Film, Reviews, Screen

Finding Dory review – a family film with added interest

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Of all the severely intellectually disabled characters to grace our screens in recent times, Dory – the blue tang fish introduced in 2003’s Finding Nemo – is surely one of the most chipper. Given an elastic voice and unerringly upbeat demeanour by Ellen DeGeneres, Dory is affected by an incapacity to store short term memories.

She has what is known as “anterograde amnesia”, where the distant past exists in her mind but the recent past does not. The opposite condition – “retrograde amnesia,” whereby new information can be retained but old information gets lost – is much more common cinematically, often in stories of characters who have repressed a traumatic past.

It’s a bit of shame that Finding Dory, a belated sequel to Nemo, has a lax attitude to its protagonist’s condition. The story is about a recent decision to locate her parents, which she has no problem remembering, as well as several other moments of recollection that point to a reasonable ability to retain important knowledge. Directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane trust you won’t put Dory’s impairment too closely under the microscope.

Few films, of course, are as deserving of the suspension of disbelief than those involving talking fish. In the colourful little scamp’s defense, she hardly has the ability to undertake measures conducted by her forgetful predecessors – such as tattooing information onto her skin, like Guy Pearce in 2000’s Memento.

But it does mean that Finding Dory doesn’t carry a great amount of weight when it comes to deeper messages such as living with disability. In another context such a criticism might seem like a ridiculous level of expectation, but Pixar have conditioned us to place the bar high. The film’s predecessor is a cautionary commentary on over protective parents; last year’s excellent Inside Out taught children (perhaps some adults too) that it’s OK to feel sad.

Any memory of Finding Nemo is wrapped in a blanket of deep blue ocean: a wonderful looking movie with a constant sense of largesse. The majority of Finding Dory replaces the wide, expansive oceanic setting with a much smaller one – an LA marine life museum, where the voice of Sigourney Weaver welcomes human visitors to experience the wonders of the sea. Thus, the unusual sight of a sequel less visually spectacular than its predecessor.

Based one year after the events in the first film – remember, fish don’t live very long – Dory has found a surrogate family in Nemo (Hayden Rolence, replacing a now-adult Alexander Gould) and his worrywart father Marlin (Albert Brooks, returning). Living in the Great Barrier Reef, she is struck by visions of her upbringing and resolves to go on a quest to locate her parents, recalling that she was born in captivity in far-away California.

The three venture again into the unknown, reversing the previous film’s premise. Finding Nemo was about a parent finding their child; this one about a child finding their parents. With the help of a stoner surfer-sounding sea turtle (voiced by Stanton) they arrive at the Marine Life Institute.

The most colourful character there, certainly in a literal sense, is seven-legged octopus Hank (Ed O’Neil) – a chameleon who can blend and shape-shift into any surface. He grudgingly agrees to help Dory in return for an orange tag attached to one of her fins, which will guarantee him a ticket to a life of luxury in a Cincinnati aquarium.

Again, social realism isn’t exactly something one looks for in a tale of chatty fish food. But the last act – involving the equivalent of a last minute dash to the airport – tests, if not destroys, the story’s internal logic, replete with vision of a marine creature behind the wheel of a vehicle. One otherwise unspectacular moment, it ought to be noted, is sensationally saved by a slow-mo mid-air collision set to the tune of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.

Like all Pixar’s films (this is the17th) Finding Dory is hard, if not impossible, to hate. And like most sequels, even at the peak of its powers it can’t help but feel a tad derivative, especially given the long time between drinks and the lighter feel this time around. Even minor Pixar is a cut above standard, however, and it’s always nice to see an animated family movie with something interesting on its mind.

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