Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pixar Filmography, Volume 4: "Finding Dory" Is A Worthy Addition

Although known primarily for their original films, Pixar Animation Studios has released a total of five sequels or prequels to only four of their films, from Toy Story to Cars to Monsters, Inc. (A third Cars is scheduled for release next year, and a sequel to The Incredibles is currently in the works.) Depending on who you ask or talk to, one is either astounded or let down by said follow-ups. And the studio's latest addition, a follow-up to their 2003 hit Finding Nemo, had initially fit that bill for some regarding the latter reaction. (I certainly went in with low-to-middling expectations.) In fact, director Andrew Stanton, who initially didn't plan on making another film, felt led to do so after viewing a 3D version of Nemo back in 2012 and reportedly believing that Dory's story was "unresolved". (Watch the interview and video here.)

The story is set one year after Marlin the clown fish (voiced by Albert Brooks) rescues his son Nemo (voiced by Hayden Rolence) from a dentist's office in Sydney, Australia. Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), who aided Marlin on his quest, begins having flashbacks of memories as a child, and of her parents and home she has long forgotten. She eventually has Marlin and Nemo return the favor by helping her in her own quest to find her family and therefore finding her home.

Dory as a child, with parents Charlie (left) and Jenny (right)
Dory eventually ends up in the Marine Life Institute in California and meets a chameleon-like octopus named Hank (voiced by Ed O'Neill) with an agenda of his own (not to mention a coffee pot he stores Dory in when they team up). Other new characters include near-sighted shark whale Destiny (voiced by Kaitlyn Olson) and beluga whale Bailey (voiced by Ty Burrell), sea lions Fluke and Rudder (voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West), and Dory's parents Charlie and Jenny (voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton).

Like the first film, Dory brilliantly illustrates individuals with disabilities (Dory's forgetfulness, Destiny's nearsightedness, Bailey's lost echo location abilities), as well as parents who worry for their children's lives (much like Marlin did for Nemo's previously). Yet, it also showcases the theme of fearlessness and determination, despite the inevitable fear of being forgotten as well as what it means to find "home". And in what may initially seem like a portrayal of an unsympathetic institution, several characters describe the Marine Life as a "fish hospital," with no signs of animal harm done by human characters (with the exception of a few slapstick pratfalls and physical comedy by said animals). In fact, the Institute's chief narration guide (one of the film's funniest gags, no spoilers) makes a point in saying, "It's our hope that every animal we rescue will one day be returned to the ocean," and topping it off with the Institute's theme of "rescue, rehabilitate [not keep captive], [and] release."

Hank and Dory
The animation is breathtaking, particularly the "Open Ocean" exhibit (pictured below), as well as the character animation of Hank (who steals every scene he's in). There are clever homages to previous Pixar films, such as the Kid's Zone recalling the Caterpillar Room toddlers from Toy Story 3. Returning characters include sea turtle Crush (voiced by Stanton) and sting ray teacher Mr. Ray (voiced by storyboard artist Bob Peterson). The preceding animated short Piper (like the previous short Lava, released before Inside Out) is a wonderful companion piece to Dory, telling the story a baby bird who overcomes his fear of the ocean waves and forms a friendship with a crab. And stay through the credits for some additional fun and surprises.

The "Open Ocean" exhibit
More importantly and surprisingly, Finding Dory simultaneously works as both a sequel and something of a prequel, as well as something of a spinoff and a worthy companion piece, a la The Godfather: Part II (1974) or The Empire Strikes Back (1980). In terms of further expanding its worlds and key characters, particularly its titular unforgettable heroine (who was voted on social media as the most liked Disney or Pixar character), Stanton and company have again succeeded, whether or not viewers will find it unforgettable.

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