Movie Reviews: "Finding Dory" is A Welcome Return to Pixar's Colorful Underwater World

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The long-awaited sequel to 'Finding Nemo' doesn't disappoint!

Unless you've been hiding in an eel hole, you're probably aware that Pixar's highly anticipated (and highly advertised) sequel to the beloved Finding Nemo is finally here. So let's dive right into it...

Finding Dory takes place a year after that whole mishap with the little orange clownfish getting lost. We catch up with the still-found Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and his dad Marlin (Albert Brooks), and their ever-forgetful neighbor Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), who interrupts their fish sleep every 3 seconds. Early on, the film reveals multiple flashback scenes that are simultaneously adorable and poignant. The first sees a tiny wide-eyed Dory dealing with her chronic short-term memory loss as her parents do all they can to keep her safe, but eventually she's swept away by the undertow...

In the present, Dory's mind catches sporadic bits of her childhood, and though a lot of it is a blur, she's certain that she misses her mom and dad immensely. So with some company from Marlin and Nemo, she embarks on an ocean-wide search for her parents. But of course, it's no smooth ride. Amidst a giant squid chase, Dory gets tangled in a piece of plastic soda rings (a striking environmental preservation and anti-litter visual), then is scooped up by boaters and transferred to the Marine Life Institute. There, she meets a camouflaged, shape-shifting octopus named Hank (Ed O'Neill), and the two of them form a deal to help each other achieve their desires.

So, how does Finding Dory measure up against its predecessor? Well, the journey isn't as fresh and expansive as the original, but it's still a welcome return to this colorful, impressively animated underwater world (Hank's squishy texture and the photorealistic views of the ocean's surface are something to behold). And with the easy-to-root-for Dory at the center this time around, there's still a meaningful story to be told. It's enough to make you well up. (I know it left a lump in my throat.)

While the narrative is anchored with a deep sense of pathos, there's still plenty of frolicsome splashes of humor. Idris Elba and Dominic West (AKA Stringer Bell and Jimmy McNulty of "The Wire") voice a pair of lazy, self-centered sea lions that have permanently planted themselves on a sun-soaked rock. Those show-stealing surfer dude sea turtles from Finding Nemo get their cruise on with a victory lap performance. There's a goofy set piece where Hank and Dory end up in a 'Touch Pool' exhibit and attempt to dodge the incoming hands of wildly excited kids at all costs. And Dory speaking "whale" (which is basically howling and elongating words) gets me every time. In fact, pretty much everything Dory does is great, and it definitely helps that Ellen's voice work is so endearing here.

But it truly is the undercurrent of heart-tugging themes that make Finding Dory so remarkable. Dory is a beacon of persistency, aspiration, and believing in yourself and others. The film very much so can be taken as a tale of living with a disability, as well as an exploration of the parental experience in raising a child with special needs. During one of the flashbacks, Dory's mom questions, "Will Dory be able to make it on her own?" The importance of family is driven home, and not only your biological family, but anyone close to you that has made a significant impact on your life. Just like Dory was there for Marlin and Nemo in Finding Nemo, they are there for her in Finding Dory (sniffle).

The big climax falls on the ridiculously farfetched side (yes - even for a movie full of talking sea creatures), and it's propelled by a string of major coincidences and plot conveniences, but as the amazing Dory would say: "The best things happen by chance."