Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse
Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Sloane Murray, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Bob Peterson, Sigourney Weaver
PG for mild thematic elements
Buy on DVD/Blu-ray
How do you fairly assess a Pixar film that’s a box office success while acknowledging that the animation renaissance the production house started is in decline? Finding Dory plays off all the tropes we’ve come to expect, but is that really enough?
With Toy Story in 1995, Pixar Animation Studios started an eleven-year streak of high quality, thought-provoking cinema that is rare enough in the live-action realm and is almost unheard of on the animation front. While people have argued that the likes of A Bug’s Life and Cars are weak spots in that early oeuvre, it’s hard to see either of them as failures. They set out to achieve something specific and succeeded both commercially and in terms of quality.
After Toy Story 3 in 2010, it became obvious that Pixar was shifting into a money-driven period where sequels became commonplace and originals were afterthoughts. Between the studio’s first outright dud quality-wise, Cars 2, and their masterful Inside Out, the studio delivered the Pixar-take on the Disney formula with Brave, and the first-ever animated prequel Monsters University.
Inside Out might have proven the start of a new wave, but it was followed by The Good Dinosaur, the studio’s worst box office performer to date and a film that was ultimately not very good, a film that fit better into the waning 1990s Disney slate than it did in the once-stellar Pixar set.
Returning to one of their most popular titles and giving it the sequel treatment, Finding Dory takes Ellen DeGeneres’ hilarious vocal performance in the original and puts it front-and-center for the sequel, relegating Nemo (still voiced by Hayden Rolence) and his dad Marlin (Albert Brooks) to support.
The original film found Nemo sequestered to a life in a fish tank while his father desperately searched for him. The sequel follows Dory as she tries to locate the parents she “lost” as a child, which involves following a confused trail across the ocean floor to a sea aquarium called the Marine Life Institute where sick and injured fish are “rescued,” recuperated, and either returned to the sea or shipped off to other facilities. It’s here that she meets the crusty squid Hank (Ed O’Neill), a near-sighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olson), and a beluga whale with a faulty echolocation system (Ty Burrell), all of whom aid her on her quest, however reluctantly.
The cast is strong, highlighted by DeGeneres giving the audience everything they wanted from her character’s return. She latches onto the short-term memory loss concept and runs with it, combining it with a new found ability to use verbal and location triggers to help her recall just where she went wrong so many years before.
The film drags in places, over-stuffed with pointless sidebars and events that may add humor, but struggle mightily to justify inclusion otherwise. Admittedly, the sea lions voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West are a highlight, much like the sea gulls from the first film, but nearly every one of their scenes is needlessly included, segments that should have found their way to the cutting room floor.
That said, it’s hard to imagine a studio like Pixar continuing down a path that is a pale shadow of its former self, but Finding Dory fits that description well. Like Brave and Monsters University, the film is good. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and, most importantly, it’s filled with emotional elements that have become keys to the studio’s success. However, the familiarity of the film, the struggle to stretch a story as far as it will go without breaking, and the inability to provide the level of emotional connectivity and catharsis that equates favorably with the likes of Toy Story 3 and Up, leads the audience into a place where they enjoy the film, but without realizing that they’ve unwittingly been shifted into the B-reel of the studio’s recent efforts while Disney itself has re-emerged as the dominant animation house working today.
Inside Out is officially the anomaly of the six-film streak, but Finding Dory fits easily in the middle of the pack. Not as quantifiably great as Inside Out, but not near the nadir like The Good Dinosaur and Cars 2. It is ultimately engaging without being pensive, and that’s precisely why the original film was such a huge success. Both were mid-tier films within their respective slates, but that doesn’t make them bad movies, or even unenjoyable ones. It just means that Pixar has a lot of problems to iron out before they can reclaim their position as the best around.
Guarantees: Animated Feature
Potentials: Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Sound Editing
August 16, 2016