Every Pixar movie is compared to those immediately before it.
Finding Dory, the animated studio’s 17th feature and their fourth sequel in five years, isn’t as good as last year’s Inside Out. Compared to Pixar’s other recent efforts Brave, The Good Dinosaur, and Monsters University, however, the sequel succeeds adequately enough to make for a fun, forgettable film.
Finding Dory exists not because there is was more story to tell after Finding Nemo nor because of a character background that needed fleshing out, but because Ellen DeGeneres spent years asking Pixar to do another one and she wore them down (or built up enough interest to make it worth it for Pixar, one could argue). Because of that, the movie starts off at a disadvantage it can never quite outswim.
Six months have passed since the events of Finding Nemo. Dory (DeGeneres), the blue tang with a constantly resetting memory, has been living with worrywart clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (now voiced by Hayden Rolence), as an ad hoc family unit.
Buried memories of her childhood have been peeking into her subconscious and one day, she suddenly remembers her parents. Armed with a vague location, Dory takes off in a quest to find them, followed closely behind (and then further behind) by Marlin and Nemo.
If you’ve seen a commercial or trailer for Finding Dory, you know the bulk of the film takes place at California’s Marine Life Institute, where Dory’s very short search for her parents leads her. It’s the script’s decision to base most of the film in one, mostly indoor setting that perhaps prevents the sequel most from achieving what Finding Nemo did.
While Nemo had a few originality issues, it worked so strongly because of the exhilarating sense of discovery, both with the underwater world Pixar broke new ground creating and with the unexpected detours the road-trip format allowed Marlin and Dory to take along their way.
Finding Dory, on the other hand, stagnates about half an hour into the movie, once Dory reaches the Institute. Everything doesn’t “click” immediately, like in the first movie, but right when it’s on the verge, much of the momentum is sapped away.
Dory searches the Institute with the help of grumpy “septopus” named Hank (Ed O’Neill) — he lost a tentacle before being found — as well as two ridiculously funny whales, Destiny (Kaitlyn Olsen) and Bailey (Ty Burrell). Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo, serving no real purpose to the story aside from padding out the running time and allowing for cameos from bit characters from Finding Nemo, spend their time trying to get into the Institute to rescue Dory.
The title is a blatant misnomer, as the movie’s not about finding Dory but about finding her parents. It’s not even psychological wordplay about Dory finding herself. The movie markets itself as one about Marlin and Nemo tracking down Dory, but be aware: Marlin and son are not the main characters this time around and Finding Dory is not about the search for Dory.
Despite a story that lends itself to exploring strong, emotional scenes — and there are definitely a few, well-earned ones, bound to get you sniffling in your theatre seat — Finding Dory just never truly comes alive. It has the fun familiarity inherent anytime you watch a sequel to a beloved movie, but the plot and dialogue are more reminiscent of ‘90s straight-to-video sequels like The Return of Jafar or The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride than of one perhaps more deserving of the big-screen treatment.
The aquatic visuals are a huge improvement over what Pixar achieved in 2003, but everything else (with the exception of new additions like Destiny and Bailey) just lacks the gusto and excitement with which Finding Nemo tackled its fish tale.
But hey, at least it’s better than Cars 2.