How does one go about reviewing a movie like Finding Dory? It’s essentially bullet proof. Whether it’s the next Citizen Kane or the next Plan 9 From Outer Space, it would still be a runaway hit because these days, Disney is almost that good (even if The Good Dinosaur was a bit of a miss, but now we’re just quibbling). Yet somehow Finding Dory is more than, less than, and exactly what you’d want out of a Pixar movie. For expediency’s sake I’m going assume anyone reading this had already seen Finding Nemo a couple dozen times and no re-cap is needed of the first film in this new franchise (but, just in case: father clownfish loses wife; son is taken away from father; father crosses ocean to find son with help of forgetful blue tang friend; father, son, and friend reunited as new family). Finding Dory takes the same ideas and twists them in an oddly existential direction. If nothing else, Pixar manages to channel child-friendly existential dread far better than any other studio can.
The plot distillation of Finding Dory is that Dory is trying to find where she came from. What little memory she has is triggered by a visit to a stingray migration parade, leading her to drag Nemo and Marlin all the way across the ocean to Moro Bay, California (a thinly veiled Monterey Bay) to figure out what an aquarium there has to do with her parents. The second act involves Dory getting lost in the aquarium with Hank, a rather embittered septopus (he’s missing an arm), while Marlin and Nemo try to find her. Act three drops in a whole boat load of the previously mentioned existential dread along with more plot complications and probably a few too many secondary characters. A pair of sea lions are pointless and a waste of five minutes of screen time, only adding padding to the story rather than adding anything of importance.
To be honest there aren’t a lot of surprises in how things eventually work out. This is a Disney movie after all. This means Finding Dory really comes down to execution, and while the movie may get close to perfect execution, it does have a few miscues along the way. Some of that may have to do with the roughly one hour and forty minute run time, about 20 minutes longer than the average Disney/Pixar movie. The movie simply doesn’t really use the time to dig too deeply into what makes the characters tick, nor do they let the plot unfurl at a leisurely pace, so the extra time ends up feeling like a lot of padding in certain spots. The first half of the film charges through the story so fast you can barely keep up, but the second half is somehow both manic and oddly slow at different times, making for a somewhat erratic viewing experience even if it does even out a bit by the end.
Finding Dory also takes an interesting approach for being Dory’s story from beginning to end. Almost every scene that is centered in one way or another on Dory feels like there’s something just out of view that’s vaguely disconcerting, if not threatening. Granted, some of that is from the musical cue they use for Dory that may be one of the most frightening pieces of movie music all year. There’s also something about Dory that is both endearing and maybe a little scary, like Dory’s habit of barreling through things so fast she gets other characters hurt. Thankfully, she’s not alone all of the time and the other character work helps prop things up and pull Dory back when it seems like the void might swallow everything. In all seriousness, there are a couple of sequences that might really scare young kids when Dory is alone.
The various new support characters, Hank, Bailey, and Destiny, all fill their roles quite nicely and provide some good laughs as well, even if Hank is a grumpier version of Marlin that has fingers. When the movie slows down enough to allow an observer to soak everything in, there’s both an amazing amount of charm and a certain feeling of loss that hangs over a lot of them. Dory and Hank in particular make for an interesting pair, as Dory has lost her mooring to anything beyond the current moment and Hank can’t let go of his somewhat hazy past. Somewhat unfortunately, neither Marlin nor Nemo really get enough screen time or development to really come out at the end of the movie changed too much from how they were at the start, but I suppose it really is Dory’s story in the end.
This being a Pixar film you know it’s going to be gorgeous. If anything, seeing Finding Dory on Blu-ray at home feels way too small. The images on screen are so beautiful they really deserve to be seen as big as possible. The sheer amount of insanely small details in every scene, from the way the water sloshes and reflects to a hidden shoplifter, is nothing short of astounding. You will not see a better looking movie of any kind all year, period, end of story. The sound is amazing as well, from the reef to the open ocean to everything in the aquarium. Crank your speakers up to max and immerse yourself.
The review copy we were sent contains 2 Blu-ray discs, one for the movie and about half of the extras and the other with the rest of the extras, along with a DVD of the movie. The extra are copious to the point of almost being too much. There is a full-length commentary track featuring Director Andrew Stanton and several other members of the production crew waxing poetic about the production process and their overall thought process for why they made a sequel to a movie that felt pretty well wrapped up. There are also over 50 minutes of deleted scenes, mostly animatics, detailing a lot of either cut plot lines or scenes that had to be extensively reworked as the plot structure changed. There are several featurettes with various cast members, some going into greater detail about the animation process and the copious amount of research the crew did to make sure all of the sea creatures at least moved right, even if the movie kinda glosses of the fact that a lot of them are carnivorous. The “Piper” short film is also included on both feature discs.
If you love Finding Nemo you will adore Finding Dory, and even if you’re lukewarm on the original there’s enough here to give it a solid recommendation. Finding Dory delivers exactly what you’d want it to deliver, even if you feel a little weird about some parts and find yourself question just what family is and is not.