In a year where numerous films have already broken the stigmatic “sequel curse,” Finding Dory makes the loudest splash. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising redefined itself through pro-feminism comedy and The Conjuring 2 scared us senseless, but Finding Dory speaks to the souls of impressionable children. Here’s a lead character with a major disability, yet she’s able to accomplish fantastic feats – unthinkable challenges that doubters thought she’d never conquer. Ellen Degeneres should be proud of the message Dory preaches (sing loud, and sing proud), through vocal work that evokes more strength than sympathy.
Limitations do not define Dory, nor do they define us.
Yet, there’s more to Finding Dory in this moment – if only as a reaction to current events. Now, more than ever, children need a movie like this. We live in unstable times where vile acts of cowardice and intolerance could cripple a young person’s concept of safety, but one little blue tang’s mantra could save all that: “Just keep swimming!”
It’s kitschy and cartoonish, yet undeniably relevant. People now commit atrocities to make a statement – hopefully scaring others into changing their ways – but we must prove that the unwavering human spirit can endure ANYTHING thrown our way. This isn’t a deflection tactic meant to ignore issues at hand – something HAS to be done – only a mantra to keep spirits from vanishing into a dark abyss. Joyful optimism is becoming harder to grasp, but that just means we have to reach higher. First, and foremost, that’s how we start standing up to bullies, bigots and fearmongers – we keep living. We show them how their hatred can be cured like a sickness, by simply moving forward despite constant social attacks. Just keep swimming, like Dory says – it’s all we can do.
Maybe I’m stretching a bit – still reacting to a recent act of senseless violence – but a tear formed as I thought about the correlation between living free and living in fear. If one, brave little oceanic navigator keeps on swimming given everything she’d lost, so can we. We have to. We must.
Apologies for that aside – you’re here for a film review, not one man’s blubbering. Let me once again enter praise-mode, where I’ll champion Pixar for turning Dory’s comical quirk (short term memory loss) into a heartwarming, motivational force.
From an early age, Dory’s parents (voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton) lovingly challenge their daughter to live with her memory issue, so she can eventually play and explore with the other fishes. They know Dory can’t follow directions, or remain attentive like the others, yet – as loving parents would – they never stop encouraging her. Dory is taught to be proud, and not to apologize for forgetfulness, because she has nothing to apologize for. On a parenting scale, Finding Dory becomes a far deeper, more thoughtful tale of nurturing, understanding and never connecting negativity to something unpreventable. No challenge too large, or compliment too small – what a better world we’d live in.
So by now you might be thinking, “What kind of kids movie is this, Donato?! Where’s the humor??” And here’s the part where I say yes – Finding Dory means so much to society right now, but still bounces about with Pixar’s typically bubbly charm. The animation is flawless, comedy is balanced (good for adults, better for kids) and voice acting is absolutely dynamite. It’s everything we love about Pixar.
One minute you’re laughing at a googly-eyed seal being chased off a rock by two other seals (voiced hilariously by Idris Elba and Dominic West), and the next you’re wiping away tears as Dory struggles to remember her mother’s face. It’s emotional, but never tragic. Sad, but never depressing. There’s a courageousness that keeps Dory’s flippers paddling forward, coupled with a zany, determined adventurousness that children will excitedly giggle and gasp along with.
Visually, Finding Dory embraces what originally set Finding Nemo apart from other animated films, as scenic palettes span a rainbow of colors that accentuate the beauty of marine life. Deep, dark blues provide a never-ending glimpse into the ocean’s vast nothingness, while brightly-tinted marine wildlife swim between waving stalks of kelp or fluorescent coral structures. Dory’s journey to find her parents once again highlights Pixar’s ability to animate on a level of digital realism that differentiates the wrinkles in Marlin’s fish-face versus Nemo’s more youthful glow. With such confident workmanship, is it even worth praising Pixar’s animation team anymore?
Of course – these pixelating wizards deserve all the credit they get – no matter how repetitive each boast appears.
Kudos to another stellar Pixar vocal cast, which puts an emphasis on talent and not just big names. Beyond the appeal of collecting Ed O’Neil, Albert Brooks and Eugene Levy in the same film, familiar voices from Kaitlin Olson and Ty Burrell vividly personify main characters who’d typically be given to more star-studded names. That’s no dig at Olson or Burrell – who have no whale of a time filling out their gargantuan characters – but a pat-on-the-back for casting heads who felt the like essence of each sea creature and found their human match.
Look no further than Dominic West and Idris Elba, who bark a guttural growl whenever Gerald commandeers their rock – something so simple, yet full of comedy and joy. Nobody owns their character quite like Ellen Degeneres, but she’s not the sole attraction of Finding Dory.
That said, we’re not looking at Pixar’s best film here – just one of Pixar’s really, REALLY good films (expected, and still applause-worthy). Finding Dory is the exact movie you’d imagine – adorable otters cuddle on cue (OMGGGGGG), a self-fulfilling journey sets Dory on a path to her parents, and plenty of lessons are learned (believe in others, every individual is special, trust in humanity). Dory is a beacon, a teacher, and guide for the lost, as goofball antics counterbalance “darker,” more serious plot deviations. You’re getting what you paid for in the safest way possible, but Pixar’s “safety” is still considered in the highest regard – we know this, we turn up, and we enjoy what the company does right. This is a responsible, socially-jointed Pixar telling a wholly expected story, yet still finding ways to distract from predictability.
Finding Dory is a good story with better message, because Pixar knows all it has to do is just keep swimming – which, in this case, is more than good enough.
Finding Dory does something special - and courageous - with the message it tells, offering children something much more than entertainment.