Movie Review: Finding Dory (with short: Piper)
Feature Review: Finding Dory (Rated PG for mild thematic elements)
When it comes to the wild world of animated sequels, Pixar Animation Studios has been reluctant to saturate the marketplace. Their general consensus has been, that a sequel will not be made, unless they feel there’s a proper story to be told.
Up until 2010, Toy Story had been the only film of theirs that had multiple sequels (and a fourth Toy Story film is on the way for next fall) Since then, the company has made continuations to its films like Cars, Monsters Inc, and now, a pseudo-sequel to Finding Nemo, called Finding Dory.
It’s been more than a year since the events of the first film, and in that time, Dory has come to be a close family friend to Marlin, Nemo, and their friends along the reef.
As she goes about her days, Dory suddenly finds certain things jogging her memory, and she slowly begins to recall things about her parents, leading her to want to find them.
Reluctantly, Marlin and Nemo agree to accompany her, on a journey that ends up leading them to the Marine Life Institute in California.
Personally, I never felt we needed to add more to the story of Marlin, Nemo, and Dory. However, at the 2013 D23 Expo in Anaheim, writer/director Andrew Stanton claimed that the spark for the sequel, was based on a line of Dory’s from the first film:
“It runs in my family! At least, I think it does…hm…where are they?”
Much like how Cars 2 took Mater the tow truck out of a supporting role and thrust him into the spotlight, Dory has the same done with her in this film.
Marlin and Nemo are largely along for the ride, but off doing their own thing for much of the picture (my biggest concern: Marlin has conquered some of his fears since the first film, but he still brings his son on a possibly dangerous journey?). Because of this, Nemo ends up serving as a substitute Dory to Marlin for a few occasions.
Ellen DeGeneres stated many times how she would love to voice Dory again, and with this film, she got that wish in spades. While Dory does have her moments here or there that elicited some rolling laughter through the auditorium I was in, there were times I longed for when she served more as a supporting fish. Given the extent of her short-term memory loss in the film, there were several times I was unsure if what I was observing, was actually meant to be funny.
To its credit, Dory manages to not be a rehash of the first film, and even avoids stuffing itself (too) full of unnecessary cameos.
We meet quite a few new characters at the Marine Life Institute, with the most notable being an octopus, named Hank (played by Al Bundy himself, Ed O’Neill).
Hank is quite an enigma for the show. With his big blue eyes shifting from side-to-side and his ability to camouflage, you’re not quite sure whose side he’s on. He also serves as a character we’ve seen in quite a few of Pixar‘s recent prequel/sequels, in that he’s one that shows how far technology has come since the first film.
The Institute is also an intriguing new world to explore (though it can’t compete with the visual spectacle of the open ocean). Given that Marlin went all over the ocean looking for Nemo in the first film, the Institute serves as a nice change of scenery, if a bit claustrophobic at times. We meet quite a few new types of fish and animals along the way, which will surely delight those who are into marine life.
One of the fun things Pixar often does, is try to take some things you might see as normal, but taken in a different perspective, becomes something else. For example, a touch pool in the Institute, quickly becomes a ‘hall of horrors’ when seen from the perspective of the sea life under the water.
Though I’m sure it will entertain the little ones and provide a few laughs, it definitely feels like Finding Dory will not be as memorable as Finding Nemo (though it might be more profitable).
Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane, and the staff at Pixar definitely don’t skimp on the effort, but the film just isn’t as strong of a continuation as that zenith of Pixar sequels, Toy Story 2.
While it is good that we didn’t get sent on another clownfish hunt, Dory’s quest almost feels like what happens to Mater in Cars 2, mixed in with some of the ‘historical revisionism’ of Monsters University.
That isn’t to say that the film won’t get you emotional (I dare anyone to not find sympathy for memories of Dory when she was a little fish), but it just doesn’t grab hold of the heart, and tug in ways like I was hoping.
Even Thomas Newman’s return to scoring Nemo’s sequel, failed to leave an impression on me. I kept waiting for a central theme to rise up and solidify in my eardrums (like the track “Nemo Egg” from the first film), but nothing came forward.
Pixar and its cast give Finding Dory the ol’ college try, but in the end, it just doesn’t reach the emotional heights we’ve come to expect from films like Toy Story 3, and Inside Out in the last 6 years. While it will be highly profitable in the end, I can’t help but feel that Andrew Stanton, who crafted the first film, was largely hard-lined into making this film for Disney, as a consolation for the lackluster box-office take of his last Disney film, John Carter.
One last thing: If you see the film, stay through the end credits.
Short Review: Piper (Rated G)
Accompanying Finding Dory, is the animated short, Piper. In it, a young sandpiper is encouraged by its parent to find sustenance on a nearby beach, but the little one soon finds herself terrified of the crashing surf after a harrowing incident.
Piper‘s animation style is a few steps beyond Dory, and feels like it’s trying for hyper-realism like in the PIXAR short, The Blue Umbrella.
However, unlike Umbrella, Piper‘s story works in a much better way.
While the hyper-realism of Umbrella’s cityscape seemed to distract away from that rather simple love story, the hyper-realism of a nondescript beach area, manages to keep us at rapt attention, while also keeping us focusing on the little sandpiper and the other creatures around her.
Sure, the little sandpiper bird is cute, but it’s in how the animators play out her emotions at times, that really makes us warm to her.
The beach Piper lives on, is also a wonder, with the waves washing onto the shore, the myriad particles of sand grain, the environment could have easily distracted me from the story (which was what happened when I saw Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur), but the focus on Piper and her journey soon won my attention.
Piper has no dialogue, leaving the entire short to be dependent on body language, which is handled quite well. Some of the best shorts Pixar has done have been ‘silent,’ and it is often these kinds of shorts that I relish. Animation doesn’t have to be about a lot of sound and noise, but can often just be about trying to follow a character, as your brain deciphers what is happening.
At only 6 minutes long, Piper is probably one of the most satisfying Pixar shorts I have seen on the big screen, since 2010’s Day and Night.
Final Grade for “Finding Dory”: B (Final Thoughts: The sequel to one of Pixar’s most famous films attempts to prove that it can be a decent successor to its 2003 counterpart, but fails to feel like a satisfying tug at the heartstrings. Dory takes center-stage for much of the film, but her adventures through the Marine Life Institute, makes me long for the days when her supporting nuggets of wisdom and observation in “Finding Nemo,” made her one of that film’s most memorable characters)
Final Grade for “Piper”: A- (Final Thoughts: Pixar’s hyper-real animated tale of a curious little sandpiper, manages to play cute with its story, along with actually wrapping us up in its lead’s situations, while also keeping our eyes alight over the advancements in the company’s environmental technology)