It’s been 13 years since Nemo first went missing in the vastness of the ocean, but FINDING DORY makes us feel as though no time at all has passed. After all, it’s only been year since the events of Finding Nemo for the characters themselves, and the short-term amnesiac Dory (voiced again by Ellen DeGeneres) suddenly remembers some information about her parents, and with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) in tow, she swims off to California to find them.
FINDING DORY immediately establishes itself as being in good hands, with Andrew Stanton (the original Finding Nemo, WALL-E) back on board after a brief foray into live action with John Carter. The film opens on a short bit of backstory for Dory that is both adorable and heartbreaking, and may just outdo the infamous first ten minutes of UP as an emotional rollercoaster. Which is what separates a good Pixar film from just about anything else on the market: the ability to tap into core human emotions, rather than simply manipulate them. The sequence, showing Dory’s fretful parents trying to prepare their wide-eyed and forgetful child for the big ocean, is one that all parents and children can relate to, and Stanton and his team never forget this for a second.
In some ways, FINDING DORY follows the structure of Toy Story 3, as the gang finds themselves in the captivity of the Monterey Marine Life Institute, although there is never the same sense of urgency as that film, instead playing out as a comedy of missed encounters. A crop of ‘institutionalised’ characters are introduced this way, including Bailey (Ty Burrell), a white beluga whale; and Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a whale shark that help them on their way. A pair of sea lions (voice by Idris Elba and Dominic West) take over from the seagull role in the first film as wizened observers of the inside and outside worlds. There’s old friends too, including Crush the turtle (voiced by Stanton) and Mr. Ray the teacher, but it never feels like a rehash so much as catching up with old friends. Curious too is that there’s no real villain to the piece, with the ill-tempered octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) sort of filling in the Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear role, but without the conscious malice or scheming. He simply wants what he thinks he deserves: to be isolated from everyone. Yet the positive message of the film is one of self-empowerment and communities of diversity, which is perhaps the best message that kids of all ages could receive right now.
The thing to remember about animation is that the creators start with nothing, and everything you see and hear on screen in crafted for a purpose. Even the most ardent followers will notice how much more depth there is to the stunning animation, layers of texture added to even the simplest of establishing shots. Technology has moved forward to a point that dozens of bodies of water, from small cups to the ocean itself, replaces the one big water mass from the original. Using advanced shading and rendering techniques, water changes tints and tones as it gets deeper and shallower, giving literal depth to the backgrounds. It’s easily Pixar’s most gorgeous-looking feature to date.
FINDING DORY begins a run of sequel for Pixar, with only one film out of their next five (Coco) not a direct sequel to a previous animated outing. It’s become an inevitability for a studio that is a victim of their own success, constantly expected to turn out something as awe-inspiring as their previous efforts, while still acknowledging that they are part of a global brand under Disney. While Pixar haven’t always had critical success with this, particularly when it comes to the disappointing Cars 2 and Monsters University, FINDING DORY is more in the vein of the Toy Story sequels, recapturing that same feeling we all had when we were a little bit younger at heart. Nevertheless, sequels are the new norm, but if they are all as good as this, Pixar can quite happily keep us entertained with more dips back into the ocean.
FINDING DORY is released in Australia on 16 June 2016 from Disney. It plays with a gorgeous short film called Piper in most theatres.
2016 | US | DIR: Andrew Stanton | WRITERS: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse | CAST: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy | DISTRIBUTOR: Disney | RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes | RATING: ★★★★½ (9/10)