Finding Dory dives deep into what makes Ellen DeGeneres's character special
New film adventure follows a familiar path, but offers fresh rewards
If Finding Dory is guilty of anything, it's the sin of familiarity.
Just as J.J. Abrams buttressed the story of Star Wars: The Force Awakens to the structure of Star Wars: A New Hope, this sequel feels like a carbon copy of 2003's Finding Nemo — complete with a long distance quest, a family divided and the hero trapped, but trying to escape.
Both the charm and challenges of the new film rest on the slippery scales of the befuddled blue heroine Dory. Ellen DeGeneres returns as the voice of the scatterbrained Paracanthurus, who is forced to live in the present because she forgets nearly everything else.
"My name is Dory and I suffer from short-term memory loss," squeaks a toddler-aged Dory in the film's opening moments. Straight away, we meet her parents (voiced warmly by Canadian comedian and actor Eugene Levy, and Diane Keaton), who are worried about the fate of their little girl.
Dory gets separated from her family early on, but when jogged into remembering her childhood, it's time for another ocean-spanning adventure. This time around, it's Dory who is torn away from her new, adopted family of Nemo and Marlin, whose return gives the audience another opportunity to enjoy the wonderfully weary Albert Brooks as Nemo's father.
Eventually, the action centres on a marine rescue facility where Dory looks for her folks while the clown fish father and son search for her.
A bounty of new characters
Though setting the action in captivity echoes Nemo's 2003 adventure, the location offers a bounty of new characters.
Ed O'Neill voices a curmudgeonly cephalopod named Hank, who reluctantly aids Dory's quest. Hank's infinitely flexible octopus body and talent for camouflage is an animator's dream: you can almost hear the artists giggling at their drawing tablets while envisioning new arrangements for his tentacles.
As she flops from each attraction, Dory also meets Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a near-sighted whale, and Bailey (Ty Burrell), a grumpy beluga who has lost his knack for echolocation.
At the start, I wondered if I could sit through an entire film resting on Dory's absent-minded behaviour. But as the journey progresses, DeGeneres and the writers truly explore the consequences of Dory's condition. DeGeneres's voice quivers with emotion as Dory questions whether or not she'll be able to rise to the occasion.
We're truly spoiled by beautiful animation these days, so I won't waste your time waxing on about the brilliance of Finding Dory's colours or the way light skips across the water.
Indeed, what sets Pixar's films apart is the studio's ability to embrace the darkness, dread and possibility of failure Dory faces. That's what brings Finding Dory close to the heights of Finding Nemo.
Well, that and a finale packed with enough action to make Vin Diesel worry about aquatic hot shots muscling in on his territory.
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars
P.S. Stick around during the closing credits to see if you recognize a few other familiar faces. Oh, and don't be late either: the opening short film Piper is absolutely charming.