As the screening of “Finding Dory” began during last evening, I could not help but become nostalgic about the time when I watched its predecessor “Finding Nemo” (2003), one of the best animation feature films from Pixar Animation Studios. Although I have never revisited it yet to my regret, I still remember many of its dazzling and beautiful visual moments, and I still feel affection toward its various marine characters including that little clownfish named Nemo and his caring and protective father Marlin.
While mostly sticking to familiar storytelling formulas and themes already established in the previous film, “Finding Dory” is still a well-made animation feature film which mixes old and new things well for our entertainment. We are delighted to meet our endearing fish characters again, and then we are also amused to encounter new colorful characters. Although the movie may be predictable to the core, the people behind it do know how to engage the audiences through good story and characters, and the overall result is better than most of other animation feature films out there at least.
As depicted in “Finding Nemo”, Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and a regal blue tang named Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) became close friends during their adventurous quest for finding Nemo (voiced by Hayden Rolence, who filled the role instead of Alexander Gould in the previous film), and they have so far lived together well along with Nemo for a while although Dory is still suffering from her short-term memory loss problem. She still does not remember who she is or where she came from, and Marlin is concerned about his friend because she can easily lose her way around their cozy Pacific coral neighborhood at any moment.
On one day, Dory happens to regain some of her old forgotten memories by coincidence. When she was very young and tiny, she lived somewhere around Morro Bay in California, and she also had her parents, Jenny (voiced by Diane Keaton) and Charlie (voiced by Eugene Levy). Young Dory (voiced by Sloane Murray) was suffering from that memory problem even during that time, and her parents did their best for helping their daughter cope with her disability, but she accidentally got herself drifted far away from her home and parents – and that was the beginning of her long, forgetful wandering before her eventual encounter with Marlin.
Accompanied with Marlin and Nemo, Dory rides that swift, dizzy ocean current previously shown in “Finding Nemo”, and they soon arrive at their destination, the Marine Life Institute in Morro Bay. Not long after their arrival, Dory gets herself separated from Marlin and Nemo as being caught and then taken to the institute, but she keeps looking for her parents, while Marlin and Nemo are trying to find any possible way of getting inside the institute and rescuing her.
As the story alternates between these two separated narrative lines, a number of amusing supporting characters pop up here and there around them. Marlin and Nemo come across two lazy sea lions named Fluke and Rudder, and Idris Elba and Dominic West, who were once in antagonizing positions in the HBO TV series “The Wire”, have a couple of jolly moments as brandishing Cockney accents for their characters, who are amiable but quite fastidious about their small rocky spot. As Dory remembers more of her past, she meets her old childhood friend Destiny (voiced by Kaitlin Olson), a near-sighted whale shark who is living next to Bailey (voiced by Ty Burrell), a beluga whale suffering from his temporal loss of echolocation.
The most memorable new character in the film is Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neill), a grumpy East Pacific red octopus with seven tentacles. He desperately wants to be sent away to an aquarium in Cleveland, and he becomes Dory’s reluctant partner when she presents him a possible chance to fulfill his longtime wish. As shown from his first appearance, Hank is very adept at hiding and evading humans, and he gives us several inspired moments as fluidly and dexterously changing the shape and color of his body for camouflage. Channeling the gruffness of Walter Matthau, O’Neill is a fabulous comic foil for Ellen DeGeneres’ plucky voice performance, and they are particularly good when their characters must depend on each other during one exciting vehicle action sequence.
Under the skillful direction of the director/co-screenplay writer Andrew Stanton, who won Oscars for “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E” (2008), the animation quality of “Finding Dory” is as excellent as we can expect from the latest Pixar animation movie, and I had a fairly good time while enjoying its bright colors and tangible textures, but I also noticed its repeated aspects. While it is not without poignancy, the drama involved with Dory’s parents is a mere variation of what touched us in “Finding Nemo”, and the movie looks and feels a little too familiar at times while being one or two steps down from the awe and wonder of the previous film.
As I am writing this review, my mind goes back to one of haunting memories from my New York City trip during early 2004. As I and my brother were on an early morning subway train as spending the last day of our trip, I noticed two Metropolitan Transportation Authority employees, and one of them, who was apparently a family guy, told his colleague about how much he enjoyed watching “Finding Nemo” with his kid, and they both agreed that it was a pretty good animation movie. I think they probably enjoyed “Finding Dory” too.
Sidenote: Short animation film “Piper” is shown before the feature presentation. It is about a hungry baby sandpiper who must overcome its fear of water.