Friday, June 17, 2016

Finding Dory movie review.

Thirteen years ago, Pixar introduced us to one of their most beloved and iconic characters, Dory. Since her debut in their fifth feature length film, Finding Nemo, her extremely forgetful and precocious, but lovable and unshakably loyal character has captured the hearts of all animation fans. But one must often wonder, what *was* she doing before she ran into Marlin?

Flash forward to now, and director Andrew Stanton intends to take us back and answer that very question in the character's own adventure, Finding Dory. One may be forgiven for assuming the film to be a rotten idea, what with Pixar growing more franchise heavy in recent years, and the last sequel where they pulled a protagonist switch - Cars 2 - backfiring tremendously. So I'm thankful to report that the effort and potential was not wasted, as it not only lives up to its predecessor and justifies its existence, but arguably stands alongside Toy Story 3 as their best sequel.

One year after the events of Finding Nemo, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is adjusting to her new life in the reef with Nemo and Marlin (Albert Brooks), but when she surprisingly recalls a deep-rooted memory concerning the location of her long lost parents, the three set out to find the "Jewel of Morro Bay", which is really an aquatic animal park and hospital out in California. In frantic search of her parents, Dory teams up with a "septopus" named Hank (Ed O'Neill), while also coming across other inhabitants  of the exhibits like Destiny, the whale shark (Kaitlyn Olsen) and Bailey, the beluga whale (Ty Burrell), roaming from location to location until she finds them, and discovering new things about herself as well.

Protagonist switches are very tall orders to pull off in sequels, as it's hard enough to add on to the original story without feeling rehashed, but harder still to make key supporting characters feel like they have anywhere left to go at that point, and this is one area in which Finding Dory absolutely flies circles over Cars 2. Whereas Mater was a funny and tolerable character in tangents in the first Cars, but quickly become an annoyance who didn't have anything interesting to add once he finally gained the spotlight, Dory suffers from no such issues. Obviously the character's memory loss and precocious stream of consciousness are back in full force, but also more reserved and layered this time around. Her forgetful antics continue to elicit big laughs from the viewer, but once again she also walks that fine line between humorous and sincerely tragic, with Stanton judging both sides in equal and seamless balance, and wisely choosing never to look at her condition with any judgment or scrutiny.

But more importantly, Dory continues to develop in new and progressively fascinating directions, as while her memorization skills may have improved, the mechanisms of her mind are still very crippled, and in another meaningful touch by Stanton, this also tenderly speaks to the disabled children within its audiences, as well as their parents. Throughout both movies, other characters have sometimes treated Dory - unintentionally or not - as a burden on them, as her forgetfulness and often childlike worldview have occasionally annoyed and frustrated them, despite the simple fact that these things are beyond her control. It's because of these things that she builds limitations and doubt within herself, and at every single decision she makes, I greatly sympathize with her. However, that doesn't mean that she allows her disability to get the best of her, because despite her limitations, she still finds new and inventive ways to find her way and pass through obstacles, including now trekking across the entire ocean twice to rescue friends or family, and even discovering new strengths within her she never knew about. It's a strong way of representing all of these young viewers of numerous impairments, whether they be based on memory, vision, loss of limbs, or other such cases. But best of all, it imparts upon them the strongest possible message that it could: You are not defined by your handicaps, and you are no less capable of doing amazing things because of them.

But of course Dory isn't the only character to get a great deal of exposure, as she's joined by a spectacular batch of both old and new faces. Marlin and Nemo once again join the fray, with the former having shown great growth and acceptance of his son's desire to live life to his fullest, but still undone and anxious over Dory's sometimes reckless actions, while also showing great empathy for her desire to be reunited with her parents, almost playing a surrogate father to her in his own way. But it's the newcomers to this universe who become the true scene-stealers, with Ed O'Neill's cynical and impatient Hank playing terrifically against Dory's brighter position, grappling over the selfish and helpful sides of his personality, and just looking at the character's astounding animation and camouflage is enough to garner enjoyment.

It's to Andrew Stanton's, as well as Bob Peterson's and Victoria Strouse's credit that each character feels fully defined and fresh, if not always as deep as its main character, but more than memorable enough to leave an impact, as well as make the film feel like it has earned those very emotional punches peppered throughout. The film is also very funny, owed largely to those aforementioned characters, whether it be a whale-speaking Kaitlyn Olsen and neurotic Ty Burrell aiding Dory through her quest, to reunited The Wire co-stars Idris Elba and Dominic West eliciting numerous chuckles as a pair of sea lions. Not only are the writers showing greater maturity in subject matter, but the many technicians of the first film have shown great improvements on what was already one of the most beautiful animated movies to date, as the ebb and flow of the ocean and the massive surface world continue to amaze, the sound design once again contributing to the personality of the film, and Thomas Newman returning to create another atmospheric and gorgeous accompanying score.

In the end, while Finding Dory inevitably doesn't quite top or match its predecessor, it more than proves worthy as a follow-up, recapturing the same adventurous and heartwarming spirit of the original, while continually pushing it down mature and interesting routes, especially when it comes to its title character. It's simply another thoroughly entertaining, emotionally satisfying and resonant entry in Pixar's enviable lineup, and much like Inside Out, shows that the studio is once again back to their former glory.

****1/2 / *****

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