Film Review: Finding Dory (G) (USA, 2016)

Pixar Studios has long been regarded as one of the best animation studios in the world today, alongside Studio Ghibli, which in my denial still exists. But ever since the release of Cars 2, a disappointing sequel to a film that wasn’t that good to begin with, the seemingly infallible quality of Pixar has fallen. With films like Brave, Monsters University and The Good Dinosaur, they seemed to go towards that theory, but a creative surge with the release of Inside Out, a wonderfully exuberant and creative film, seemed to push them back in the right direction. And now we have Finding Dory, the long-awaited sequel to the 2003 hit, Finding Nemo. Will the film be worth the 13 year wait, or will it end up a disappointment?

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Approximately one year after the events of the first film, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is now living with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son, Nemo (Hayden Rolence, replacing Alexander Gould). Having memories gradually coming back involving her past, Dory sets out to find her family, much to the worry of Marlin. Remembering something about “the jewel of Morro Bay, California”, the three end up at the Monterey Marine Life Institute. The three unfortunately get split up and they have to find each other as well as Dory’s parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy) with a bunch of new friends like Bailey (Ty Burrell), a white beluga whale; Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a whale shark; and Hank (Ed O’Neill), an octopus, who becomes her guide.

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Was this film worth the 13 year wait? Yes and no. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not truly criticizing the film in any major way, but sequels with long time gaps are usually made to cash in on the nostalgia value rather than being made for valid creative reasons. But seeing this film, the reason for this film to exist makes perfect sense and fits the Disney/Pixar formula to a T. What initially bothered me was the decision to make Dory the main character of the film. Considering that happened with Cars 2, where they made the disastrous decision to make Mater the main character – much to the annoyance of many, including myself) – I was fearful that Dory would meet the same fate. Thankfully, that never happened and it is all thanks to Ellen DeGeneres‘ performance.

Having perfect comic timing and seamlessly moving in and out of a dramatic tone, DeGeneres is still fantastic as the lovable Dory, who is more than just comic relief. The characters of Marlin and Nemo are merely passengers for The Dory Show Finding Dory, but Albert Brooks and Hayden Rolence still play off well as father and son. Marlin’s bird call still makes me laugh even when I’m writing this review. The supporting cast are great with their roles, with standouts like Ty Burrell as Bailey, a neurotic beluga whale who can’t seem to perform the act of echolocation (amusingly referred as the world’s best pair of glasses); Kaitlin Olson as Destiny, a near-sighted whale shark and childhood friend of Dory’s; and Ed O’Neill as Hank, a grumpy octopus who yearns to be confined in an aquarium and is jokingly referred as a “septopus” due to his lost tentacle.

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The Pixar formula is still running with Finding Dory, as it tries to balance laughs and emotion, but it has gotten a little bit rusty, making this film slightly inferior to Finding Nemo. The attempts of tugging the heartstrings of the audience have gotten a bit more manipulative, especially with more reliance on music cues. Plus, it doesn’t help that the plot of Finding Dory is still a retread of the first film. Fortunately, for what it lacks in emotional investment, it makes up for with laughs and charm. The many visual gags evoke plenty of guffaws like Hank’s camouflage and the character of Becky, a strange looking bird. But the final act of the film has one of the funniest climaxes that Pixar has ever done. Involving echolocation, car traffic, land animals and a well-placed song, it had me gleefully choking at my popcorn at one point. Plus the cuteness levels are off the charts when you see the young version of Dory and the plentiful otters. And do not get me started on the surprise celebrity voice cameo played by a fantastic actress, whom actually figures into the plot, that made me laugh so much whenever she was being referred to.

Does this film stand up to the original? Sort of. It does not make a mockery to the Pixar name like Cars 2 did, and it is better than unnecessary films like Monsters University. But it falls short of the fantastic quality Pixar films like Inside Out, the Toy Story films and Up, or even this year’s Disney animated film, Zootopia. But it is still great fun for the whole family, has a simple but important message and it shows that’s Pixar reign is far from over.

P.S – Stay after the end credits for a delightful surprise.

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Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Finding Dory is in cinemas in 2D, 3D and IMAX now.

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