When I wrote about Inside Out last Summer I mentioned that I didn’t like writing about kids movies very much, mostly because they rarely have a higher purpose other than entertainment and I don’t enjoy picking apart childish fun. For my dime, that isn’t so interesting to write about. Though, Pixar films have been known to possess a higher purpose.
Being that Finding Dory is a sequel to a beloved and, admittedly, very good kids film, there are certainly some interesting parallels and thematic elements to discuss. So, let’s dive in. (Get it? I’ll be here all week!)
The plot of Finding Dory is another adventure, like Finding Nemo, wherein the titular character is crossing the ocean to search for her parents whom she has suddenly started to remember again. The original film was also a familial adventure and had a personal theme of accepting personal and physical faults. The sequel dials down the ocean voyage obstacles and instead places the characters in a Sea World-like environment where many of the obstacles are man-made. This works well because they avoided treading the same water (Yeah, I got puns) as the original story.
Plot points aside, the film has several emotional moments that draw their power from our love of these characters from the first film. In the same way you knew Marlin was sacrificing his very nature in order to find his son, you know Dory’s journey is more important than just finding her home. She’s finding herself.
Heavy for a kids flick, right? Yes and no. The best kinds of these movies essentially offer a McGuffin, which is a narrative plot point that forces the characters to have an arc. Nemo was both a character and a goal for Marlin to achieve. Like I said, it’s just as important for Dory to find about herself as it is for her to find her parents. But in order for her to achieve her goal, she has to overcome her deficiencies and prove to herself she is capable of overcoming them. So the plot of her trying to find her parents is secondary to her own self discovery. And if you’re paying attention, this is the structure of nearly every story ever told.
And the first film is no different. Marlin’s journey is to find his inner courage as much as it is to find his son. But he needed the tragedy of losing his son to make it possible. His over-protectiveness and neuroticism were endearing and also served as a catalyst for the events of Finding Nemo. He had undergone tragedy in the loss of his wife, which affected his psychological state, and his voyage to find his son was in stark contrast to that. It took one tragic experience to get over the other.
Interestingly, one of the most fun parts in Finding Nemo is the Woody Allen/Diane Keaton-like relationship (though, not in a romantic way) Marlin and Dory have. She is free-wheeling and careless, and he’s a nervous wreck who envisions certain death at all times. Finding Dory rarely explores this dynamic and instead separates the two very early. What this does is it provides a set-up for the characters to depend on themselves and their resources. Dory finds a new set of new and old friends which she bonds with in various ways. Sadly, Nemo has been reduced to a sidekick and more of a resource for Marlin in this film, but it’s still a fun relationship to watch.
Also of note, the voice cast is excellent. Ellen Degeneres is obviously the stand-out, as she was in Finding Nemo. It’s funny because it rarely works when a supporting character from one film is given their own film, but you could argue Finding Dory stands toe-to-toe with the first one. And a lot of that has to do with Ellen’s portrayal of Dory. She is the heart of the film in a big way.
I feel like I could babble on about the themes of family and finding your inner strength, but again, it’s a kids film and it’s all in plain sight. There isn’t anything I said in this review that you won’t see for yourself. In short, the film has an enormous heart, a big emotional impact, lovable characters (Ed O’Neil’s Octopus ((Septopus)) is a stand-out new character), and a captivating adventure plot. Highly recommended.