“Finding Dory” (2016), While Falling Short of the Original, Still Delivers


8/10

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Sequels are often criticized as not as good as the original, but they have certain natural advantages over the original.  Whereas a movie generally has to spend a good fifteen to twenty minutes establishing characters and context, the sequel can dive right into the storyline because the characters have been fully developed in the original.  The challenge of making a good sequel, then, is in leveraging the foundation built in the original without making the sequel predictable and redundant.

This is doubly challenging to pull off if the original was an instant classic like “Finding Nemo” (2003).  If Pixar more than rose to the challenge, twice, with “Toy Story 2” (1999) and “Toy Story 3” (2010) and mostly underwhelmed with “Monsters University” (2013), then “Finding Dory” (2016) falls somewhere in the middle.

“Finding Dory” does one thing really right, and it’s taking the most memorable character from “Finding Nemo,” the lovable regal blue tang Dory, and giving her the top billing.  Ellen DeGeneres, who stole the spotlight in the original, returns as the voice of Dory and brings the same charm and humor. It’s a testament to DeGeneres’ performance that Dory’s quirkiness doesn’t wear thin even as Dory moves into the central role.

The plot is sufficiently different from the original to avoid a sense of a remake.  The title “Finding Dory” is actually a misnomer because the story involves Dory, who still suffers from short-term memory loss, going on a quest to find her parents after suddenly recalling her childhood.  In her search, Dory is joined by Nemo (this time voiced by Hayden Rolence) and his father Marlin (again voiced by Albert Brooks), with whom Dory has lived together since the events of the first film.

The only thing Dory can recall about her childhood is that she used to live in a place called Jewel of Morro Bay.  Marlin provides Dory help in getting there by introducing her to Crush (Andrew Stanton), the easy-going sea turtle making a return appearance.  There were a lot of memorable side characters in “Finding Nemo,” but the sequel makes the right choice by mostly avoiding their shameless cameo appearances.

Once at the California coast, Nemo and Marlin get separated from Dory, who is “rescued” by the staff members of the nearby aquarium Marine Life Institute where audio guide is provided by the soothing voice of Sigourney Weaver.  At the institute, Dory meets Hank, a seven-legged octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neil) whose only desire is to live in an aquarium rather than out in the dangerous ocean.

Stan decides to help Dory find her parents because he wants Dory’s quarantine tag so he can get to an aquarium in Cleveland.   Helping Dory and Stan along the way are Destiny, a nearsighted whale shark (voiced by Kaitlin Olson), and Bailey, a beluga whale (voiced by Ty Burrell) who thinks he’s lost the ability to echolocate.  Both Nemo and Marlin eventually rejoin Dory as they find their way into the aquarium with the help of two sea lions named Fluke and Rudder (voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West) as well as Becky,  a common loon.

All these new characters are in an effort to infuse the sequel with originality, which effort is mildly successful.  Part of the problem is that the personalities of the new characters seem all too similar to those  who have seen the original.

The characters and their voice actors, though, also suffer from unfavorable, inevitable comparisons.   Stan is a sidekick who provides comic relief, a role that Dory essentially played  in the original. O’Neil gives a solid performance in voicing Stan, but exceeding DeGeneres’ performance for the ages in “Finding Nemo” was always going to be an impossible task.

Once thing that the sequel unmistakably does better is the animation.  The advancement in computer animation in the 13 years since the original really shows in the look and feel of the sequel.  Everything is sharper, more colorful and more realistic.  Dory, Stan, Marlin and Nemo hop from one visually-stunning world of the aquarium to the next, often outside of the water.

But overall, the movie lacks the punch of the original.  The script doesn’t have as much depth and the underlying themes driving “Finding Dory,” like love of family and having faith, is recycled.  It would not have been easy meeting, much less exceeding, the original , but there were certain decisions made with the sequel that didn’t help its cause, like the ending that devolves into lunacy.

Still, “Finding Dory” delivers, if only to be able to see the characters you most loved from the original back in action one more time.

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