Finding Dory (2016)

Directed by Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane (co-director)
Written by Andrew Stanton

With features like Cars 2 and Monsters University, Pixar Animation Studios have taken some flak in recent years for their less imaginary sequel efforts, though they have also still released some spectacular original stories in the form of Brave and Inside Out. Even The Good Dinosaur was a tremendous technological achievement. So with the release of their latest, Finding Dory, a sequel to the great and very successful Finding Nemo, the question is this: will Pixar be able to once again find the magic that made the Toy Story sequels so successful and emotionally charged, or is this sequel from a film released 13 years ago more signs of Pixar’s growing lack of imagination and dependence on already proven products? I think the answer is, a little bit of both actually.

Although Finding Dory is released 13 years after Finding Nemo, we learn the story actually takes place just a year after the adventures of the first film. After a string of flashback memories that Dory (Ellen Degeneres) has about her family, she decides to head off across the ocean in search of them. Nervous for the adventure at first, Marlin (Albert Brooks) and son Nemo (Hayden Rolence) join short term memory loss Dory on yet another adventure. After getting some help from old friends, the team winds up across the ocean in unfamiliar territory, where they must make new friends, including a foul mood octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill), a lazy and territorial sea lion named Fluke (Idris Elba), a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and a hypochondriac beluga whale named Bailey (Ty Burrell).

It has been quite some time since I last experienced Finding Nemo, but the characters are so memorable that it was quite easy to be thrown back into this world and pick up right where the last film left off. I must say I was skeptical of the film at first, Dory not being the type of character I thought I could follow around for the whole film as the lead character, but Andrew Stanton and his team have a deft touch when it comes to crafting an enjoyable and heartfelt story. Dory, whose limitations leave her lost, confused, or often both make the adventure ahead of them all the more difficult, but when resolution comes, it comes with such a powerful emotional punch that its impossible not to feel the happiness and sense of accomplishment that comes with what Dory has achieved.

Per usual, Pixar has infused the film with a number of fun circumstances and characters alike which make the adventurous experience all the more pleasantly enjoyable. There are little character moments sprinkled throughout which almost always payoff in the end, showing such an attention to detail and character, even for those who are on screen for such a short time. I loved how the film digs into the idea of what family is and what it can be, as well as even touching on what it means to be someone with special needs, or the parent of someone with special needs. Pixar explored new emotional depths with Inside Out, and while Finding Dory doesn’t necessarily have any revelations on the subject, its treatment of important issues and topics for children is done quite nicely.

In addition, the film has a nice focus on marine wildlife education as well. Although subtle, we learn about the anatomy of octopuses, beluga whales and their echolocation, and even learn what it means to care for the environment and its inhabitants in a respectful, natural way. There is a lot about this film which I appreciate that seems to be working under the surface, like the fish beneath the sea. The calm waves on top of the ocean may seen beautiful and peaceful, but the true beauty of the ocean is the incredible stories happening underneath the surface. Adventure films like Finding Dory are great for showing us what it is to be ourselves and to have confidence and fun. That Pixar builds upon this great foundation with a number of other messages while also making a darn entertaining film is just a testament to their process, values, and the talent of a filmmaker like Andrew Stanton working for such an incredible team of collaborators.

***1/2 – Great

Piper (2016)

Directed by Alan Barillaro

As with all Pixar feature length films, a short film also screened before Finding Dory. This particular short, called Piper and directed by Alan Barillaro, works as a perfect companion piece to the feature film that followed it. Piper features the story of a young sandpiper bird who is looking to be feed its daily meal. Much to its disdain, the mother is looking for the young bird to make its first adventure out of the nest down to the shoreline to find food itself. The story that follows is one which is cute, adventurous, and teaches a good lesson on perseverance and self-sufficiency.

The short film features more of the incredible photo-realistic animation we saw last year with The Good Dinosaur, and is a good example of how to build a character through a series of images in a short amount of time. With no dialogue, director Alan Barillaro manages to show us the young sandpiper’s personality go from shy and dependent to exuberant, confident and independent through the span of a mere 6 minutes. Not only this, but the film features some funny gags and encounters that accompany our sandpiper hero along its journey to discovering the joy of life and adventure of facing the mysterious unknown and coming out the other side with joy and purpose.

***1/2 – Great

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