Will this be my next The Lion King review?
In almost every way, Finding Dory should be considered a resounding success. Andrew Stanton and Ellen DeGeneres tackle familiar roles, the challenge being to live up to the beloved Finding Nemo film released more than a decade ago. With its sequel racking up a stellar 94% on Rotten Tomatoes and setting new box office records, it appears Finding Dory has connected with audiences on a similar level of Finding Nemo. I couldn’t have personally predicted this type of success had I seen an early screening of this film. In fact, if I was the producer of the film I probably would have called for some staff to be fired and many scenes to be reworked. Harsh? Let me explain myself.
Finding Dory sets up its story quickly by beginning with Dory’s dreams of her parents. And already, I have slight problems with its title. You see, Finding Nemo was a great title because although it was about physically finding Nemo, it was actually Marlin’s story of overcoming his trauma and depression. Here, we are physically finding Dory’s parents and actually finding Dory’s… past history?
I should give the film a bit more credit than that. Finding Dory has a keen focus on human disabilities which has never been explored in an animated film like this before. This is a logical progression for the sequel, as Nemo and Dory are really one of the few disabled animated protagonists you can find in American cinema outside of DreamWork’s Toothless and Hiccup and maybe Disney’s Ariel and Bambi.
Finding Dory introduces an additional cast of disabled sea creatures who are kept at the Marine Life Institute for recovery. There’s Hank who deals with kid-phobia and anger management issues, Density who is almost blind, Bailey who deals with the effects of concussion, Becky who has attention-deficit disorder, and another sea lion whose name I can’t find on Wikipedia who is mentally retarded.
However, if you have already watched the film I have to ask: how many of these names do you really remember? With the exception of Hank, I think none of these characters will become household names in the way Nemo, Dory, and Marlin have become and that is because none of them get the screen-time that is necessary to develop them into characters beyond their disabilities. In an attempt to introduce many new characters for merchandising and to represent the large spectrum of human disabilities, Finding Dory becomes cluttered with plot points that must be visited and characters arcs which must be resolved by the end of the film. Even under the capable hands of Stanton, his large ensemble of characters do more harm to the film than to help further its message on human disabilities, a message that is sloppy at best and dumbed down to the point where even infants should have a chance in understanding Finding Dory’s Disney-isk message. In a film that chose a topic so emotionally sensitive for many people and so unique to animation, it probably chose the most unsophisticated and generic story to go along with it.
While the story may be simple, the plot is one of Pixar’s most complicated. With flashbacks that conveniently push the plot forward towards Dory’s parents and a bunch of coincidences and contrivances that take away from the plausibility of the film’s occurrences, the story of Dory’s “rescue, recover, and release” often takes a back-seat to the chaos of events that is going on the screen. With so many things happening in the plot at the same time, Stanton resorts to video-game style transitions where we hit pause in one storyline in order to catch back up with what’s happening in the other. This is a problem I noted in Toy Story 2 but wouldn’t have expected to appear with such severity in Stanton’s films. Even in Finding Nemo I found the pace bustled around a bit too much but that is in full-blown effect in Finding Dory with much determent to Dory’s story. In general, Stanton and his team really struggled to tie Dory’s adventure to her parents with their message on human disability. It often felt like these two storylines developed independently from one other and with the way the screenplay was organized, these storylines almost seem to fight for our attention and sufficient screentime.
This isn’t to say that Dory’s adventure is all bad. There are some genuinely funny moments, even as the characters did annoy at times. It is a very witty film, finding ways to connect different plot occurrences to one another and making jokes out of real sea animal facts. The Pixar pairing of Hank and Dory is well executed as expected from the usual Pixar affair but definitely with less effect than let’s say Woody and Buzz and even Marlin and Dory. Hank flat-out disappears for a good portion of the film before Stanton finds a way to involve him again as the film reaches its conclusion.
Probably the best part of Finding Dory is the seashell analogy they are able to establish–you’ll understand when you watch the film what I am talking about. It really represents how much Dory’s parents love and trust their daughter and was one of the few touches of brilliance that reminded me of Stanton’s work on Finding Nemo and WALL-E. The ending is particularly satisfying as well, finding a way to end the film on a quieter but suitable note.
If there’s any film I feel inclined to compare this too, it would have to be the non-Pixar film Anastasia. There too is a protagonist who tries to find her parents but there was very little to drive that story besides the generic fact that we want all people to be with their family. To compare Finding Dory to a more recent Pixar flick, this film has the same problem of Inside Out by not actually establishing the parents as important characters, characters who are defined more by their blood-tie to Dory than anything unique about themselves, a criticism I’ve also launched at Simba. In a film that teased a couple different directions, such as the concept of memory like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Stanton’s message on disability is profoundly disappointing from a studio that is known to make disappointing trailers into profound pieces of cinematic storytelling.
If you were expecting me to dig up plot holes and berate the movie like in my younger days as an amateur critic, you might be disappointed to find such a calm review on a film whose grade might surprise you. I have no problems giving Finding Dory credit for what it does well: there are some stunning moments of animation, the lighting of scenes and Hank’s camouflage being standout moments. However, much like the animation was just an afterthought in my The Lion King review, I don’t think it’s worth spending time on it in a film that just doesn’t have the story to back it up. I’m more filled with sadness than anger. I love Pixar and want to love every movie of theirs and I’m jealous this time I couldn’t share your guys’ enthusiasm. Perhaps I’ll find it in…
Final Grade: D (67%)–Despite reuniting the beloved filmmakers and characters of Finding Nemo, Finding Dory simply forgets what made its predecessor so special, wonderful, and profound.