Finding Nemo has a special place in my heart. Not because it was my first Pixar movie. No, my first was the same as most people my age, Toy Story. It has a special place in my heart because it was the first Pixar movie I saw with my wife. We had just barely begun to hang out with each other then and so the title and vows were many years away, but it has remained a movie that is near and dear to both of our hearts. It got us hooked on seeing Pixar films together. Until last year when I stopped enjoying their films and she started seeing them early without me. Not the point. This past weekend we had the chance to see an early viewing of Finding Dory, the sequel to, of course, Finding Nemo. Some of you probably know it as “that movie Ellen is super excited about.” Right off the bat I didn’t feel that Nemo needed a sequel. I used to have respect for Pixar because they weren’t sequel machines and when they would make a sequel, it was usually really freaking good (except for Monsters University, that’s unwatchable).
Already I had my doubts going into the movie. It also didn’t help that every time I’ve seen an advanced showing in L.A., the crowd has always, always decided if they love the or hate the movie before the lights dim in the theater. It’s one of the most baffling things and I will never understand it. This crowd was anxious to love this film. Anxious. I mention that because the crowd you see a film with can very easily sway your opinion about a film if you let it. I had my doubts, but the crowd has nothing but love which balanced me out.
The film itself is unfortunately predictable. I called the film and the “message” of the film just from the trailer, which I had tried to avoid seeing until the days leading up to the screening. If you don’t already know, it’s about Dory finding her family and a little bit of “finding herself” as well. If you didn’t care for Dory’s character in the first film, then you’d do well to skip this film altogether.
There is the typical dramatic sadness that’s become commonplace with Pixar movies. It works every time though so it’s not a complaint that’s it’s there, more of a statement. There’s plenty of humor of course, but what was strange was that you could almost perfectly call when the humor would happen. It follows the Nemo formula that closely.
The voice acting in the film is fine. All the stars of the first film reprise their role and new additions are added. At this point Pixar has brought in new regulars to their films and so you’ll hear a few familiar voices. The only problem with this is that several of them had similar tones and so you can be fooled into thinking the same actors are doing voices over and over.
Idris Elba and Dominic West steal the show as two sea lions with their thick British accents. They’re so amusing that they find as many ways as possible to fit them into the story, to the point that it feels like forced humor.
I will say that Young Dory, voiced by Sloane Murray, will make you tearful. If you’re a new parent like I am, she and her parent’s interactions will likely make you blame the wind on more than one occasion. Ellen is good as Dory, but it felt like her memory loss was cranked just a little too much this time. It’s consistent throughout the film, but it reveals the overall problem with the character and film in general… too much of Dory isn’t a good thing. Sure, by the end her character has grown and developed more, but I honestly didn’t feel rewarded by that journey. It was more of a sense of relief that it was finally over.
The animation is incredible. The water effects are so much better this time around and really the textures that all of the animals have is leaps and bounds better. Granted that’s always a technology thing and since these films all have a two-year cycle, Finding Dory already looks better than Pixar’s films from last year. There really did seem to be a sense of love in handling this film though. A sense of love that was completely missing from Monsters University which didn’t wow with its story or graphics. It very much felt like we were taking another adventure into the ocean.
As for the movie and how it did as a sequel, it was good, but not great. Even with my fondness for Nemo aside, the overall story suffered from too much of the Pixar formula. A formula that has this desire to hit comedic beats at exact minutes in the film and to hit dramatic beats at exact minutes in the film. It felt too much like someone had cracked the math behind our emotions and wanted to prove the formula. At times it still worked, but other times it stood out as an attempt to make me feel something rather than genuinely making me feel something.
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