It’s revealed that Dory was born in a marine institute exhibit and that prior to the events of the first film she got lost. Because of her short-term memory disorder she could never remember her parents or where she came from, and so meandered the ocean until meeting Marlin. Now she’s beginning to recall things again and with Marlin and Nemo, journeys back to the aquarium in California in search of her family.
Most of the film is set in this marine institute and though it doesn’t have the depth and wonder of the ocean, the filmmakers still have a lot of fun with the setting, sending up the complexity of such parks, whale aquariums, and in one hilarious sequence, touch tanks. Plot-wise there are a few points where it feels repetitive of the first film. Not only do they start from literally the same reef as before, but they encounter a dangerous creature not long after, albeit one who’s not nearly as fearful as Bruce the shark or an angler fish. Finding Dory’s also trying really hard to be cute with recurring flashbacks to Dory’s childhood where she’s big-eyed and tiny (the short in front of the film is overly cute too, but it’s actually not bad). The forced adorableness is distracting but these scenes do tie into the film okay, and reinforce that Dory though mostly comic relief is actually something of a tragic character. Her short-term memory loss is treated as a handicap. I admire the film for exploring that and for setting up her backstory in fragments so that we learn the details of how she got lost alongside her. There’s a sentimentality permeating her journey that isn’t ineffective by any means, but doesn’t feel earned like the first movie did. Perhaps it’s because the theme of the importance of family has by now become too commonplace in Pixar and this film didn’t do enough new with it.
Some of the cast of the last film return (though I did miss Bruce, Gill, and Nigel). Ellen DeGeneres is right in her element as Dory and Albert Brooks is back along for the ride as Marlin. The problem is Marlin doesn’t display much of the character development he’d undergone prior and is back to being a worrisome fussbudget. It’s also weird seeing Marlin having been the hero and heart of the last film, relegated to a side character in this one. Nemo’s along for the journey too. However the main focus is Dory and to the films’ credit she carries the movie very well. Among the new characters introduced, the best of them is Ed O’Neil as an octopus called Hank. He’s got a gruff likeability to him and his relationship with Dory is one of the film’s unexpected delights. The cast also features Kaitlin Olson as a near-sighted whale shark called Destiny, Ty Burrell as an echolocation-inept beluga called Bailey (I do like that every animal in this marine institute has an impairment like Dory), and Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton as Dory’s parents. There are also a pair of really funny seals and a park announcer who’s someone you won’t expect.
There’s enough interesting material in the park and Dory’s quest is investing enough that most of the film is enjoyable. But the final act falters somewhat. There was one story choice they seemed to have made that really impressed me, but they backed out on it minutes later, and given the result, I would have preferred that former direction. The finale also gets really ridiculous, tonally inconsistent, and convoluted that it feels like it’s from a different film.
Finding Dory is very clever and funny a lot of the time (which makes sense given it’s directed by Andrew Stanton), but unlike it’s predecessor it’s not one of Pixar’s strongest. That being said, it’s the best sequel Pixar’s done since Toy Story 3. The last act and finale really do hurt the film, as does the character inconsistency. But it’s interesting, visually terrific, even provoking at times, and introduces some great colourful characters and situations. It’s just not quite as the soundtrack would suggest, unforgettable.