“Finding Dory” marks director Andrew Stanton’s first film since “John Carter,” the critical and financial disaster that became one of the biggest cinematic laughingstocks of 2012. As such, an air of defeat surrounds “Finding Dory.”
The very loud, very public failure of “John Carter” forced a now humbled Stanton to return to Pixar, apparently demoted to sequel squad. No longer associated with risky projects like his 2008 film “Wall-E,” Stanton would only be connected to the surest bets. And in an ironic development, the surest, safest bet turned out to be a perfunctory continuation of “Finding Nemo,” the film that jumpstarted Stanton’s career.
Pixar doesn’t make bad movies, they make pleasant movies. Because the bar at that studio is set so unfeasibly high, even its lesser and comparatively phoned-in efforts are still diverting experiences. “Finding Dory” happens to be one of those pleasant, diverting movies. Picking up a year after the events in “Finding Nemo,” Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence) are now reluctant caretakers of scatterbrained Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) who requires constant, exhausting supervision due to her lack of short-term memory.
While testing the patience of her friends and neighbors, Dory suddenly remembers she has a family (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton) living in an aquarium in California. With Marlin and Nemo lagging closely behind, Dory recklessly attempts to reclaim her lost youth.
Even if you ignore the one-two punch of last year’s “Inside Out” and the underappreciated joys of “The Good Dinosaur,” “Finding Dory” functions as a disappointment. The first half hour is more or less a greatest hits package as characters from the first film, including Mr. Ray, Crush the turtle and Gill, basically wander in front of the camera, ask, “remember me?” and then wander off again.
“Finding Dory” picks up once the characters find their way into the Morro Bay aquarium even as the film spins its wheels as it discovers increasingly lazy and contrived ways to keep Dory, Marlin and Nemo separated. Yet, what elevates “Finding Dory” above the “Shreks” “Ice Ages” and “Cars” of the world, is an almost Charles Schulzian appreciation for the melancholy.
Dory’s flashbacks carry a bittersweet and, at times, faintly sinister quality. Dory’s friends are there for her not out of love but out of a sense of obligation. Even side characters like Ed O’Neill’s desperate, conniving octopus, Hank, and a depressed, chatty clam with boundary issues are depressing in such a fun, kid unfriendly way.
Unlike “Inside Out,” “Finding Dory” doesn’t have the courage to preserve this somber tone. The film discards its sadder elements and gives in to demands of the genre ultimately causing “Finding Dory” to join the ranks of lesser Pixar efforts like “Brave” or “A Bugs Life.” “Finding Dory” is a little unnecessary, a little underwhelming and a little forgettable.
In other words, it’s pleasant.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Ed O’Neil, Diane Keaton, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence
Director: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Weekender Rating: WWW
Length: 105 minutes