The movie is fun and beautiful, with the added bonus of being nicely pro-life in its positive approach to its handicapped characters
While it was full of charm and memorable characters, one of the best things about the original Finding Nemo was the absolutely mesmerizing undersea world the artists at Pixar created onscreen. The breathtaking color palette, the exotic forms, everything came together to make the movie a completely unique experience. That sheen has worn off just a little this second time around, partly due to familiarity and partly because a good chunk of the movie takes place outside of the ocean, but regardless, there’s still plenty here to make Finding Dory the most visually satisfying animated movie so far this year.
Fortunately, along with Finding Nemo’s visual flair, Finding Dory has also brought back most of its heart as well. The movie begins with a brief prologue in which we find a young Dory (who sports a wide-eyed character design guaranteed to sell a million plush animals) being tutored by her doting parents in methods intended to help with her short-term memory loss. Sadly, Dory’s handicap gets the better of her and she becomes lost, eventually forgetting who her parents are and where her home is.
Now, years later and living with Nemo and his father, Marlin, Dory suddenly experiences a flash of recall and realizes that her parents may still be out there somewhere waiting for her. Knowing that her memory problems will prevent her from locating her parents on her own, Dory convinces Nemo and the ever-reluctant Marlin to help with the search. Hitching a ride with some old friends, the trio make their way to the California coastline where a hurtful comment from Marlin causes Dory to become separated from her friends. And that’s where things really get fun.
The bulk of the film takes place in and around the fictional Marine Life Institute, an aquarium/rescue and rehabilitation center for injured sea creatures that is essentially a small theme park. The land setting is, of course, an obstacle for our fishy friends at first, but it’s soon overcome through the introduction of a number of colorful characters. There are a pair of chronically lazy sea lions, a reality-challenged loon (pun intended, I’m sure), and, most importantly, a cranky septopus (that’s an octopus who’s missing a tentacle in case you didn’t know) who becomes Dory’s main chance for discovering her origins.
It’s this search that cleverly gives the movie’s title a double meaning. While our main characters do become briefly separated, the film isn’t just about Nemo and Marlin’s attempt to relocate their friend. It’s much more about Dory trying to find herself, who she is and where she came from. That’s the search that gives the film its heart. And while there aren’t that many tearful moments, which the first film had in spades from its very first frame (curse you, Disney/Pixar), it still tugs at the heartstrings. In fact, the resolution of what happened to Dory’s parents and how they responded to their daughter’s disappearance is probably one of the biggest “Awwww” scenes of the year. Go ahead and bring a hanky just in case.
The movie is also nicely pro-life in its approach to its handicapped characters, of which there are more than you can shake a fish stick at. The film never shies away from the fact that dealing with disabilities can sometimes be taxing, both to those with burdens (Dory is painfully aware of her condition) and those who love them (Marlin’s impatient outburst will be all too familiar to those with special needs kids); but whether it’s a gimpy fin, a missing tentacle, or even a congenital memory problem, every character is treated with dignity and shown to have a unique purpose in the world. The sacredness of each individual is front and center in the movie.
So, while the film critic in me demands that I begrudgingly acknowledge that Finding Dory is not quite up to par with its predecessor, there’s really not a lot to grouse about with the movie. It’s visually interesting, it’s got some laugh out loud moments, and best of all, it’s got a message you don’t have to qualify to your children on the ride home. I say, come on in, the water’s fine.