And Pixar's sequelitis mania continues with this latest regurgitated raid on their back catalog, in a way an attempt to repair their reputation after the debacle that was The Good Dinosaur.
(Preceding the feature is the Pixar short Piper, a harrowing horror flick featuring the massed deaths of various bivalves, some gruesomely pulled apart)
Got to admit the premise to Finding Dory is more ingenious than for most sequels: given that Dory (thanks to Ellen DeGeneres' nimble performance) was the previous movie's most memorable character, and given that we know nothing about who she was and where she came from, the filmmakers must have figured there's a story there to tell.
And tell it they do, no half-measures. As with Up the first ten or so minutes are an exercise in shameless tearjerking; where in the first movie you're supposed to laugh at Dory here you're supposed to cry for her. The lost-child theme in the first is continued here with both barrels blazing, only this time years have passed before Dory even begins to think about her situation again--more pathos, more handwringing, more tears jerked. Tiresome PTSD flashbacks galore; that old trope about amnesia victims going all the way back to Hitchock's Spellbound (Will they or will they not recover? How much, and when?) is put into play yet another time.
Hank (Ed O'Neill) is probably the only reason I made it through--as Dory's spineless new acquaintance and ally the cephalopod oozes and squirms his way across the screen, and the animators have a field day squeezing him into various shapes and sizes in an impromptu feature-length game of "Where's Waldo?" (I'm reminded of an anecdote I once read, that the Disney animators only found Dumbo interesting because of the flying sequences). Hank adds the only astringency to an otherwise sticky movie--Marlin (Albert Brooks) performed that function the first time around but there he was largely left to his own devices; here his wet-blanket son Nemo (Hayden Rolence) is along to stomp on Brooks' best comic instincts, and poor Marlin has been relegated to second-string worrywart, a not particularly funny one at that (You want to ask: why couldn't they have left Nemo in the fish tank back in the first movie?).
Quick aside to note that some critics have complained about the filmmakers quickly shunting the action from open sea to marine institute (loosely based on the Monterey Bay Aquarium) but when you think about it where else could they have gone? Problem with a sea adventure is that not a lot of funny kid-friendly stuff happens (mostly violence of the fish-eat-fish variety), and Pixar for all its vaunted expertise still can't seem to capture the true colors of a coral reef without making them look garishly overbright, like in a tourist ad or Discovery Channel documentary (compare their efforts to Miyazaki's in Ponyo, which focuses on coastal areas and sea surfaces--borders on the whole are more visually interesting--with a distinct stylized look, like hasty watercolors).
Another quick aside: find it odd for the institute staff to be feeding fish to a whale shark (whose diet consists mainly of krill or plankton), and that Hank's mouth is wrongly located, and considerably different in appearance from what you see onscreen.
The movie ends by defining Dory's unique superpower as plot armor. "What would Dory do?" Marlin is forced to ask himself again and again (thanks to Nemo's relentless bullying)--the movie asks us to believe that because Dory means well and has a good heart that she would unfailingly do the right thing in a crisis situation; not sure that's the kind of lesson you want to impart to kids, especially in a hugely influential big Hollywood summer flick ("What would Dory do?" "The right thing!" "Why?" "Because she's a good person!" "And that makes her decisions correct how, exactly?" "We don't know, that's what happens in the movie!").
Everything (Skip this paragraph if you plan to see the movie, though why you'd want to do that I haven't the faintest idea) ultimately turns out fine (surprise surprise), including for the fish last seen floating at the end of the first picture. Happy times for everyone all around, except maybe Hank--why did he want to go to Cleveland anyway? To sample some all-the-way Skyline Chili? Shop at the West Side Market? View the city's architectural delights? Not that I'm suggesting a sequel or anything (God forbid) but curious minds would like to know.
A final note: did enjoy the movie, but with a pleasure edged more with frustration than fulfillment. The Pixar animators realized their sea creatures well; everyone looked delicious, from the huge fish with their plump filets (Nemo being the unappetizing exception) to the various delectable crustaceans to Hank himself, who figures prominently in my bucket-list fantasy to have a proper sannakji--live octopus cut up, dipped in sesame oil (to prevent the tentacle suckers from sticking to the throat) and immediately squirmingly eaten. Gonna have dreams tonight and they won't be pretty, not for Nemo and his friends.