The reason it took thirteen years for the sequel to “Finding Nemo” to surface is because of writer/director Andrew Stanton. He had never envisioned for there to be a sequel, feeling Pixar’s smash hit was an open and shut case. To do a sequel simply because of money and demand would be a compromise to the film’s integrity. It wasn’t that a sequel couldn’t work, but that he didn’t know how to make it work. After mulling it over, Stanton, along with co-writers Bob Peterson & Victoria Strouse and co-director Angus MacLane, finally produced a story they deemed worth; and it is most certainly worthy!
The story itself sounds like an easy cash grab. Dory (Ellen Degeneres), the lovably forgetful sidekick in “Finding Nemo,” goes in search for her family. Along for the ride are Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), who very quickly lose Dory. This is so they have to find Dory, as the title suggests, while Dory finds herself, as the title also suggests. In all honesty, this story could’ve been pitched immediately following the juggernaut box office run of the original, with it not changing much since then. What I feel Stanton was worried about, and what I was worried about, was how Dory would translate to being the lead character.
Dory is the most popular Disney and Pixar character if one goes by her popularity on social media. While that’s great for financial purposes, that doesn’t mean she’ll work as a main character. After all, she was a supporting character who played off of the straight Marlin. While she’s always had heart and a defining personality, she was never meant to be more than an anchor for the protagonist. Shifting her into the protagonist role is tricky, as her defining characteristic, which was admittedly used as a gimmick, must now sustain itself. Marlin can still play straight to Dory, but she’s essentially anchorless. Stanton and company ran a serious risk of Dory crumbling under this pressure.
Dory overcomes this pressure, proving to be a strong protagonist after all. Her short term memory loss may still be a gimmick, but Stanton and company use it to their advantage. First and foremost, it drives the story along, with Dory slowly remembering bits and pieces of her past. An accident reminiscent of one she had as a child gives her a jolt of memory, with her remembering that she came from the Pacific Coast of California. After convincing Marlin to aid her in her quest halfway across the ocean (with Gill and his turtle pack making a cameo appearance to trek them over), she’s off to find her parents.
After arriving in the Pacific Coast, Dory is almost immediately caught by humans, but not in a malicious way. Her captors are scientists working at a nearby Marine Life Institute owned (or at least heavily endorsed) by Sigourney Weaver. They find her tangled in a plastic wrapper and whisk her away to the institute to rehabilitate her, then release her back into the ocean. Of course, she nor her friends know this, prompting panic and confusion. This only lasts a short while, as the other inhabitants of the institute clue them in on the place’s good intentions.
As fate (or plot convenience) would have it, the Marine Life Institute is where Dory was born and raised. She and her family were housed in an open ocean exhibit and it’s her mission to get to that exhibit for the big reunion. Fate (or plot convenience) once again strikes, as Dory befriends an octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill) who helps maneuver her around the institute in exchange for her tag. Those tagged in the Institute are to be shipped to another institute in Cleveland to be forever on exhibit, which the reclusive Hank pines for. Meanwhile, Marlin and Dory navigate their way through the institute in search for Dory.
“Finding Dory” follows the same path as the first film, with our protagonist and her sidekicks encountering a cavalcade of colorful characters on their quest. These include a near-sighted whale who’s an old friend of Dory’s (who she naturally doesn’t remember), a dolphin without his echolocation ability, a pair of wisecracking seals, and a litter of cute otters, just to name a few. They all provide laughs and heartwarming moments, as well as tips for the characters. None of it ever feels rehashed, though, with their distinctive quirks and the new setting making this film stand on its own two feet.
Even the message from the first film returns, but is also tweaked to feel fresh. The love of family, trusting in others’ abilities, and finding the strength within are still in play, but added is an extra layer: Dory’s short term memory loss. She feels it defines her, which it does, but not negatively. She has found a way to overcome her short term memory loss, using it to her advantage. While others would overthink their problems, causing them to compound, she thinks on her feet and always has a positive outlook. She was able to aid Marlin to Nemo in the first film because of her careless bravery, which she uses to aid herself in this film. She begins to doubt herself more and more as she feels she is failing, but learns that her disability isn’t a weakness, but a different strength. This is a tremendous message to any child with a disability, as it teaches them that they’re not weak.
The message of the film also brings about waterworks, not only in Dory’s personal conflicts, but in her redemption. It’s all brought upon and resolved by outrageous antics, much like in the first, this time with the credibility being stretched. Yet, these moments of plot convenience and over-the-top shenanigans don’t feel hackneyed. They match the personality of Dory, with the shenanigans being as bombastic as her personality and the plot conveniences as sudden as her careless bravery. These moments aren’t flaws; they’re what makes this film Dory.
Final Rating: A