Childhood and, in fact, the very act of being human involves a certain level of loneliness. The great news is you can make money off it. For close to 80 years, if you go by Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” making history in 1937, all sorts and achievement levels of feature animation have preyed upon the fears, insecurities and isolating circumstances of growing up. The best Pixar features, like those pre- and post-digital from Pixar’s parent company, Disney, have exploited that loneliness brilliantly, and the lesser Pixars have tried to do the same.
“Finding Dory,” the satisfying follow-up to the 2003 smash “Finding Nemo,” amplifies the defining characteristic – short-term memory loss – of the blue tang fish voiced, then and now, with subtle warmth and unerring comic timing by Ellen DeGeneres.
What began as comic gold, with a delicate, bittersweet undercurrent, is now a sensitively handled disability. Flashbacks to Dory’s childhood (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton voice Dory’s parents) reveal her barely recalled family life as a truly enviable and loving one. “Finding Dory,” which more accurately would be titled “Nemo and Marlin Help Dory Find Her Folks,” manages to raise its newly central character’s emotional stakes without wiping out the comedy altogether.
If the movie’s good, not great, well, there it is. This would be an apt time to remember Pixar’s track record when it comes to providing stockholder-friendly sequels to its properties. Besides “Toy Story 2” and, to a lesser degree, “3,” “Finding Dory” is the only Pixar sequel to qualitatively justify its existence as a movie. “Cars 2” and “Monsters University” are best considered karmic payback for the glorious “Ratatouille,” “WALL-E” and “Up” getting made in the first place.
“Finding Dory” takes place a year after “Finding Nemo.” Dory fin-twists, gently, Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) into aiding her in her search for the parents she only periodically recalls. The quest takes the trio to the coast of California and the Marine Life Institute, based visually on Monterey Bay Aquarium.
There, Dory meets her newest comrades. They include the misanthropic but redeemable “septopus” (octopus minus one tentacle) named Hank, voiced by Ed O’Neill, whose mission in life is not to leave captivity, but to stay in it. Beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) and whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) join forces, and they’re pleasant comic company.
Andrew Stanton co-directed, with Angus MacLane, and co-wrote, with Victoria Strouse. The visual personality of the movie is fantastically vivid and bright, the story itself, less so. I think Stanton and company erred in confining so much of the action to the marine institute and on dry land. There’s a typically complex and inventive action climax for a Pixar project, this one all around the hills and highways of what appears to be the coastal Bay Area. The open ocean is the reward for Dory, along with reuniting with her parents, and I felt slightly jerked around in getting to the reward part.
Still, and this is a big “still”: We’re a long way from the contrivances of a “Cars 2” or “Monsters University.” Will we ever again hit the Pixar heights of the early 21st century? Who knows. And technically it’s still early in the century.
Voice cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Rated PG (for mild thematic elements)