Finding Dory Review

Finding Amazement.

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In Finding Nemo, lovable sidekick Dory's extreme forgetfulness was played for laughs, an ongoing riff on the old myth that some fish have memories of only a few seconds. "It runs in my family," Dory says at one point. "At least I think it does. Where are they?"

That "Where are they?" theme frames the affable, easygoing Dory in a whole new and altogether more tragic light. How horrible it would be to not retain your experiences, to forget so much that you can't even remember those that love you most. In Finding Dory, the titular blue tang's melancholy backstory takes center stage as she and her pals journey to find her long-lost parents. And the result is one of Pixar Studio''s funniest, most emotionally rich movies. Finding Dory is filled with compelling characters (both old and new), plenty of laugh out loud moments, and several exciting set pieces, all propped up by a heartfelt core that has a lot to say about love and acceptance. The film is an intricately balanced mix of the affecting and the uproarious, and it's an absolute must-see.

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Finding Dory begins much the same way as Finding Nemo: with a tragedy. We see an almost unbearably cute young Dory with her parents as they try to establish safety guidelines for their ever-forgetful daughter. It's all for naught, though, and while you don't immediately see how Dory gets lost, you do see the aftermath as the young fish, trying to find her parents, swims all alone in the open ocean. It's an affecting opening, one that's almost up there with the bawl-inducing first few minutes of Up. By the time Dory bumps into Marlin (a scene that already played out in Finding Nemo), you know a lot more about her than the previous film revealed. Her cheerful nature and extreme friendliness belie her loneliness, and she's afraid that she can't achieve anything on her own.

If that sounds like heavy stuff, it's because thematically, it is, but the wonderful journey that Dory takes to (spoiler) eventual self-acceptance is filled with some of the most joyous and imaginative scenes in any Pixar film. Less of a road film than the original, Finding Dory nevertheless features an eclectic cast of eccentric characters set amidst some gorgeous locations. The Great Barrier Reef--home to Marlin and Nemo and Dory--only makes a brief appearance before the trio is whisked off to the undersea kelp forests of the American west coast and the inner workings of a marine wildlife aquarium. It's almost rote to say that a Pixar film looks fabulous, but Finding Dory again shows the studio's absolute mastery of its visuals. There are scenes here that border on the photorealistic, even while the fishy cast retains the cartoony (yet expressive) features established in Finding Nemo.

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The film practices discipline in not bringing back too many characters from the first film. Instead, it relies on a new cast of marine fauna to surround the core characters. There's Bailey (voiced by Modern Family's Ty Burrell), a hypochondriac beluga whale convinced his echolocation is busted; Destiny (played by It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia's Kaitlin Olson), a huge whale shark with poor vision, who provides constant sight gags as she bumps into walls; and the breakout new addition Hank (played by Modern Family's Ed O'Neill), a gruff octopus whose ninja-like abilities of blending into the environment and extreme agility allow Finding Dory to journey outside of the ocean. All of these characters--plus a whole other crew of hilarious bit players--add a spring to the step of the film, with character-based humor abounding in nearly every scene.

But it's Dory herself who anchors the movie's emotional weight. While Marlin and Nemo are along for the ride, the true focus is on Dory and her struggles, and it's amazing the level of depth and nuance that's been layered into what was--in many ways--a one-joke character in the first film. It hurts to see Dory lost and unsure, you emphathize when she doubts herself, and you can't help but cheer when one of her plans goes right. Her narrative payoff, when it comes, feels heartfelt and earned, and is sure to leave many in tears. All of this is dependent in no small part to the performance of Ellen DeGeneres, who again imbues Dory with her sense of decency and joy, all the while hinting at the doubts she feels inside.

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The best Pixar movies possess a rare magic; they mix deep emotional resonance with broad laughs. One moment your sides are splitting with laughter, and the next you're on the verge of tears.Finding Dory achieves just that, making for a rare sequel that surpasses the original. I've avoided watery puns so far in this review, but I can't resist this apt parting shot: Finding Dory is a new high watermark, not just for Pixar, but for family films in general.

(One final note: make sure to stay past the end credits!)

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