Movie Review: Finding Dory

Nearly 13 years after Pixar's ambitious tale of undersea adventures and runaway clownfish, its much-anticipated -- and very much chancy -- sequel, Finding Dory, swam its way to the top of the box-office, quickly reeling in fans of both the 2003 original and children seeking a fun-loving tale set within the most diverse world on Earth. Delivering not only a worthy successor to the emotional and memorable Finding Nemo, but also a slew of fantastic new characters that never once felt dull or overdone, Disney and Pixar's latest project offered a generally pristine display of how children's movies can still make the adults tear up. 

Picking up shortly after Finding Nemo, we find the amnesic blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) suffering from persistent dreams and flashbacks to her well-buried origins and how she lost the family she once loved dearly. Although she isn't entirely certain who they are nor if they're still alive, a sudden urge to find her parents calls upon Dory, who soon embarks on a ocean-wide search for the family she's nearly forgotten. Enlisting in the aid of not only her friends -- clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo -- but also a handful of other colorful allies like the cynical septopus Hank (Ed O'Neill) and a duo of enthusiastic whales (Kaitlin Olsen, Ty Burrell), Dory must do whatever it takes to not only find her parents, but also discover who she truly is beyond her troubling disability.

Continuing the year of animated animals we've already gotten with Zootopia, Angry Birds, and The Jungle Book -- and soon The Secret Life of Pets and December's Sing -- Finding Dory swam into theaters with (to no surprise) a dynamic showcase of what makes Pixar and Disney Pixar and Disney. Ushering in yet another sequel -- a sequel that to my knowledge won't be sparking any trilogies like Cars or Toy Story (which is a good thing) -- Pixar and Disney took a risky shot in the dark continuing the story of one of their most unique -- and quite difficult -- characters. Telling the origins of the blue tang Dory who suffers from a unique brand of short-term memory loss, Pixar not only succeeded in one of their most timeless projects alive, but also tackled a very emotional subject without even breaking a sweat. Always perfecting their form with every new film, Pixar's latest felt less like your typical franchise money-grab, but more like a commemoration of a character fans were begging to see once again.

Going into this film, however, I of course had my doubts. Much like every big-name studio out there, not every project is flawless. Going into this film, I was skeptical of two things: whether or not it would live up to the 2003 original, and whether or not it would fall victim to the past missteps of Pixar and Disney. One of the many comparisons I began to make to this film were to the lackluster sequels of two Pixar projects, 2011's Cars 2 and 2013's prequel to Monsters Inc., Monsters University. Both inefficiently living up to their predecessors, lacking in both character development and story, both these follow-ups failed to keep my interest in where Pixar was planning to go next with these properties. As for Finding Dory, not only did the film reassure me that it was simply a homage to the fan-favorite character and not the next installment of a spawning and money-grabbing franchise, but also it managed to recapture the essence of what made Finding Nemo so special.

Unlike Pixar properties like Cars or (to some degree) Monsters Inc., the follow-up to Finding Nemo ushered in a new array of emotional layer to a story that, on the surface, simply looks like a bond between parents and their children. Centering on Dory's fluctuating struggle with her short-term memory loss, the film applied the loss of not only one's family, but also one's entire identity to the sequel that could've easily been just a repeat of its predecessor. Still, while Finding Dory does amass plenty of similarities to the first film in terms of both plot and characters, the emotional epicenter of the film felt dramatically like something we've never seen explored before. With recent Pixar projects like The Good Dinosaur and 2012's Brave not being able to connect with me on a very emotional level like Inside Out or Up did, Finding Dory was able to tap into that feeling again with its intriguing character study of a child (or fish, if you will) longing to discover the heritage they thought they knew.

Among that character study, we find our brilliant cast, a slew of both familiar and brand-new fishy faces. As for the returning cast, Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks retain their comical and emotional performances from the first film, keeping the audience laughing (and crying) with their humorous family bond. While the young clownfish Nemo (voiced this time by Hayden Rolence) may have been the star of the first film, it's Ellen DeGeneres' Dory that really steals the show. Continuing her effective reign of quirky delight and confused mannerisms, the fan-favorite also adds a gracious amount of tear-jerking weight to her character, as the film dives deeper and deeper into her fascinating upbringing. Maturing from an adorable and wide-eyed child to the ever-forgetful fish who just wants to find her purpose in the world, Dory's journey throughout the film manages to capture the audience in a emotional and hilarious tidal wave, due for the most part to Ellen's courageous passion for bringing the character to life.

As for the new cast, a wide variety of talented actors and actresses take to the microphone to bring a motley crew of undersea characters to life. From Ty Burrell's dynamic take on the insecure yet highly skilled beluga whale, Bailey, to Idris Elba as the light-hearted sea lion who aids Dory in navigating the expansive Marine Life Institute, Finding Dory successfully reeled in a fantastic cast that's worthy of its predecessor. One of the most interesting new characters to be brought to screen had to be Ed O'Neill's pessimistic septopus Hank. An expert not only in camouflage stealth, but also entertaining sarcasm, the sardonic cephalopod was the perfect character for the Modern Family star to play, the character efficiently progressing from a cynical antagonist to a valuable aid to main character Dory. Along with an array of other characters, the most notable would have to be returning cameos from the smooth-sailing sea turtle Crush (voiced by director Andrew Stanton) and the Tank Gang from the first film.

Overall, with similar animated flair and a fluid array of nautical nostalgia, Finding Dory successfully surpassed my expectations in delivering a sequel worthy of -- and a tad bit more investing than -- the film before it. With entertaining characters, an ocean-wide adventure full of thrills and hilarity, and that signature Pixar sentiment that had been missing in projects like last year's The Good Dinosaur, the once unnecessary but now heavily appreciated sequel to one of Pixar's best films packs in an emotional journey worth taking.

I gave this film an 8 out of 10, because while it does borrow a few plot elements from past Pixar projects, it nonetheless delivers a riveting new story with enough interesting characters and emotional background to keep itself afloat. And let's face it, baby Dory is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO cute!              

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