Finding Nemo was love at first sight. It was a breathtaking, bewitching & beautifully balanced underwater adventure that didn’t just dazzle viewers around the globe with its emotionally rich tale about parenting, friendship, trust & determination but also cemented Pixar’s position as a pioneer of quality cinema and a powerhouse of originality, creativity, imagination & groundbreaking computer animation. Add to that, this undisputed masterpiece is still counted amongst the greatest achievements of animation filmmaking.
Until 2010, Toy Story was the only film in Pixar’s canon that ever got a sequel. In fact, if one takes a look at everything that Pixar produced between its feature film debut in 1995 to the culmination of one of the greatest trilogies of all time in 2010, none of the films that came out in those 15 years left its audience wishing for a sequel, except for maybe The Incredibles. Each one of those films featured a compelling storyline & character arcs that would come full-circle over the course of its runtime, and Pixar established its entire legacy on its ability to come up with such original works.
But there’s been an unexpected shift in Pixar’s modus operandi in the past few years, for the animation studio that gained prominence for always bringing something new & invigorating on the screen began churning out movies that seemed both familiar & formulaic. Cars 2 gave Pixar its first critical failure, Brave felt more like a Disney film than Pixar’s, Monsters University was fun yet conventional while The Good Dinosaur was surprisingly mediocre in content. Last year’s Inside Out was the first since Toy Story 3 that enthralled us like the best Pixar films had done in the past, and now Finding Dory appears to be the second.
In all honesty, I never wanted a sequel to Finding Nemo. That classic is perfect in every way, and I believed its sequel to be an unnecessary risk that would end up denting the legacy of the original. And yet, a part of me is glad that it exists because Andrew Stanton has crafted this follow-up chapter with same passion, heart & dedication with which he crafted the first one. By all means, Finding Dory is no match to the original but then it also is no cash-grab sequel like Cars 2 was. There’s a sense of familiarity in this tale too but it brims with just enough freshness to qualify as a welcome successor to a beloved masterpiece.
Set one year after the events of the first film, the story of Finding Dory follows Dory, a regal blue tang suffering from short-term memory loss who starts having fragmented dreams & flashbacks of her life before she met Marlin & Nemo, and ultimately decides to find her family. Heading to the place where she vaguely remembers having seen her parents last, Dory is caught by volunteers of a Marine Life Institute and is put into the quarantine section where she meets a seven-legged octopus named Hank, who agrees to take her to her loved ones in exchange for something. Meanwhile, Marlin & Nemo try to get into the institute in an attempt to rescue Dory.
Co-written & directed by Andrew Stanton (best known for Finding Nemo & WALL·E), Finding Dory opens with a flashback segment that introduces us to our titular character as an infant, covers her separation from her family, and then follows her journey over the years until she finally meets Marlin for the first time. And this opening sequence wonderfully sets the stage for the rest of the picture as Stanton sensibly addresses the themes of family, separation & identity, returns to Dory’s childhood whenever possible, and although it results in some sort of fractured narrative, it also influences the next set of events that unfold afterwards, thus working in favour of the picture.
The screenplay is brilliantly penned down as well, for it retains the heart, soul & wit of the original, while adding more emotional weight & depth to our forgetful fish. While it is more melancholic than its predecessor, that element isn’t overused and the story remains a fun-filled entertainer throughout its runtime. The oceanic life is revisited only briefly since majority of its plot unfolds in a marine institute, and yet the fauna beneath the sea is gorgeously rendered & meticulously detailed. It also adds an ample amount of new characters with Dory promoted to lead role while both Marlin & Nemo settle for a seat behind a couple of fresh arrivals amongst whom Hank leaves a lasting impression.
Jaw-dropping 3D animation has always been Pixar’s default setting from the start and this aspect remains unchanged with Finding Dory as the animators have done a terrific job once again, whether it’s the underwater backgrounds, character designs or overall rendering of even the most minute details. Camera is splendidly utilised, images make use of all the vivid colours available in the palette, while pixel-perfect lighting gives it a more vibrant appearance. Editing skilfully interweaves Dory’s past & present into an easily accessible storyline although the trimming of a few slow patches in the middle would have resulted in a more rigid narrative structure as well as improved pacing.
As always the case with Pixar films, the voice cast for new characters is wisely chosen while the reprising cast exhibits no trouble in immersing themselves into their given roles. Ellen DeGeneres was easily the standout in Finding Nemo and she is easily the standout in Finding Dory, for her character gets to play with deeper emotions this time without discarding her good-hearted, optimistic & delightfully charming persona. Ed O’Neill plays Hank, a short-tempered red octopus who offers to help Dory in exchange for the tag she was assigned when she was taken out of the water. And Hank is pretty much a second lead with a well-defined arc of his own, which was rather surprising to notice at first.
Albert Brooks brings back the overly-concerned side of Marlin for a while but since he has Nemo on his side throughout this new journey, he’s more willing to take the risks. Many supporting characters from the last film also make their brief appearances, but I did miss Bruce, the fish-friendly shark. Amongst the new characters, we have a near-sighted whale shark who turns out to be Dory’s childhood friend, a beluga whale who is unsure of his echolocation ability, Dory’s parents who are voiced by Diane Keaton & Eugene Levy, and Sigourney Weaver who plays herself. Last but not the least, Thomas Newman contributes with a calm, touching & emotionally resonant score that mostly stays within the realm of the original.
On an overall scale, Finding Dory is undoubtedly an accomplished sequel despite falling short of matching the greatness of its predecessor. Stanton’s decision to go for a fresh & organic storyline instead of rehashing the same stuff is commendable and although not every attempt at humour works out in its favour, it remains a joyful ride from start to finish and will amuse both kids & adults alike. Did we really need a sequel to Finding Nemo? No. Is its existence justified? Somewhat. Am I glad that it exists? Yes. It doesn’t take away anything from the original but at the same time, it strengthens Pixar’s spot as the leading animation studio on the planet, while simultaneously conveying that it is still capable of churning out sequels that are more than just cash-grabs. Nostalgic, poignant & hilarious in rhythmic doses, Finding Dory marks yet another win for Pixar Animation Studios on critical, commercial & emotional scale. Don’t miss it.