Has it really been 13 years since we found Nemo? In that time, we’ve seen sequels for Monsters University and Toy Story 3, together with a whole lot of other really good movies. Sequels are a tricky balance between cash grab and doing something meaningful, and here, it’s good that we can get rid of those fishy thoughts – Finding Dory deserves to be remembered.
(No, Cars 2 is not a thing.)
In Finding Dory, the conceit is simple, if a little different. Nemo, thankfully, is no longer missing, but a few months after their first adventure Dory finds out she is starting to remember a life she once had before her forgetfulness robbed her of it. Powered by sheer determination to find out what she’s lost, coupled with pure Dory-ness, off she goes on a little adventure to uncover more about her cloudy past.
Familiarity to the original tale – despite it being more than a decade ago – is what works: Returning director Andrew Stanton throws in more than a few nods to Finding Nemo (including a post-credits scene) that is bound to bring a smile to the faces of the kids (and adults) who loved the first. All this is backed by the amazing returning cast: Albert Brooks (definitely sounding older, raspier) as Marlin, Bob Peterson as Mr Ray, and, of course, Ellen Degeneres doing a wonderful job as the titular character.
But the newcomers more than claim their right to be part of the limelight. Ed O’Neill is a standout as the septopus (octopus minus one arm) Hank. He’s joined by fellow-Modern Family actor Ty Burrell, who’s Bailey the beluga whale who can’t echo-locate. Kaitlin Olson is Destiny the half-blind whale shark, and Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy as Dory’s parents. Nemo isn’t himself tho – Alexander Gould has grown up, with Haydence Rolence doing a great job in his stead.
Finding Dory is chock full of laughs and lovable characters – and the jokes tend towards the more visual gags, which means it’s a lot easier for a day out with the kids. Pixar seems to have a formula, and it still works – there’s just fun to be had for the family, all the way from the start with Piper, the very fluffy and lovely short film that kicks off the show. It doesn’t quite reach Finding Nemo’s heights (or depths?) – Nemo being a more even, simpler tale, but Dory has a tougher story to tell.
Like Inside Out before it dealt with issues of growing up, wrestling with emotions and depression, Finding Dory also tackles a weighty subject, something that’s not as easy to grapple with, nor as easy to understand. This means that Finding Dory gets a lot darker and scarier than I expected – at points the horror is almost paralysing.
Here, Dory’s short-term memory loss is no longer just played for laughs – the characteristic that defines her takes the spotlight. While Finding Nemo laid bare the fears of a parent losing a child, here, in Finding Dory, the movie tackles the challenge of raising a child with disabilities.
Dory’s own forgetfulness might be used for some laughs, but there’s a moment in the final third of the movie when it hits home how bleak her life can be without friends and family. It can be extremely harrowing and darker than some early Disney cartoons have been, but watching Dory’s parents – in flashbacks – try to set up a life and patterns for their daughter who’s just a little bit different puts it all in perspective, and that if everybody pulls together, its going to be ok.
There’s a strong message in all this – that we should not just treat people with disabilities with kindness, but also with respect. Which is all very odd when the movie resorts to using two other rather mentally challenged animals – for laughs. It seems rather cruel, given what the movie is trying to say.
Good thing, then, that the lovable bunch of misfits, fish, mammal and bird, all pitch in to save the day and reunite the family. And what a victory, with many of the animals overcoming their fears and be free. There’s also a more subtle ecological message here – most of the action takes place in a Monterey Marine Life Institute, and maybe children will think twice about prodding sea animals with their fingers.
But, really, the kids will love Finding Dory – which is a good school-holiday movie. Because the sometimes dark tale of someone with disabilities is a heart-warming one: That you can succeed in whatever you set your mind to, as long as you just keep swimming.