For better or worse, Pixar is in the sequel game these days.. Out of 17 feature films thus far, only five have been prequels or sequels — but four of those have come in the years since 2010. Finding Dory comes after a welcome break of two entirely original entries in Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur, but it’s clear that Pixar aren’t resting on their laurels here, and as sequels go, this is more Toy Story 2 than Monsters University.
“Hi, I’m Dory. I suffer from short-term memory loss.” So the film begins, as we meet Dory (voiced immaculately by Ellen DeGeneres), though not as we know her — this is baby Dory, surely the culmination of years of concentrated effort on Pixar’s part to distill cuteness down to its very essence.
She’s with her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy), who are teaching her how to navigate the world with her very specific condition, until she finds herself separated from them. One desperately tragic montage later and she bumps into Marlin (Albert Brooks) and the film duly sweeps past the events of Finding Nemo to bring us up to the present. Triggered by a sudden memory, Dory sets off to find her parents, Marlin and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) in tow.
The bulk of the film takes place in the Marine Life Institute, which provides ample excuse to not only only explore a wealth of new aquatic life, but also delve more deeply into the human impact on marine animals — not to mention set up some astonishing on-land set-pieces, deftly enabled by the introduction of octopus (or septopus, thanks to a missing tentacle) Hank (Ed O’Neill), whose fluid animation and convenient camouflage abilities enable not only some of the film’s best gags, but also its most extravagant spectacle.
Disability is a theme that runs throughout the film, from Dory’s memory impairment and Hank’s missing leg to a short-sighted whale shark and a beluga who can’t echolocate. It’s a smart continuation of Finding Nemo’s theme of trusting in others’ abilities, as characters work together to overcome their limitations. There are varying attitudes to disability, from Hank’s paralyzing fear of the ocean to Dory’s resolute determination to beat her own memory, and the film deserves rich praise for careful handling of a topic few kids’ films have gone near.
Dory is also another of Pixar’s trademarked tearjerkers. It’s an emotional onslaught from the opening on (though they still haven’t quite bested Up’s infamous intro), and the final half hour or so is a gauntlet of heart-rending moment after heart-rending moment — mercifully broken up by some much needed levity and wit. It’s hard not to feel that the film is precision-engineered to hit its mark (case in point: baby Dory’s ludicrously, unbearably, adorably over-sized eyes) but it’s no less effective despite that. You know exactly how Pixar are working to make you weep, and yet well up you shall, no matter how hard you try otherwise. It’s easier to just give in and let it happen.
While the plot may initially seem a touch too close to its predecessor, Finding Dory quickly comes into its own, finding its own voice. Early nods to the original will reward the faithful, but before long the film’s past is forgotten as Dory moves on to remember her own. This is witty, warm, and wonderful, the sort of sequel we could all do with more of.
Plus, it boasts a Sigourney Weaver cameo that this year’s Ghostbusters will be hard-pressed to match.
Words by Dominic Preston