If Disney is adept at one thing, it’s tapping into the fears of children. 13 years ago, they double-downed with “Finding Nemo,” a film kicked off by two of the greatest infantile nightmares: the death of a parent and getting lost in the supermarket. That film’s belated sequel, “Finding Dory,” mildly bucks tradition, turning childhood trauma into a narrative device rather than an origin story, which is less interesting than it sounds.
This time around, the marquee goes to Dory, the adorably dysfunctional, freckled fish with short-term memory loss, who served as the comic-relief sidekick in the previous film. Her history is briefly related to us, before picking up a year after losing and subsequently finding Nemo, at which time Dory’s memories begin to surface in short bursts, specifically those of her parents. With nothing to go on but a few brief glimpses of some fish that sound vaguely like Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton, Dory sets off to find her parents from whom she was mysteriously separated. She should really consider tattooing her life story across her body. I’ve heard that works wonders.
As is to be expected, that Pixar polish is abound. Every inch of every frame feels meticulously assembled from everything bright and pure and without resentment. Better than any other producer of children’s films, Pixar can harness the wonder and imagination of childhood that has yet to be tampered with by reality, and all while shucking the foolish bits.
Dory’s journey is consistently amusing, especially with the introduction of Hank, a misanthropic octopus voiced by Ed O’Neill. Hank dreads the touch of others, has mastered the art of camouflage and has the uncommon yearning to live in captivity, so that he may be alone. Hank’s worst nightmares manifest when he and Dory end up in a touch pool, a hellish landscape where the index fingers of children—mad with curiosity—descend from the sky like something out of the Old Testament. Along the way, Dory gathers others for her merry band of misfits, such as a nearsighted shark, a beluga whale with hypochondria and even a love sick oyster, cursed with a pearl and no one to give it to.
Where the film slips a bit is in its motivations. Think of “Finding Nemo”: a single father loses his disabled son, and will go to the ends of the ocean to find him. It’s simple, straightforward and instantly relatable, parent or otherwise. I won’t go further down the rabbit hole that is reminding you of Pixar’s genius, other than to say that “Finding Dory” is somewhat lacking in the loaded emotion that drives their best films. Dory has parents, and they love her, miss her and they’re glad to see her; that’s about as far as it goes. There is a thought-provoking moment where Hank mentions that constantly forgetting could be a boon, and Dory peculiarly acknowledges it, but nothing narrative rises from that exchange.
In spite of running on fumes, “Finding Dory” remains an incredibly detailed world, filled with incredibly wacky characters, charming in their sincerity. It reminds us that in the right car with the right people, driving around in a circle can make for an enjoyable road trip.
3.5 out of 5 stars