story also helped the viewer understand that it really isn’t Dory’s fault. Her condition was used in the first film as a source of humor, mostly, but here it’s a source of tragedy and sympathy. It helps reinforce the themes and emotional resonance. It’s a good shift for the character. It’s almost like a cartoony version of “Rain Man,” not in terms of plot or character, but in how the film highlights the way others see people with disabilities, and how they see themselves.

Marlin and Nemo come to value Dory and what she offers as a person. She became more than an annoyance to them. But the film didn’t stop there. Dory came to realize these things about herself as well. The film portrays the insecurity and lack of self-confidence that a mental disability can instill in a person, and she manages to overcome those negative feelings about herself. I can only imagine what that will mean to people who suffer from their own type of disability.

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Now, however you felt about Dory as an adult fish, there’s one thing I think we can all agree on; baby Dory was utterly adorable! I swear, those eyes must have taken up half of her tiny blue body! Once past the “aws!” and googly-eyes, her cuteness contributes to just how sad it is when we see how she got lost. The primary emotional impact of the film is always directly involved with Dory’s parents and her desire to find them again. While I never dropped a tear, I could feel my throat tighten once or twice.

The design in general is fantastic. They managed to make a whale shark adorable and sweet. They made a world-weary octopus. They somehow gave a Blue Tang fish a dad-like forehead, without taking away everything that makes him very much a fish. The way Pixar uses composition to emphasize the emotions and concepts they are trying to convey is pitch perfect. There is a scene where a character is becoming more and more separated from everyone else, and the artists used the emptiness, and the distance-caused opacity of ocean water to convey what was happening in that character’s head. It was an excellent merging of design and storytelling.

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My favorite part of Pixar films – what makes me keep coming back to them as some of the greatest animated films, if not some of the best films, period, of all time – are the themes and ideas. “Finding Dory’s” theme is about a child living with a disability, while making the most out of life and overcoming the challenges posed by that disability, is valuable and well executed.

As an educator who has known a number of kids with disabilities of all kinds, that is a message that needs attention. “Finding Dory” may not star a character with a particularly realistic disability (at least real short-term memory loss doesn’t quite work the way it does in the film), but it still does a very good job of showing that people with disabilities are not only deserving of our love and care, but are capable and valuable in their own right.

On a final note, the bumpers for this film are fantastic. The short film, “Piper,” is as cute as “Finding Dory,” and may actually be a better put together film despite its short run-time. You should stick around for the post credit scene, too. If you’re a fan of the first film, you’ll get a real kick out of it.

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Conclusion and Star Rating:

Generally speaking, unless a Pixar film is from the “Cars” series, I consider it a must-watch piece of cinema. They may not be as untouchable as they once were, but Pixar is still one of the most consistently great film studios in existence. “Finding Dory,” thankfully, stays within this tradition.  

All of the flaws are really only nitpicks. There is no denying, “Finding Dory” is a “Great” movie. Go enjoy yourself at the cinema!

4 & One Half Stars

Four and one-half Stars

Review Format 5 - Spoiler Talk

The character I mentioned above, whom Pixar uses composition to effectively mirror, is of course Dory. The scene leading up to finding her parents was so well done. She almost loses sight of the kelp, and then she would be lost again, who knows for how long. But then she slowly claws her way back, leaving the open and murky ocean, slowly gaining detail, leading back into where she finally finds her parents. Their reunion is quite touching. I love the way they used the imagery of the lines of shells to show how much the parents were dedicated to finding her. It just reinforces how much Pixar knows their craft.

As for Hank, they didn’t explore him enough. Why does he hate the ocean so much? I get that something traumatizing happened, but a little information in a heart-to-heart talk between him and Dory could have done so much. Beyond that, for as determined as he is to go to Cleveland, he gives it up pretty quickly. Could Dory have seeded the idea to join them in the ocean a little earlier, so to give him something to think on, and eventually come to?

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There is a celebrity cameo that would have come out of the blue at me if I wasn’t expecting it via a spoiler I ran across online just shortly before I went to the film. Sigourney Weaver was hilarious playing herself as an audio recording at the Marine Life Institute. That said, they did kinda milk that joke too hard. I felt like they just repeated her name way too much. Still, I enjoyed it, and it was a fun touch.

Another funny bit came with the sea lions. I loved how they would yell at Gerald to get “off,” and it sounded much like sea lions do in real life. As funny as it was, much like Becky, the common loon that carries Marlin and Nemo around in a bucket, they are both treated pretty badly. They are jokes. This goes directly counter to the theme of the movie. I probably shouldn’t have laughed, but I did. They effectively played the scenes and characters for laughs, but I do have to admit that it’s a flaw in their messaging.

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Finally, I promised a list of things I thought broke immersion for me, so here we go:

  • Dory goes between all sorts of water containers with different salt levels and temperature levels. One of them is a mop bucket, surely with chemicals in it. Yikes.
  • Does Hank need to breathe?
  • Hank can drive?
  • Hank can push a stroller?
  • Come to think of it, Hank is like the swiss army knife of this film, isn’t he?
  • Daredevil Bailey
  • Otter cuddle-party stops traffic (yes it was cute, no it doesn’t make sense).

Um.. those are the bigger ones, anyway. If I can’t think of it off the top of my head then it was clearly unimportant.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Until next time!

     – Druidan

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