Finding Dory: Sequel to Finding Nimo Falls Short of the 2003 Smash Hit Animation

finding_dory_posterDisney/Pixar’s eagerly anticipated animation Finding Dory swims into theaters June 17, 2016.
It’s hard to believe that 13 years had passed since the release of Finding Nemo, one of Pixar’s best and most popular animations, deservedly winning the Best Animation Oscar.
The new film, Finding Dory, falls short of the memorable 2003 picture in every resect: central idea, characterization, plot, visuals, and sounds.
Our Grade: B (*** out of *****)
Context is crucial: Back in 2003, when Finding Nemo came out, animation was not as prolific and popular a genre as it is now.  Over the past 13 years, we have seen several masterpieces in that field, including Up and Inside Out, to mention two recent highlights.
Our expectations, greatly conditioned by Pixar’s own past record, have risen and so it must be said that Finding Dory, while passable, is not great.  It feels too commercially calculated, too narratively pre-fabricated, lacking real soul and heart.
The film’s main shortcoming may be conceptual, based on director Andrew Stanton’s admission that he felt “that there is some unfinished business worth exploring.”  “I realized that I was worried about Dory,” he says of the forgetful blue tang. “The idea of her short-term memory loss and how it affected her was unresolved. What if she got lost again? Would she be OK?”

You may recall that Dory had wandered the ocean most of her life, and that because of her short-term memory loss, she couldn’t remember anybody she’d met, and she was repeatedly left with a compounding feeling of separation and loss.  Dory was never really grounded until she met Marlin. Their happenstance meeting and subsequent friendship marked the first time since she was a kid that she had a family.
Like most Pixar movies, family is a key theme in Finding Dory.  Upon first meeting Dory, we learn that she can’t remember where she’s from.  Her confusion got a laugh when she said in the first film, ‘Where are they?’ but there was a sad truth to that.
As the new story begins, about a year after their life-changing adventure, Dory is living happily in the reef with Marlin and Nemo.  When Dory suddenly remembers that she has a family out there who may be looking for her, she recruits Marlin and Nemo for a journey across the ocean to California’s Marine Life Institute (MLI), a rehabilitation center and aquarium.
The ensuing narrative describes how Dory, in her effort to find her mom and dad, enlists the help of three MLI residents: Hank, a cantankerous octopus who frequently gives employees the slip; Bailey, a beluga whale convinced that his biological sonar skills are on the fritz; and Destiny, a nearsighted whale shark.
In the process of navigating the complex inner workings of the MLI, Dory and her friends discover their flaws, and more importantly the meaning of friendships and family.
The charming Ellen DeGeneres lends her distinctive and appealing voice to the funny fish whose motto “Just Keep Swimming” has been quoted and inspired by audiences all over the world.
The filmmakers have assumed that Dory was such a big part of Finding Nemo that viewers would be curious about her journey, but, alas, the journey looks overly familiar and is not all that interesting.
The not-so-fresh story tries to answer the  questions of what’s the real nature and essence of family life:  Are Marlin and Nemo Dory’s family now? Does Dory have a family? Will she ever remember them?” Indeed, as character, Dory possesses that natural desire all of Pixar’s creatures have about identity and its origins. Which means that much of Finding Dory is about her past, exploring her backstory.  The movie depicts Dory’s struggles to deal with her strengths and shortcomings, as, initially, she doesn’t even realize that she is surrounded by characters with their own hurdles.
In the earlier film, Dory’s short-term memory loss was a source of comedy, but here it’s meant to be more serious, with greater gravitas in exploring the real consequences for her.  Dory had spent a lot of time alone before she met Marlin, and while she is upbeat and perky, deep down she’s afraid of what might happen if she gets lost again.
As directed by Stanton and co-directed by Angus MacLane, Finding Dory is two notches below Finding Nemo and WALL•E.  In all fairness, however, it should be noted that Pixar hasn’t found the right format in any of its sequels to repeat the huge success and amazing originality of its earlier classics.
 The film benefits from its all-star cast: TV star DeGeneres and Albert Brooks (“This is 40”) as favorite fish Dory and Marlin.  Ed O’Neill (“Modern Family”) lends his voice to “septopus” Hank, Kaitlin Olson voices whale shark Destiny.  Ty Burrell (“Modern Family”) gives voice to beluga whale Bailey.  Portraying Dory’s parents Charlie and Jenny are vet thespians Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton. And last but not least, the 12-year-old Hayden Rolence helps bring Nemo to life.
Produced by Collins (co-producer “WALL•E”) and
Executive produced by John Lasseter.
Victoria Strouse wrote the script with Stanton.
Music is composed by veteran composer and longtime Stanton collaborator Thomas Newman (“Bridge of Spies,” “WALL•E,” “Finding Nemo”).