Pixar was one-for-two last year with critics and fans heralding Inside Out as a return to form as it beat expectations at the box office. The Good Dinosaur, however, proved that they were still capable of being out of touch as fans lauded the overly dramatic piece and audiences spoke with their money (it ranks last among Pixar's box office grosses, less than a bug's life without adjusting for inflation). And as the studio enters another era of sequels, fans were prepared to be underwhelmed again. I'm happy to report that any concerns over whether or not Finding Dory would be good can be laid to rest. It's not good, it's fantastic!
For many reasons, Finding Dory doesn't feel like a sequel. Yes, we return to Nemo's reef to find Marlin, Dory and Nemo exactly where we left them at the end of Finding Nemo, but the film quickly progresses into uncharted territory. It establishes its independence almost immediately by not focusing on the journey from Sydney to Monterey, but instead upon the destination. To be specific, the Marine Life Institute. This is literally a "fish out of water" story as Dory not only gets separated from Marlin and Nemo, but also finds herself out of the ocean and inside a marine rehabilitation theme park.
The inciting incident is that Dory has remembered a tiny bit of her childhood, coming to the realization that she has parents and misses them. Her vision brings her to "The jewel of Morro Bay, California," where she discovers a host of new and old friends (from her life before the first film) that seek to help reunite her family. From a grumpy septopus with three hearts to a near sighted whale shark and a rehabilitated beluga, Dory's new companions are just as fun and lovable as any of the characters encountered the last time around.
For all the heart and warmth in Finding Dory, there's just as much humor and the jokes this time around far exceed those of the first film. A few of Dory's mis-phrasings result in a few giggles, but most of the comedy comes from the situations the characters find themselves in and the way they react. Also a celebrity appearance is played for major laughs several times, each funnier than the last.
Ellen Degeneres once again steals the show, as should be expected in a film all about her character. If there's one performer that carries a few scenes away from her, it's Ed O'Neal's Hank. In terms of character design, there's little to find appealing and yet he grows on you as the film progresses. Dory's refusal to believe the worst in him is a charming lesson about finding the good in every situation. Nemo and Marlin don't quite take a back seat in this film, but they are the subplot this time around. Their scenes still offer a lot of fun and humor without distracting from the main plot progression.
Finding Dory may look at first glance like a Finding Nemo rehash, but it's less a sequel and more a spin-off. Dory successfully tickles your emotions and funny bone simultaneously, proving that Pixar can still produce instant classics (even if they are making more sequels than original content these days). And a pro-tip for any theatergoer, stay through the end credits for a special surprise.
I give Finding Dory 5 out of 5 purple shells.