I heard it from the fish’s mouth that the main question behind this film began to gnaw away at Andrew Stanton relatively soon after the release of his first effort Finding Nemo. The question of, Where are Dory’s parents? Nemo found his father. They got their happy ending. But what about the hapless Dory, always trusting, forever faithful and also hopelessly lost. There’s a story buried there somewhere.
Out of a character who exudes so much joy and positivity, there’s definitely the potential for a lot of heartbreaking moments and this film has those no doubt. After all, Dory (Ellen Degeneres) is a fish who we all know has short term memory loss and so-called psychological issues often lead to moments of great emotional turmoil, even in fish. This story does have some of those heart-wrenching moments, but it’s also a film of discovery, building off what we already know and love about these characters and reinforcing them in a number of ways.
New and old acquaintances are brought back to the fore namely Crush, Mr. Ray and of course Marlin and Nemo. New castmates including Ed O’Neill, Ty Burell and Kaitlin Olson entertain us with their own ticks and foibles including faulty echolocation and nearsightedness, reflecting just how much Dory is not alone. Then there are a couple downright oddballs in the dippy sea lion Gerald and a certifiably insane loon Becky, who nevertheless prove their own individual worth.
But it’s the ornery octopus (septapus) Hank who is the key to much of the plot because it is thanks to his agility and camouflage alone that Dory is able to navigate the Jewel of Morro Bay’s Marine Life Institute with any sort of success. She is, after all, a fish and a fish out of water is far from a good thing.
Still, this film certainly pushes the envelope as far as human-fish interaction. If the fish seemed anthropomorphized before, just wait. Without too many spoilers it gets even more pronounced this time around involving a big rig on the freeway among other shenanigans. Enough said. It’s a more constrained film, set in and around an aquarium, but the Pixar animators show an adeptness for moving around this world in new dynamic ways with relative ease.
But there’s also a flipside to this. As the voice of God, Sigourney Weaver, so aptly reminds us, “rescue, rehabilitate, release.” That’s the name of the game. Still, it seems like sea life has never been more encroached upon, more endangered or monetized. This negative impact is seen implicitly throughout the film, but it’s never more haunting than the moments when Dory is seen wrapped up in six pack rings. Being the bright and bushy-tailed tang that she is, no comment is made about it. But in the back of our mind’s we cannot help think about what that image represents. She gets put into captivity for this precise reason, but she wouldn’t have to be removed from her home in the first place if it wasn’t for our own ineptitude as humans.
It’s hard to put a finger on it exactly but there’s also something slightly off about Finding Dory‘s pacing. Perhaps it even has to do with the stakes of this film. It’s not truly driven by some high conflict. Yes, we know Dory needs to find her parents, but there’s something in us that realizes she already has a type of family, Marlin, and Nemo. This idea is explored a little bit while at the same time Dory tries to find her birth parents. But it’s admittedly hard to top a 13-year-old classic and I laud Finding Dory for not trying to do that. Instead, it shows a continued appreciation and care for its characters, in this case, Dory. If Finding Nemo was this rollicking, rip-roaring adventure at sea, then its sequel can best be described as a well-wrought character study. And when that character is such a well-meaning personality as Dory, that’s not a bad thing in the least.