Note: This review will be free of major Finding Dory spoilers. But it will contain Finding Nemo spoilers.
I’m probably in the top one percentile of Finding Nemo fans. Beyond reason, I love that movie. I cried five times watching it the first time. I cried when Nigel tells Nemo his dad is braving the thing he fears the most–the ocean–in search of him. When Marlin gives up momentarily while in the whale. When Marlin asks Crush how old he is. I cried when Marlin holds Nemo after finally finding him and it flashes back to the first time he held him. I cried at the very end. Heck, I cried after the opening title sequence. No joke! How many times is that? More than five? I can’t even count them. I’m pretty sure I cried more in this movie than all others in my life combined.
The movie hits every mark perfectly to me. Not a wasted moment or word of dialogue. The backstory for why Marlin is the way he is grips me emotionally from the very beginning. It has an unforgettable cast of characters Marlin meets on his journey, most notably Crush and Bruce the shark. Dory could have easily been super annoying, but she was far too endearing, what with her mess ups of Nemo’s name–”Not much fun for little Harpo.” I adore the subplot of Nemo bonding with the other fish in the aquarium, especially Gill. And the original score–Wow! Not even 90 seconds total and its slow, melodic piano music causes me to run a gamut of emotions. Now I’m crying again!
So I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted this sequel to awesome. Of course I had my doubts. My favorite movies have had bad sequels (Dumb and Dumber, Gremlins), but many have had exceptional sequels (Rocky, Karate Kid). I honestly think both Dreamworks and Pixar have proven that making a good sequel to a CGI family film is easier than other genres. And quite a few franchises (too many to list, but I will say Shrek 2 is probably one of my 50 favorite movies ever) would be the evidence.
And Finding Dory is no different. I didn’t like it quite as much as Nemo. I’ll get that out of the way immediately. But this one is not a significant step down. And seeing how I just described Nemo as I did, that leaves Finding Dory as an incredibly well done movie.
They took the right approach for the sequel: focusing on Dory. She is so lovable, relatable and funny that she can carry a movie. And while they kept the title the same, the major plot angle is different. Like Nemo, it’s inspirational in a way millions of people can relate to in real life. To me, nothing is quite as endearing as a father sacrificing everything to find his son (because I have two incredible parents), but the sequel plot comes close. In fact, I missed some of the major pay off moments because I was trying to see this movie through the same lens as the last one. But this one isn’t about ‘finding’ (as in something lost) as much as it is discovering, making this a beautifully titled move. This movie is about Dory herself, not what she is trying to do.
Minor spoiler: We get to see Dory as a small child and it may be the cutest, most adorable, most precious thing I’ve ever seen in a movie. Baby Dory was cuter than Sesame Street Elmo and Jonthan Lipnicki in Jerry Maguire put together.
I really liked the cast of supporting characters we encounter, but not quite as much as those from the original. However, the sea animal “Hank,” voiced by Ed O’Neil, is probably my favorite supporting character in the two movies combined. He is very unique. He’s not loud like Bruce or cool like Crush or tough like Gill, but he adds more to this movie than any of them did in the original. He is more understated and less boisterous and that fits nicely with his purpose. The other major secondary characters are fun, but Hank steals the show at times.
The climactic scene borders on being too outrageous, yet it is so funny I ended up enjoying it very much. The final scene felt a bit forced and tagged on to me. They were going for a final moment of poignancy, but it dragged a bit and it ended a little awkwardly. But this is a minor complaint in otherwise exceptional story-telling.
Finding Dory has all the heart of the original just in different form. It seems the hardest part of making a sequel is making people remember what they liked about the original but not repeating it in too many ways. In that sense, this sequel is among the best I’ve seen. I want to watch it again and focus harder on the things the movie is about the next time. There will probably never be another CGI family film I’ll enjoy the way I did Nemo, but Finding Dory comes close. I enthusiastically recommend it. If you loved Dory in the first one, you may like this one better. But either way, Andrew Stanton has added an epic two-part story to American family film canon.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
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