There was a time when Pixar stayed away from sequels. Apart from the successful Toy Story franchise, it seemed like the animation giant wanted to treat its wildly successful films as the standalone masterpieces they are. But the company has taken a different tack in recent years, creating sequels to the likes of Monsters Inc. and Cars. Kicking off a further wave of upcoming sequels is Finding Dory, the long-dormant and much-hyped sequel to Finding Nemo, one of the studio’s most enduring outputs. Like Pixar’s slate of other sequels, it’s not strictly necessary, but it is successful in following the studio’s operating mantra regarding their much-beloved IP: do no harm.
The film takes place one year after the events of the original, with blue tang Dory (voiced by Elen Degeneres) living a peaceful existence beside her clownfish friend Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Dory, who suffers from short-term memory loss, is startled when fragmented memories of her parents begin to appear, and she quickly decides that she must go in search of them. Of course, forgetful (and impulsive) fish are likely to get lost along the way, perhaps forgetting why they left on an adventure to begin with. And so, Nemo (eagerly) and Marlin (reluctantly) agree to tag along for the ride. Their travels soon lead them to a California Marine park where Dory believes her parents are. Here, they come across a colorful cast of new characters—including Hank the octopus (Ed O’Neill), shark fish Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burell)—who help Dory and company in their quest to find her missing parents.
By Pixar standards, the plot is extremely simple but not simplistic. While the story contains few surprises, there’s a welcome emotional resonance to Dory’s arc, as we see flashbacks of experiences with her parents as a child. The audience uncovers Dory’s memories along with her, which is an engaging hook. Compared to other recent Pixar sequels like Cars 2 and Monsters University, Dory does a better job of keeping us engaged with the emotional core of the story.
While Dory succeeds under certain comparisons, it suffers under others. Specifically, the original film it follows. Perhaps no one expected this sequel to reach the emotions and pitch-perfect comedic timing of Finding Nemo, but even so this is a much lesser effort. We get lots of insight into Dory’s character and background, but Marlin and Nemo (along with all other returning characters) are disappointingly static, existing as props to aid Dory’s discoveries and nothing else. While pretty to look at and quite funny, there is nothing here that can be described as essential cinema.
Thankfully, the new characters do a lot to help assuage the familiarity. Hank the octopus is one of Pixar’s most creative creations, a visual tour de force in his bright colors and his expert use of camouflage. Destiny the vision-impaired shark gets a lot of laughs, as do rambunctious sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West). All of the new characters are also stunning to behold; Pixar’s animation has come a long way since even the gorgeous original, making for one of the prettiest CG animated films I’ve seen.
Finding Dory is ultimately a minor triumph in its ability to do no harm. The risk of making a sequel to a beloved property (especially an old one) is the fear that it will be poor enough to diminish opinions of the original. But there’s no risk of that here. Finding Nemo is still a masterpiece, and Finding Dory is a fun, breezy chance to reunite with some classic characters and learn to love some new faces. It’s funny, occasionally inventive and visually jaw-dropping, but I won’t be revisiting it time and again like I have the original.