There are a few kinds of films Hollywood loves these days. One is the spinoff that takes a popular supporting character and makes them the lead. Another is the origin story. Pixar’s taken both approaches before, to mixed outcomes. So it’s understandable why there might be some concern regarding Finding Dory, a sequel that focuses on Finding Nemo‘s delightfully forgetful blue tang and explores that forgetfulness. Thankfully, Finding Dory finds a few ways to differentiate itself from its predecessor while exploring some different issues.
A year after the events of Finding Nemo, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) has settled into life with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). When a memory of her parents suddenly resurfaces, though, Dory becomes obsessed with finding them. With Marlin and Nemo’s help, Dory travels to the Marine Life Institute in California to search for them, only to run into obstacles once she arrives.
Moreso than Finding Nemo, Finding Dory is essentially a loosely connected series of events, with scenes that are alternately comic and suspenseful broken up by heart wrenching moments of family separation and reunion. What makes it work is Dory‘s focus instead on Dory’s mental state, which Nemo basically presented as a quirk. Dory refocuses on this from the opening scene as a natural cognitive challenge, one that Dory’s loving parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) attempt to handle by teaching baby Dory (Sloane Murray) various tricks to not lose her way, such as grown-up Dory’s famous “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming” chant.
When Dory forgets her parents’ frequent reminders to steer clear of the undertow near their home, she’s washed into the vast ocean, where her inability to recall the specifics of her home or her parents dooms her to a life spent wandering the ocean on her own. It’s a journey she continues right up until the moment she meets Marlin, in a scene recreated from Nemo, which ultimately provides her with a new home and a new family.
As soon as Dory makes her way across the ocean, she becomes separated from Marlin and Nemo. The father and son meet different animals, including a pair of sea lions, who try to get them to Dory. Dory, meanwhile, befriends a nearsighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olson) and a beluga whale with a lack of confidence (Ty Burrell). She also encounters a misanthropic octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill), who uses his ability to survive out of water and camouflage himself in order to move Dory around the Institute.
Like its predecessor, Dory is impeccably cast, with familiar voices providing added warmth to both old characters and new. It even finds a great way to utilize Sigourney Weaver’s soothing voice. The film also introduces more memorable characters into this particular world, from the previously mentioned characters all the way to a pack of sea otters so cute, their snuggling can be weaponized.
At its core, though, Finding Dory keeps a focus on its emotional center: the need to know where one comes from and to reconnect with home. In doing so, it also reinforces the idea that differently-abled minds are not only not inferior, but can be beneficial for survival. It’s a thoroughly heartening message, delivered in a hilarious package.
NOTE: Finding Dory is preceded by a new Pixar short, “Piper,” which follows a baby sandpiper. It’s adorable, sweet, and one of the best pairings of a short to a film that Pixar’s ever done.