WARNING: SPOILERS FOR TOY STORY 3 AND UP BELOW.
One might think it’s odd that AFJ would tackle the sequel to Disney~Pixar’s Finding Nemo. The reason for us tackling the film is easy, Pixar. Since Toy Story, Disney’s computer animation branch has made a name for itself telling incredible stories. They have had a few missteps, A Bug’s Life and Cars 2, but in general their releases have become the mark of pure entertainment. Entertainment, mind you, that is equally appealing to kids and adults. I will admit to you now, I thought Finding Nemo was good, but I never went out of my way to see again. So how invested could I be in its sequel? Certainly not as much as watching Woody, Buzz, and the gang holding hands as they face certain death, all the while holding back tears. Yet, by Finding Dory’s end I was taken back to that exact same feeling of no hope and that Pixar might just go there. Let me explain.
Finding Dory is the sequel to the film that transpired 13 years ago. If you fail to recall, Marlin, a Clown Fish (Albert Brooks) goes on a quest to finding his missing son Nemo (then played by Alexander Gould, now by Hayden Rolence). Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a Blue Tang Fish, who suffers from memory problems, becomes his companion and the two rescue Nemo. Now we find Dory, Nemo, and Marlin, one year later, living on the west cost of the Pacific Ocean in harmony. That is until Dory remembers her family. Dory is ready to rush out into the unknown and find them. Marlin, the dutiful father, friend, and worrier is, at first, reluctant to help. It is Nemo who reminds his dad, that Dory helped him and he has to reciprocate.
As Dory starts to unlock pieces of her past, the trio find themselves separated on the California coast. Dory has been captured and placed inside a Marine Institute. Fear not parents, this is not a chamber of horrors, but a place that rescues animals and then either releases them or places them in another institute. As it happens, this is the very same institute that Dory was born at and where her parents may still be. It is here that Dory meets Hank (Ed O’Neil), an octopus, who wants nothing more than to end up in an aquarium and live a solitary life. Now there are some incredible leaps in believability here, bare in mind this is a film aimed at children. If you cannot handle a fish and an octopus escaping from one part of the institute to another in everything from a bucket to a sippy cup, then this film isn’t for you. If you are game, Dory and Hank make a pretty formidable team trying to find Dory’s parents. The humor is great as DeGeneres’ absent minded heroine struggles with O’Neil’s escaped obsessed reluctant hero. O’Neil has played this type of character before and shines enough to warrant, at least, his very own Pixar film.
As for Marlin and Nemo, their story happens in two fold. They must navigate the dangers of breaking into the institute, with the help of two scene-stealing Sea Lions named Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West). Marlin must also comes to terms with the fact that he never would have found Nemo with Dory. A fact that Nemo keeps bringing up on their adventure. The film does become a series of escapes, but Pixar keeps the humor fun and highlights the impact human world on nature. Everything from the trash on the ocean floor to a please touch exhibit at the institute. So much so, that I started to become bored. That is when Pixar hit me with the UP and Toy Story 3 punch.
With both Toy Story 3 and UP I realized that anything is possible with Pixar films, even a character’s death. In Toy Story 3, I was ready for Woody, Buzz and the gang to perish at the dump. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities, especially with this 3 being called the last one. Why would I think this? All because Ellie died in the first ten minutes of UP. In the confines of the story they had to put Carl in that place. If they had not, his adventure with Russel would not have mattered. So imagine my surprise when they draw upon this plot device with a character who is afraid to go anywhere alone, because she will forget where she was going and who she was with. I could not believe that a sequel to a film, to which I was not nearly invested in as previous Pixar properties, had me feeling exactly what Dory was on screening. So much so that in removing myself from the moment only opened me up further to her predicament. No one wants to be lone, but in that moment, they made you feel everything that Dory was feeling. Yet, Dory, having lived with this fear her whole life, knew how to push forward and save herself.
I’m still beside myself with the emotional response this film about an absent minded fish provoked in me. Pixar films always grab my attention with their compassion and skill for storytelling. With Finding Dory, I felt like I have been to the abyss and back. The kiddies will like Finding Dory for the fun adventure and clever jokes. The adults, on the other hand, will come out of it with a greater appreciation of what it means to have a family, signifying that we are never truly alone. Another fish tale, with an impactful lesson.