Movie Review: Finding Dory
Ellen DeGeneres returns as a fish with short-term memory loss in a largely forgettable sequel to Finding Nemo
Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba
Directed by: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Running time: 1hr 43mins
By Katherine Monk
Look what the tide brought in: The fish version of Memento.
Sit with that for a second. Now, reel it in and ponder the full dimensions of the latest box-office leviathan from Disney-Pixar featuring Ellen DeGeneres as a forgetful blue tang named Dory.
Returning to the big screen 13 years after she made her debut in the $380-million smash Finding Nemo, Dory hasn’t evolved much since we last saw her. She spends her days with Nemo and his dad Marlin (Albert Brooks), and forgets just about everything she learns within seconds of drinking it in.
As a device offering comic relief in the emotionally draining Nemo, Dory was a delight. We needed some way to take the edge off the desperation of a daddy looking for his kid, and Dory was just the ticket: A goofy fish that couldn’t get too emotionally invested in anything because she couldn’t hold onto the narrative thread of a given quest.
Without emotional consequences, everything can be funny, or at the very least, surreal and distant.
Finding Dory definitely drifts toward the latter, largely because our central character is absent for the duration. Obviously, Dory is physically there in every frame of this souped up digital sequel, but as a screen presence, Dory is weak.
At times, she is even irritating.
DeGeneres’s ‘aw-shucks’ style is endearing on a talk show, but it doesn’t register on any dramatic scale. To make up for the emotional hole, the filmmakers create the whole Dory backstory showing us a little baby fish with giant, Japanese anime eyes.
Dory grew up as a special needs fingerling because she suffered from short-term memory loss. Her parents, Charlie and Jenny (Eugene Levy, Diane Keaton), went out of their way to design special learning tools and memory devices, showing us the reality of rearing a kid with special needs.
This relationship is one that defines the film as Dory begins a quest to find her own family back in California, but it’s not the one we watch as the film unfolds. Instead, we get Dory scooting through the ocean with turtles, and Marlin and Nemo hanging out with sea lions. There’s plenty of witty banter and fishy puns, but so much of Dory feels like 3D visual filler – stunning underwater landscapes that hypnotize the eyeball but fail to plumb the depths of real soul.
The most dynamic character in the whole movie is Hank the octopus (Ed O’Neill), a cephalopod with a flare for camouflage and great escapes. Hank embodies the idea that flexibility is the key to survival, yet, he wants to spend the rest of his days behind glass in a Cleveland aquarium.
Every character, outside of Marlin and Nemo, has some wacky defect or some cartoonish quality that affords comic gags and keeps this beach ball of entertainment in the air, but emotionally, things always feel a little too removed or a little too contrived to really work any real wonder.
Even the animation, which feels a hint darker and more foreboding with enhanced pixel resolution and added depth of field to make the ocean feel even more chaotic, seems to hold the viewer at bay.
This ocean is a dark, polluted and vast place filled with predators and human dangers. Pixar stops short of a lecture on climate change, but even without a formal mention of mankind’s destructive legacy, the dark threads of species extinction and habitat collapse seep through the frames through images of the underwater garbage dump off the Pacific Coast, and dead, sand-covered coral reefs.
Against this bleak backdrop, Dory’s lack of identity and memorable purpose assume an existential dimension: She’s a fish adrift in an ocean of questions. It’s a good metaphor for the human condition, but a troublesome hero for a kids’ cartoon.
THE EX-PRESS, June 17, 2016