Pixar is a studio which requires no introduction, as they have produced many of the most touching and memorable family-friendly films of the 21st century. If you didn’t enjoy Finding Nemo, Wall-E, or Up you are probably some kind of heartless monster. Even their weaker films tend towards being pretty decent, and when Pixar movies are good, they’re great. Pixar’s history of producing quality films is the only thing stopping this paragraph from being an oblique complaint about studios pumping out sequels in transparent cash grabs. Trouble is, Finding Dory is good, but fails to meet its own limited potential.
Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is living with the other stars of Finding Nemo, Anal Clownfish Dad Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his good-natured son Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Going about her life with short term memory loss as she does, Dory suddenly remembers something about her family, and decides to go all the way across the ocean to find them. Marlin and Nemo agree to accompany her, and boom: New adventure. With some help from her old friend, near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), and her new friend Hank (Ed O’Neill), an octopus with an agenda and a missing limb, Dory seeks to find her parents.
The story of Dory’s efforts to find what happened to her family, and Marlin and Nemo following her out of loyalty, is appropriately emotional and sweet in all the ways you would expect. It is punctuated by excellent comedic bits and jokes (including my favorite with sea lion Idris Elba) and enhanced by the small but adorable arc of Hank, the cantankerous septipus. As one would desire from a film aimed at children, it offers a meaningful moral of the story in the form of “different is not bad!” and “having struggles does not mean you are broken!” I cried at some parts. I laughed at others. If you’re just looking for a family outing with the kids, this is a good choice and you can probably stop reading right here.
But beyond the simple matter of filling a niche for a children’s movie worth watching, and despite the fact that overall it was a decent film, there’s something disappointing about Finding Dory. The biggest issues Finding Dory struggles with are all related to its obligations to the previous film. “Hey, remember this?” moments and an insistence on including Nemo and Marlin in a completely unnecessary B plot more or less hamstring the film, and noticeably interrupt its flow and pacing. The B plot with Marlin and Nemo is so unnecessary that they actually cut off the end of it, and reunite Dory, Marlin, and Nemo abruptly and unexpectedly with a line handwaving away what happened since we last saw the two clownfish. The B plot was so pointless they didn’t bother finishing it. It was unnecessary because Marlin and Nemo both had pretty beautiful character arcs in the last film, and didn’t need new ones here. But we have to include them because that’s how franchises work!
Pixar is capable of producing not just great animated films for families, but great films in general, for anyone. By cashing in on a previously existing franchise, they limit themselves. It’s adorable, the character designs are memorable (I love Gerald), the drama feels genuine, but it’s thin. There’s just not enough fresh content to merit this movie’s existence. If they’d fleshed out Destiny more, gave us a greater explanation for why Hank doesn’t want to go back to the ocean, if they’d just given the new content greater weight, it might’ve brought something new to the table. As it stands, Finding Dory feels an awful lot like a watered-down Finding Nemo, and there’s enough potential here that it deserved better.
At the end of it all, there are not many complaints to be made about Sad Joke Fish 2. It is heartwarming and tearjerking and all the things you would expect from a Pixar film. It’s just depressing to watch a studio create films weaker than they’re capable of when they could be sinking that time and money into new ideas, producing films uncompromised by the restraints imposed by following a film in the same franchise. You’ll always make your money, Pixar. You don’t need a cash cow, even one as cute as Finding Dory. Free yourself.Liked This? Share It!