“Just follow the shells”
Even though Pixar’s first sequel Toy Story 2 equaled one of its best movies (many say both sequels did, although I’d argue Toy Story 3 pales in comparison to its predecessors), not even they could keep up appearances with Cars 2 and Monsters University. It’s impossible to hit as many homeruns as they have let alone go back to the well with an idea to hope lightning strikes twice. So after the aforementioned forgettable attempts at continuing fan favorites, anticipation wasn’t high for their return to the ocean world of Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). I had to re-watch Finding Nemo just to approach the level of adoration many possess for it, so Finding Dory needed to be pretty special to make an impact. Surprisingly it did.
Despite the play-on-words poster series alluding to Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) being the fish needing to be found, the real object of this installment’s search is her parents: Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy). While only a tiny blue tang long ago, her Mom and Dad tried desperately to ingrain safety precautions through song in hopes their short-term memory challenged daughter wouldn’t find herself alone. It was practically inevitable she would, though, director Andrew Stanton and co-writer Victoria Strouse explaining through visual montage how years passed and time forgot. One misstep taking her from her family became a distant memory lost forever beyond the hunt. Dory knew she was looking for something, so meeting Marlin and finding Nemo became important. It satisfied that internal desire she couldn’t shake.
A year removed from the first film’s adventure sees déjà vu hitting Dory hard. What starts generically (she knows she had parents considering she was born) leads towards a PTSD-type recall of the words: “The Jewel of Morro Bay, California.” Suddenly she has a destination—one she’s lucky Nemo heard considering she promptly forgets it seconds later—and a fleeting glimpse of the blue parentage that had tragically been scrubbed from her mind. Marlin of course doesn’t want to leave the anemone again, but how could he not when the memory of losing his son was so fresh? So he calls on Crush (Stanton) to ride the current across the Pacific right to the Marine Life Institute and Sigourney Weaver‘s dulcet loudspeaker voice. Could this be Dory’s home?
What I loved about Finding Dory is that it isn’t a rehash of the original. The entire environment and tone has changed with the danger of the deep blue sea Marlin combatted altered into a controlled aquarium setting for Dory. There aren’t any sharks or creepily crazed Darlas to fear for their lives. The worst outcome they face is being shipped to Cleveland rather than released back to the wild. The Marine Life Institute helps its sea creatures so well that sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West)—natural predators—prove docile if mischievous friends to help our adventurers. This is a key difference because Dory is troubled enough as it is. She doesn’t need external adversaries when her own mind is the worst of all.
So the film utilizes more comedy to lighten the inherently dark subject matter of psychological disease. Marlin and Nemo become embroiled in their own side plot that entertains in its shenanigans (thanks in part to wild-eyed loon Becky) and teaches hard truths about patience and compassion when dealing with someone as kind-hearted yet frustratingly difficult as Dory. We laugh at their antics while Dory makes a pact with Hank the septopus (an escapee who actually wants to go to Cleveland so he may bask in the solitude of an aquarium existence away from “Touch Pond” children’s grubby hands) to find her parents. Words and images trigger flashbacks as old friends cement she’s in the right place and hope mingles with fear at the prospect a reunion is possible.
There are so many themes and morals thrown about for kids to absorb involuntarily. The reality that families don’t need biological connection and how friendship and love aren’t merely for those deemed “normal” are just two. As heart-warming as it is to watch Dory remember the two fish most important to her—but never enough to forget Marlin and Nemo—it may be more so experiencing Hank’s (Ed O’Neill) thaw. We get no backstory to this septopus other than an obvious aversion to poking and prodding. He could have been drawn as duplicitous and spiteful like Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear except that disposition is impossible opposite someone as lovable as Dory. She doesn’t earn pity; she earns support. You want to rally around her with every fiber of your being.
And that’s exactly what everyone does from the beginning (see Bill Hader and Kate McKinnon as the first fish to find young Dory alone after losing her folks). You get Destiny the whale shark (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey the beluga (Ty Burrell) using their Institute familiarity to assist her as well as overcome their own issues (the former near-sighted and prone to run into walls, the latter nervous his echolocation will never work despite a clean bill of health). Even Fluke and Rudder go above and beyond, their superiority towards oddball sea lion Gerald a delight in the victim’s chance to turn the tables. Stanton and company give non-vocal eccentrics like Gerald and Becky the opportunity to rise above appearance as prime examples of our debunking mean-spirited prejudices.
The “finding” of someone else is secondary to “finding” one’s self. So while Dory’s parents are the ultimate goal, the title is still apt. Finding Dory is about re-discovering herself as a fish—past, love, and home. It’s who Dory has always been that opens doors during the search, her never-give-up attitude despite not remembering what she’s not giving up constantly propelling her forward when the situation is dire. Her spontaneity coaxes Marlin from his shell and provides Hank (easily one of the best characters Pixar has created in emotional depth, personality, and physical hijinks through camouflage) a reason to be more than a cephalopod mollusk on display. Flaws are highlighted because we all have them. It’s time to embrace them because they’re what make us each special.
courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures