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Pixar's 'Finding Dory' is more underwater fun, but something's missing

Posted June 22

 (Deseret Photo)

THE DEEP BLUE SEA — “Finding Dory” swims into theaters this Friday, 13 years after we followed Marlin on his journey through the vast ocean in pursuit of his small-finned son who was scooped up by an Australian dentist in “Finding Nemo.” Dory — the forgetful Blue Tang — served as the sidekick in the original flick and many felt like Ellen DeGeneres’ voice performance was strong enough to warrant a sequel.

Though the road of Disney and Pixar sequels are littered with the carcasses of less-than-fleshed-out storylines and jokes that have been rehashed to death (“Cars 2,” anyone?), director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “Wall-E”) hoped to avoid the trench of unoriginality while telling Dory’s story. But was it successful?

The premise (some spoilers involved!)

“Finding Dory” opens to a very important flashback where we see Dory as a young fish, watched over by her loving parents, Charlie and Jenny (voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton).

We learn that Dory has always had short-term memory and her guardians spend much of their time trying to help her remember and to teach her important life skills that would bring her back to them in case she got separated.

Fast-forward to a year after Dory has successfully helped Marlin locate his son, where Dory remembers something important: She recalls the family she spent so much time searching for and even remembers where they are (very similar to the way she committed “P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney” to memory in “Nemo”).

The mission is on. Marlin and Nemo go along for the ride all the way to California where Dory finds a way to get into the Monterey Marine Life Institute. Problems arise when Dory gets separated from her Clownfish pals and has a hard time navigating through the place she used to call home. Will she find her parents? Will she reconnect with Marlin and Nemo?

Along the way, “Dory” does a lot of things right, but does miss on some of what made the original deep-sea tale so compelling.

What was successful?

The cast

The voice cast of “Finding Dory” is phenomenal, from top to bottom. Albert Brooks is back as the curmudgeonly Marlin and, of course, DeGeneres replicates her “Nemo” performance that made an entirely Dory-run sequel plausible in the first place. Newcomers Ty Burrell (“Modern Family”) and Kaitlin Olson (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) are fun as Bailey and Destiny, a near-sighted shark and a whale with malfunctioning echolocation, respectively.

Though Burrell and Olson were touted highly as new additions to the Pixar family, the show is proverbially stolen by the voice actor who portrays Hank the octopus (excuse me, septapus), Ed O’Neill (“Modern Family,” “Married with Children”). O’Neill’s performance is the perfect balance of reluctant accomplice and conniving escapee and provides a great foil to the bubbly and oft-misguidedly enthused Dory. There are also a few fun Easter egg cameo performances by "Saturday Night Live" favorites Bill Hader and Kate McKinnon as well as “The Wire” alums Idris Elba and Dominic West, who make a pair of pleasantly territorial sea lions.

The look

In addition to the fun vocal performances, the movie looks beautiful. I saw it in IMAX 3D and it was a worthwhile effort. In an interview with Michael Stocker — lead animator on “Finding Dory” — he mentioned that animators for this movie didn’t take into account 3D during animation. This means no obnoxious objects flying toward the screen and no gimmicky details meant to make the audience shriek. Instead, the 3D gives the ocean depth and movement that it maybe wouldn’t otherwise convey in traditional two-dimensional formatting. The cinematography successfully navigates low-light scenes, squid chases and slow-motion falls in a way that feels real and new and fun.

What was less successful?

The originality

Like with many sequels, a lot of time is given over to revisiting the hallmarks of the original film. Unfortunately, “Dory” spends enough time bouncing from “Nemo” touchstone to touchstone that it doesn’t ever really establish its own sense of humor. Essentially the only joke that isn’t re-examined is Bruce and the other vegan sharks who eschewed fish eating in “Nemo.” A lot of the jokes told or characters met feel like a bit of an elbow to the ribs prompting, “Remember this?” Some of it is fun, but some gets in the way of what could be more original storytelling.

The message

Most importantly, “Finding Dory” never quite gets to the emotional center that “Nemo” did, namely that it’s important to face your fears and that people (and fish) with disabilities can still conquer the world. The latter lesson is revisited with Bailey and Destiny in a less successful way, mostly because their role is so minimal that it doesn’t quite land. “Dory” does touch on the importance of family — both genetic and otherwise found — in a way that will resonate with many. There’s just something missing in “Dory” emotionally that Pixar usually nails so successfully (uh, “Up,” anyone?) and it’s too bad.

‘Piper’ short

Pixar shorts are widely recognized as some of the best short films in Hollywood, full stop. “Piper,” which plays before “Finding Dory” may have the most message that you’ll get during your theater visit. Gorgeously animated (seriously, how do they get those bird movements down so exactly?), “Piper” follows a young hatchling as it faces its fear of the ocean. Trust me, this one is great.

“Finding Dory” is rated PG for some intense scenes that may be too frightening for really small children.

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