Movie Review: Finding Dory (2016)
The best one-sentence review of “Finding Dory” that I‘ve heard came about two hours after Patricia and I saw it with our friends Jeff and Sullivan, and their two kids, Reilly and Beckett, at the Cinerama in downtown Seattle. Over drinks in their backyard, Jeff placed “Dory” solidly in the B-ranking of Pixar movies, and most of us nodded agreement. Then Sullivan added, “I think it began to lose me when the octopus started driving the truck.”
Seriously, did we have to have that absurd car chase at the end? Couldn’t we have ended on the bridge? Did Dory have to stay behind in the truck, risking everything, including the Californian horror of being transported forever to Cleveland, in order to convince Hank, the curmudgeonly octopus (voice: Ed O’Neill), to join her old/new family in the open sea? And if we had to have Dory and Hank hijack the truck, did they have to drive against traffic, on the wrong side of the freeway, as if Pixar were re-doing “To Live and Die in “L.A.”? Maybe it would’ve been interesting if there was actual risk involved—if Dory and Hank might wind up, SPLAT, on the L.A. freeway—but we knew that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, we get what we get: slow-motion plunge back into the water and safety.
It must be tough for Hollywood and Pixar to do this again and again: to start us in the safety and security of home, send us out into the world for various adventures, then return us to the safety and security of home—changed for the better.
What sends us out on this particular adventure? Flickers of memory from the memory-addled blue tang fish Dory (Ellen DeGeneres, reprising her great role from “Finding Nemo”). A phrase is said, which is like something someone in the past said, and suddenly she remembers that: 1) she had parents, which 2) she lost. Her birthplace is across the ocean, in California, so she wrangles Nemo (Hayden Rolence, replacing Alexander Gould, who’s 22 now) and Marlin (Albert Brooks, brilliant), to join her. Across the ocean they go. In record time, too.
After Dory gets entangled in a plastic six-pack ring (cut those up, kids), she’s taken to the Marine Life Institute, an environmentally conscious, sea life conservatory, where PA annoucements from film star Sigourney Weaver (Sigourney Weaver) keep playing nonsensically throughout the adventure. (“M*A*S*H” PA announcements anyone?). It turns out that’s where she was born, and where her parents might be, so she keeps searching for them as Nemo and Marlin keep searching for her.
There’s a necessary balancing act: Dory needs to remember enough to keep the plot going but not enough so she stops being herself; so she stops being funny.
We get a few good moments from Pixar’s filmmaking team, led by co-directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane. My favorite is the horror of the kiddie touching pool: all of those pudgy human arms plunging into the water. I also like the fact that there’s no real villain to further the plot. We‘re just dealing with the limits of memory and ability.
But there’s no transcendent Pixar moment: no “Stuff I’m going to do”; no “Take her to the moon for me.” Jeff was right: it’s B-level Pixar. Sullivan was right. You wonder if “the octopus driving the truck” could be Pixar’s “jumping the shark.”