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Did we really need a sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo? Nope. Does Finding Dory cover a lot of the same nautical ground as its predecessor? You betcha. And yet Pixar vet Andrew Stanton—whose last directing gig was 2012’s live-action dud, John Carter—has not only made the studio’s best sequel since Toy Story 3, but also one of their flat-out best films, period.
One year (is that 13 human years?) after the events of Finding Nemo, Albert Brooks’ neurotic clownfish, Marlin, is living happily with his son, Nemo (Hayden Rolence), and their short-term memory-deficient pal, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). Their utopia is disturbed when Dory begins experiencing random memory flashes from her childhood and the parents she lost. This rush of lost-but-apparently-not-completely-forgotten memories sends Dory and her two pals on a cross-Pacific quest in search of her estranged relatives. If all this sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because a) almost every Disney story is about a kid looking for their parents and b) Finding Nemo was essentially the inverse, with Marlin overcoming near-impossible obstacles to reunite with lil’ Nemo.
Finding Dory starts off well and good, but it’s when the trio reach their destination that the film hits full stride and waves of laughter and emotion come crashing down. The Monterey Marine Life Institute features an array of sea creatures, from cuddly otters to friendly whales (finally explaining why Dory can speak their language) to a pair of sea lions voiced by The Wire rivals Idris Elba and Dominic West. There’s also Sigourney Weaver, but I’ll avoid spoiling one of the film’s most amusing jokes. Of all the new voices and faces, however, Hank the “septopus” (Ed O’Neill) steals the show as an unlikely ally that’s at once hilarious, heartbreaking, and visually ingenious. A tip of the hat to Stanton, his co-writers, and the film’s talented cast and crew for expanding the franchise’s underwater world—not to mention making digital water look prettier than I ever thought it needed it to look.
While Finding Dory features several familiar characters and story beats, it outdoes the original in terms of emotional complexity and social awareness. On the surface, this is a film about a kid trying to find her parents, but Dory’s disability is no longer a mere punch-line. Watching her painfully adorable younger self come to terms with short-term “remembory” loss is as devastating as anything Pixar’s ever explored—and they’ve gone to some gloomy places.
Even in Dory’s older age, the main villain isn’t a tangible one, but rather something she has to overcome by shedding her self-doubt and learning to make the best of her situation. This a common thread explored throughout the film, where we meet a handful of damaged characters at an institute that prides itself on the rescue, rehabilitate, and release mantra. In the end, it’s the sufferer who has to do all self-healing.
That’s not to say Dory’s condition is a downer. While she lacks the ability to remember anything that happened 30 seconds ago—much to the confusion and frustration of everyone she meets on her journey, to great comedic effect—she accomplishes some astonishing feats and even finds a glimmer of hope in the darkest corners of the ocean.
Finding Dory is likely best thing you’ll take the kids to this summer, but they’re not the only ones who’ll laugh, cry, and learn to just keep swimming in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds.
Dory floats into theatres Friday, June 17, and is preceded by the deeelightful short, Piper (more on that here). Check out the trailer below.