I’m going to go ahead and be frank: Finding Nemo is not nearly one of my favorite Pixar movies. I understand that people adore it, and it brings everyone to tears, and whatever. I can acknowledge that it’s a beautifully animated sprawling story, full of heart, and great for kids. It may be because I was subjected to its viewing an innumerable amount of times on slow days all the way from grades 3-8, but Nemo doesn’t hold up from 8-year-old to 21-year-old me nearly as well as, say, Toy Story, or, Monsters Inc. That being said, Finding Dory, a sequel 13 years in the making, doesn’t capture nearly as much of the imagination or soul of the first.
The animation is still beautiful, as is expected of Pixar. It’s colorful and vibrant. The fish move like they’re supposed to and light shines through in lovely ripples through the ocean. The animation is never a problem. It’s the script that suffers here. The story is the exact opposite of Finding Nemo. Instead of Marlin out to find his son, Dory is out to find her parents. Except while Nemo’s plot feels like a sprawling, monumental cross-ocean epic adventure, Dory is confined almost entirely to a single location, and that sense of adventure is lost.
While Nemo’s plot remains relatively grounded in reality, with the dangers of predatory ocean dwellers, and human interference ever present, Dory goes more the silly route. New characters, such as an octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill) and a whale shark and beluga whale (Kaitlin Olsen and Ty Burrell respectively) are all goofy and very likely to appeal to children, but one-note. Hank the octopus helps Dory search for her parents in the Marine Life Institute with increasingly absurd uses of his camouflage, managing to disguise his way through a secured facility, roll himself to a stroller unseen, and even drive a truck. Yes, an octopus drives a truck. This change in tone isn’t a bad thing per say, but when the sweet moments do come, such as when Dory finally reunites with her parents, they’re not nearly as effective as they could be. These moments are cute (especially the flashbacks with a baby Dory), and will bring a smile to your face, but they won’t move you to tears like say Wall-e or Up.
Of course, as expected, some jokes manage to land and draw smiles, others are recycled and tired. Finding Dory isn’t a bad film at all. It’ll keep the kids occupied and entertained for 1.5 hours. But it’s middling Pixar, sitting at a fresh spot on the shelf amidst the likes of Brave, Cars, and Monsters University. The feeling that this was the best thing the writers could come up with after over a decade leaves a lot to be desired. At this point in the year, Disney Animation Studios looks to have the animation category already in the bag with the vastly superior Zootopia and the promising Moana later this year. When it comes to Pixar’s catalogue, or children’s animation in 2016, you can do better.