“FINDING DORY” — 3 stars — Voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O'Neill, Hayden Rolence, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell; PG (thematic elements); in general release
“Finding Dory” is part sequel, part spinoff and a little more metaphoric than literal. It’s a quality piece of family animation with a fun finish that hits a few themes you might expect and a few that will surprise you.
Thirteen years after its 2003 hit “Finding Nemo,” Pixar has taken us back into the ocean depths. Where the first film focused on a father’s quest to find his lost son, this time the narrative zeroes in on Dory, the blue tang with memory issues who helped to bring them together.
After a quick prologue that gives us a taste of Dory’s origin story, the film flashes forward to the present. Nemo (Hayden Rolence) is back home on the coral reef, watched closely by his father Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is up to her usual offbeat antics. But things take a turn when a few of Dory’s long-term memories start coming back, and she realizes she has family somewhere out in the great murky sea. She immediately decides to set out on a quest to find her parents and in the process, herself (hence the title).
Marlin and Nemo tag along, and soon the trio is on the coast of California at a Marine Life Institute where Dory believes she may have been raised. Once there, the team meets a handful of new supporting characters that more or less echo the Tank Gang from the first film. Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) is a whale who actually knew Dory when she was young, and Bailey (Ty Burrell) is a whale who is trying to rehabilitate a broken sonar system.
The craziest addition is Hank (Ed O’Neill), an octopus who is determined to relocate to Cleveland and agrees to help Dory in exchange for some help with his situation.
Mix it all together and you get the simple formula for some wacky CGI antics. Rehabilitated sea creatures will either be sent back into the wild or relocated to Cleveland, so Dory has to work fast to find out where her parents have gone, all while risking her relocation as well.
The plot is pretty linear, and the film, in general, isn't quite as fresh as the original. But a fun ending ramps up the action, and as always, the animation, writing and production are excellent. Kids should have a great time with the latest in a string of animated successes for the Disney folks over the last few months.
But what may really resonate with “Finding Dory” viewers are the themes that emerge from the story. Just as in “Finding Nemo,” the obvious, surface theme is the importance of family and the drive to keep those connections. There’s also a little more focus on Dory’s disability and the way it has impacted her life.
But the most subtle and perhaps resonant message has to do with Dory’s character. Her memory problems have always been accompanied by a habit of making rash decisions, but “Finding Dory” reveals her quirk as a refreshing decisiveness that those of us who tend to second-guess and overanalyze could learn from.
Parents should also plan to buckle in for the long haul. “Finding Dory” is preceded by an excellent animated short called “Piper,” and a bonus scene at the end of “Dory” should be worthwhile for fans of the franchise.
“Finding Dory” is rated PG for thematic elements; running time: 97 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.