Full disclosure: Back when Finding Nemo came out in 2003, my then-teenage mind was more entranced by a wealth of other films released that same year, from the surprise that was Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl to the awesome X-Men sequel X2 to the impending late-year conclusion of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Simply put, I had little time or interest in Pixar's box office smash, which was sandwiched between their more appealing projects like the first two Toy Story films and The Incredibles.
Time went on, however, and so did Pixar, which continued to release films over the years that did, in fact, get my interest, to the point where it's hard not to look forward to what they'll do next. I'm even a full supporter of last year's The Good Dinosaur, which was overshadowed by Inside Out, despite it being regarded, apparently, as one of the company's lesser products.
To that end, I appreciate Pixar as both a source of astounding creativity and for their ability to make films that can truly and honestly resonate with people of all ages. Which makes it odd that after all these years, I finally saw Finding Nemo in full only days before seeing its much-anticipated sequel. Sure, I'd caught it in chunks over the years and generally knew every single thing that happens in the film thanks to its presence in pop culture - and the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage ride at Disneyland - but somehow seeing it from beginning to end had eluded me.
All this is to say that my detachment from the phenomenon that was and is Finding Nemo means that I haven't had the long-term connection with its characters that so many people have that I can say about characters like Buzz Lightyear and Woody. I know who Marlin, Dory, Bruce, Crush, and all the rest are, sure, but having never "grown up" with the film over the last 13 years, as it were, I had no attachment to them; they were acquaintances, not friends, and even though I crash-coursed the film before seeing its sequel, that fact didn't really change. As much as I got clearer context, time was not on my side in endearing them deeply to me.
Finding Dory was always going to be a success. People love Pixar, people love the original film, people love its characters. Children who saw it back in 2003 are now adults with the ability to wear nostalgia glasses, maybe with kids of their own to share it with, while adults who saw it have kids, grandkids, and more to rediscover it with. The sequel was always going to appeal to this worldwide crowd of all ages, but for someone like me, joining in a little too late and spoiled by many of Pixar's post-Nemo classics, it was going to take a lot to well and truly get me invested.
But in true Pixar form, the film won me over.
In contrast to Marlin's quest to find his son in the first film, the sequel sees Dory attempting to find her parents, all while struggling against a memory that's not often on her side. Perhaps it's the simple idea of longing for more and missing home or the fact that Dory as presented in this film - thanks to the revelation of her backstory - is a wholly relatable, almost tragic figure, but her personal journey resonated with me in a much deeper way than Marlin's arc in the original film.
And make no mistake, this is her film through and through. Ellen DeGeneres gets to put Dory through an arc unlike that of the first film, unearthing the sad frustration and eternal battle against hopelessness hiding underneath the bubbly, optimistic character the world's known for over a decade. Her short-term memory loss is no longer presented as a quirk, but as a real issue with which she - and everyone else for that matter, from her long-lost parents to Marlin and Nemo - has to deal with. It's not easy, and it's almost painful watching such an innocent character have to deal with a very real issue, but the film deftly knows when to reel it back, allowing us to continue to laugh through it by ensuring that we're, in essence, laughing with Dory, not at her.
Outside of Dory, only a few characters from the original film return, with Marlin and Nemo being the biggest of them all, and though they've swapped places with Dory in terms of leading the narrative, the film does take time to build on their history with and attachment to their friend, giving Albert Brooks and Hayden Rolence - Nemo's new voice actor - the chance to shine throughout. The three have become a true family since the events of the first film, and Dory uses that to solid emotional effect as part of the question whether or not Dory's memory issues will even allow her to maintain her connection with them should she succeed in reuniting with her parents.
The newcomers include Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy as Dory's parents; Kaitlin Olson as Destiny, a whale shark with her own issues; Idris Elba and Dominic West as a pair of sea lions; and Ty Burrell as the neurotic beluga whale Bailey. It also features a number of cameos, from Bill Hader and Kate McKinnon to old Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger to Sigourney Weaver, whose role in the film is best left unspoiled.
The real scene-stealer, though (aside from baby Dory, who is going to melt hearts from here to eternity) is Ed O'Neill's Hank, a curmudgeonly octopus who spends a large chunk of the film with Dory. O'Neill does great work here, holding his own in each and every scene he's in opposite DeGeneres, and Hank's own personal arc in the film - even if its ultimate outcome is easy to see coming a mile away - is immensely satisfying thanks to O'Neill's comedic and dramatic strengths.
On top of all that, the film is, unsurprisingly, gorgeous visually, and one that's easy to get lost in staring at simply because of how well it looks, particularly when it comes to moments on the ocean surface. Considering it's a Pixar film, that hardly needs to be pointed out, but it's there, and is always worth noting.
In the end, Finding Dory clicked with me thanks to a strong cast and an involving narrative, all wrapped up in a typical Pixar package, which I mean with the greatest respect. I found it to be a much stronger film than Finding Nemo, though some may understandably disagree, and while it may not be one of my favorite Pixar films - that honor goes to a number of their other projects - it's nonetheless a solid effort, yet another win that the company can tally up on the board of their incredible legacy.
Pick a Month: