Released in 2003, Finding Nemo was an instant classic, exhibiting everything that made viewers embrace Pixar animated films: It was fresh, funny, full of heart without being sappy, wonderfully animated and gave viewers sparkling access to the previously unseen realm of undersea life.
Now, 13 years later, comes the sequel Finding Dory, directed by Andrew Stanton. Dory, you recall, was the blue tang with memory issues who helped the clownfish Marlin find his lost son Nemo. The three are still hanging out. Then Dory’s brain releases memories of her childhood — adorable Baby Dory is two gigantic marble-like eyeballs held together by a piece of fish — and she realizes she once had parents from whom she got separated. She sets off across the ocean to find them, followed by Marlin and Nemo.
The search leads to a marine-life park and rehab center in California where most of the film takes place. There, Dory meets Hank, a cranky octopus who lends his seven hands. Hank’s ability to camouflage his skin, blending into any background, is one of the film’s best visual treats.
Finding Dory is amusing, sweet and has predictable nice messages about friends, family and being true to oneself. (Though in strict biological terms, this is a cheat: “I have a family since everybody has to come from somewhere,” said no barnacle ever.) The voicework taps plenty of seasoned pros, with Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks reprising their roles as Dory and Marvin, respectively; Ed O’Neill does newcomer Hank. Dominic West and Idris Elba provide the voices for a seal and sea lion duo. (Adversaries on The Wire, now friends barking on a rock!)
The film is good, but not awesome like its predecessor. Dory is more cartoon-y and frantic, and like many sequels, often tries too hard: Nothing kills the magic like seeing the machinery. On the plus side, there are no insipid songs, and Dory has moments of cleverness, like the meta critique of a plastic toy fish (take that, Disney Store).
But Finding Dory turns out to be the same characters from Finding Nemo, engaged in the same story. Once the two films are swimming side by side in a viewer’s brain, one is the clear winner — full of color and life and originality — and the other, Dory, is just a pretty good knock-off.
The appetizer — the short film, “Piper” — is great. It’s a dialogue-free charmer about a young sandpiper, leaving the safety of the dunes and confronting the rough-and-tumble ocean. I’ve logged hours watching real-life sandpipers — they are never not funny when running from a wave — and I was impressed how the filmmakers could so perfectly capture the skittery nature of these birds with digital animation.