Let me just say I totally called it. When I was eight I thought up the premise and title for this one. I’ll take 10% royalty, Pixar.
On Father’s Day 2003 my dad and I went to see Finding Nemo. It became an instant favorite of mine and one of my “go-to” movies in childhood. I only ever owned six movies as a kid- The original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, A Bug’s Life, and Nemo. (I’ve lost all of them since, and currently only have Tangled.) I’ve seen it to the point where it should really stop being entertaining by now, but it’s not. It’s one of Pixar’s most acclaimed movies for a reason. The humor, the heart, the pacing, the characters were all nearly perfect. And the animation was game-changing. It’s been thirteen years since then. I’m in my twenties. My brother, not even two months old when the original was released, is now a teenager. Pixar went through a rough patch and a return to form since then, and now alllllll this time later we have Finding Dory, a sequel not many asked for, but one with lots of promise.
So… how’d it do?
I guess it depends on where your hypothetical “bar” is. If you’re asking for “a solid Pixar movie that’s good fun for the whole family” then sure, you’ve got it. But if you want something on par with Finding Nemo or Toy Story 3 You may want to keep your expectations at least in our stratosphere.
What Dory does right is character. It should come of no surprise, as funny, memorable characters have always been Pixar’s greatest strength. And this round’s new cast is just as fun as the original’s. Ty Burrell’s Bailey the Beluga Whale was a comic force, Ed O’Neil’s Hank the Octopus brought a great foil to Ellen’s Dory, and Idris Elba’s lazy Sea Lion was an unexpected romp. The cast and characters are all around fantastic, really. From the stars down to the little guest voices. Great characters everywhere.
I have a feeling this is gonna get compared to Inside Out a lot, as they’re both getting rave reviews and may end up being seen as the movies that broke the studio out of its creative rut. So let’s be clear: This is no Inside Out. (which was actually the first movie I ever reviewed on any blog.) Like Inside Out, there is no villain. Which is great and really refreshing to have in an animated movie. But unlike Inside Out the conflicts in the movie feel rather contrived. There’s lots of accidents. Lots of the plot is driven by accidental or coincidental things in a way that doesn’t feel very organic. Dory hears the word “undertow” and suddenly gets a flashback. Marlin angers Dory and tells her to go to the surface and wait where there just happens to be some biologists waiting to grab her. Stuff like that.
And while the characters are consistently funny, the plot takes directions with them that just don’t feel right. Most of the movie actually happens on land, in a fictional sort of Sea World set in Morro Bay, California. And being a literal fish-out-of-water tale it ends up having to take some serious leaps in suspension of disbelief. You know, outside of talking fish and other sea creatures. The escape sequences are a little… jarring. I’m sorry, I can handle an octopus being able to talk, but an octopus driving a truck is where I cross the line!
The main flaw in the movie is that the action is over the top and ultimately unnecessary. It detracts from the story, which is actually really good. But it’s hard to get too much of a serious emotional response out of a movie when you have fish making Rube Goldberg machines out of their environment to escape clueless humans. The question is begged more then once- what the hell are the humans seeing? You have fish moving around on land in plain sight half the time.
So the plot stumbles a bit when it tries to recreate the Nemo storyline. The whole aquarium separation shenanigans probably should’ve been cut, honestly, because there’s a second storyline that’s much stronger. Dory’s family provides an emotional heart that pulls heartstrings and sets the stakes plenty high. It doesn’t need the rest. There’s a moment so beautiful and touching it just screams “Pixar.” And it works because of how small it is. How quiet it is. The movie needs more of that and less whackiness.
But fear ye not, Finding Dory does indeed succeed in creating an entertaining, fun, and occasionally powerful movie. It’ll fit right in the middle tier of Pixar movies, with Ratatouille and Up (which, once you get past the opening ten minutes, is pretty overrated if you ask this cookie/movie enthusiast.) Even as you notice the flaws, you’re laughing at the jokes, loving the new characters, and engaged in the story.
If Finding Dory were a cookie, it would be a chocolate chip cookie. It’s a safe bet that you’re going to like this, but the extent of that like will probably vary. It’s not going to stand out against every other kind of cookie you’ve ever had, but you’ll almost certainly enjoy it.
Oh, and the short film that plays before it, Piper, is possibly the best one they’ve ever done. Watch it just for the short if you’re on the fence.