There are two sorts of people that make up the majority of the audience clamoring to see Finding Dory. Those that were little when it came out 15 years ago that are anxious for some nostalgia. Then there are the parents of those little ones. My daughter was two years old the first time she saw Finding Nemo. We probably watched it twice a day for nearly two years straight after that. That’s not really an exaggeration. It’s a toss-up as to whether I could recite the entirety of Finding Nemo or the Pledge of Allegiance better at this point. As such, our expectations were pretty high. My daughter, now 13, was revisiting old friends, and frankly I was, too. You don’t spend that much time with these characters, which are awesome by the way, and not form a bond of your own.
We were initially treated to an adorable yet poignant flashback to Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) childhood. By the way, I’m going to warn you right now that she was freaking adorable. Be prepared to coo. We were introduced to Dory’s parents, voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy. They cherish their little girl and try very hard to protect her as she already suffers from short-term memory loss. Something happens, however, and Dory is separated from them indefinitely.
Flash forward to one year post Finding Nemo. Present-day Dory suddenly remembers she has parents, which is a breakthrough. She doesn’t remember much but recalls she lived with them in something call The Jewel of Monterey, California. She’s hellbent on finding her family after this. Marlin (Albert Brooks), as usual, is against the idea. He feels traveling across the ocean once was enough for a lifetime. Nemo (Hayden Rolance), of course, wants to help Dory. Finally, Marlin agrees and enlists the help of Crush the sea turtle (voiced once again by director Andrew Stanton) to get them across the Pacific quickly.
Honestly, this quick explanation for how they get to California from Australia so fast was a godsend. In this film, the journey across the ocean is irrelevant and thus not much time is wasted on it. It may have been a very convenient solution, but it allowed the plot to get on its way.
They quickly discover that the Jewel of Monterrey Bay, California, refers to the Marine Biology Institute of California. The Institute is famous for its mantra of “rescue, rehabilitation and release.” In other words, they help sick sea animals and treat them. Then they are either released back into the ocean, or if they’re deemed unable to survive in the wild, sent to a Cleveland aquarium to live in safety.
Dory hears a voice speaking to her when they arrive at the Institute and follows it. It’s actually just a recording playing over the loudspeakers, directing visitors to various exhibits and such. Hilariously, the voice is that of Sigourney Weaver as herself. Since Dory has no idea who Sigourney Weaver is, nor that she isn’t really speaking to her, she answers and thanks Sigourney frequently.
Unfortunately, Dory is accidentally scooped up by nearby marine biologists after they spot her entangled in a soda can six-pack plastic ring thingamajig. They take her to the Institute’s quarantine building, deem her unable to survive in the ocean, and tag her for transport to Cleveland.
Once alone, she meets up with a camouflaging, droll octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill). who is intent upon returning to the aquarium in Cleveland. After learning that Dory needs assistance in finding her parents, he offers to help in exchange for her fin tag that marks her as Cleveland-bound. It’s his ticket out of there.
Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo are still in the bay trying desperately to find Dory. They enlist the help of two sea lions, Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West). The banter between these two is golden, especially when they torture a daft, wild-eyed fellow sea lion named Gerald.
Much like Finding Nemo, the heart of this movie lies with the supporting characters. Marlin persists in being a pessimistic helicopter parent and friend, having apparently not learned his lesson about faith in others and such. His M.O. is even more tiresome this time around. Nemo isn’t really crucial to the plot, though he does serve as a reminder to his dad to freaking chill out and believe in Dory’s ability to make things happen.
Hank the octopus, or “septopus” as Dory calls him due to his missing a tentacle, is the star of this film, much like Dory was in Finding Nemo. O’Neill brilliantly infuses him with sardonic humor and a reluctantly helpful soul. He wants to come across as self-serving but in reality is extremely compassionate and very resourceful.
We also meet a couple of other new friends in Destiny, the extremely near-sighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey, the insecure, hypochondriac beluga whale (Ty Burrell). Both characters are charming and amusing, reminiscent of the Tank Gang that assisted Nemo in the first film.
Finding Dory does a very good job of not trying to repeat the road map of Finding Nemo. This works for and against it. It simply can’t match the soul and wit of the first film. The genius of Bruce the Shark and his pals Chum and Anchor holding support meetings to stave off their addiction to consuming fish isn’t something you’re going to find this time around. Despite new lovable characters, the movie lacks the intimacy and comic timing the first one executed so well.
Still, there are many moments that are heart-warming, knee-slapping and tearjerking. Try to keep a dry eye when Dory has her repeated flashbacks to her childhood. Towards the end of the film there is an action sequence that is really over the top. As in Fast & Furious over the top. Many might find it too ridiculous. Sometimes you need to suspend your attachment to reality and just learn to let go and have fun, though. You’re watching a film with talking fish who can read, ffs. Unless it’s a biopic or documentary, movies don’t always need to be rooted in physics and realism. They’re the one place where the impossible can exist. So chillax and enjoy, my friends.
TIP: Stay till the very end of the credits. Not only are they fun to watch, but there is an end-credit scene with a great pay off.
★★★ ½ of 5
Finding Dory is now playing in theaters in the US. It premieres in the UK 29 July.
Image via Disney/Pixar