Eight and a half adorable baby Dory’s out of Ten
I was worried “Finding Dory” might be some kind of cash grab on account of the more-than-decade-of-time intervening it and its predecessor, “Finding Nemo.” But that caution was proven entirely uncalled for. Pixar has added yet another impressive entry to their wonderful catalog of animated films by telling a story that maintains everything that was great about “Finding Nemo” while still allowing for its characters and world to grow.
The film actually begins with an animated short that has no relation to the main story of the film. Instead it tells a brief and adorable story about a young bird learning to feed itself. It’s very compressed and told entirely without any dialogue, which makes the effectiveness at which it conveys its story especially impressive. It’s simply a great appetizer to a great film. The actual film “Finding Dory” takes place a full year after the events of “Finding Nemo” and revolves around Dory’s quest to find her family after bits and pieces of her memory of them begin to reemerge. This eventually leads them to the Monterey Bay Aquarium where the majority of the film takes place. There we meet much of the films supporting cast, which was one of the strongest things going for “Finding Nemo.” Consequently, it’s essential for “Finding Dory” to also have a strong supporting cast and, between Idris Elba’s short but hilarious portrayal of a seal and Ed O’Neill’s memorable and conflicted Hank, they succeeded. It’s actually rather interesting, because I had expected the film to be the story of Dory and Marlin (Nemo’s father from the previous film). But, despite Marlin’s presence throughout the film, “Finding Dory” was really about Dory’s relationship with Hank, with the two dominating the second and third acts. They interact for so much time that it couldn’t not be the focus of the film, and by the conclusion theirs is the most interesting and developed relationship in the film. That really allows Ed O’Neill to shine in his role as Hank, and I imagine that for most viewers he’ll be the stand-out character of the film.
Spin-off films that attempt to make a supporting character the protagonist have always made me nervous. Part of why supporting characters work is entirely because they don’t have the plot furthering responsibilities of a protagonist. Characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and [insert] are so much fun to watch because they’re free to make themselves fun to watch. They don’t have to conform to expectations so they can develop a romance or relate to the audience, they can be as absolutely off the wall as they can possibly be. Pixar took this to heart when developing their supporting actors for “Finding Nemo,” allowing Dory and really every supporting character to be fun and interesting. Marlin pushed the plot along and played the straight man to all of their ridiculousness. Consequently, I was worried that Dory wouldn’t be able to maintain her character when they announced that she’d be the protagonist of this film. However, Pixar does a great job of it, and if anything Dory grows into a more interesting character by the film’s conclusion. In fact, it’s a major plot point of the film that Dory’s ridiculous behavior is often just what a situation calls for. Her character arc as a protagonist feels natural and manages to not compromise her character, both of which are really impressive things to do with a decade old supporting character that could have very easily become a gimmick.