Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), the endearing regal blue tang of 2003’s ultra-successful Pixar adventure “Finding Nemo”, who functioned as both comic relief and unwitting co-navigator on account of her short term memory loss, graduates from sidekick to leading lady in Andrew Stanton’s inevitable sequel, expectedly titled “Finding Dory.” We catch up with the titular character in the company of her surrogate family, a more mature Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and his forever-frazzled father Marlin (Albert Brooks), a year after the events of the first film. Dory’s quest emerges on account of a fragmented memory of her childhood, prompting her and her two friends to traverse the ocean to what she reckons is home – the Marine Life Institute along the coast of California – and where her parents might be waiting for her after so many years apart.
We see her mother and father (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) in an early scene, conveyed with winning tenderness that is deliberately, frightfully extinguished when the film elliptically jumps to Dory in the aftermath of unwittingly separating from her folks. These brief scenes of Dory lost in Pacific’s vastness find Stanton forgoing the visually enchanting aquatic blue, as if all the ocean’s a solarium, for an ominous darkness, the kind of blackness you think of surrounding ghostly shipwrecks. And as Dory swims with no direction, asking for help that is not forthcoming, a palpable sensation emerges of being a young child, becoming separated from your parents at the mall, not knowing where to go, failing to recognize any faces, and then trying to explain to the people at the security kiosk how you got lost only to realize you cannot re-trace your steps. And it suggests, if only momentarily, another movie, “Finding Dory” prowling around potentially dark nooks and sinister crannies, a fairytale with an edge.
That never happens, just as Stanton never chooses to transform the Marine Life Institute into commentary on captivity at Sea World-ish theme parks. Oh, there are allusions to what can lurk in these places, like in the case of Hank, the grumpy Octopus (Ed O’Neill), who is actually Septopus on account of one of his tentacles being lopped by all the kids at the institute run amok, but even that is played more for laughs than institutional criticism. If anything at this supposed place for “rehabilitation and release” is emblematic it is the recorded voice of the tour guide – Sigourney Weaver, one of our greatest action heroes. And this is because Stanton renders a story that, while necessarily heartwarming, is more often adrenalized to the extreme.
Though the new Jason Bourne movie is not released until August, “Finding Dory” gets the drop on it. After all, while Bourne might be a re-programmed government assassin and Dory might be a fish, they both are on quests to uncover their identity, and each of their quests make way for an abundance of awe-inspiring action-oriented set-pieces, like Nemo and Marlin soaring through the air via plaza fountains and, even better, Dory and Hank’s breathless, hilarious escape from a terrifying touch pool. Indeed, if my favorite action sequence of last summer was Tom Cruise’s underwater derring-do in “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”, my favorite sequence of this summer is the touch pool, in which the crashing hands of children reaching into the shallow water to grab terror-stricken sea urchins resembles something like the Giantess of “Into the Woods” let loose in the scene of collecting 57mm shells in “One Crazy Summer.”
And if “The Bourne Supremacy”, that masterpiece of the genre, concluded with a car chase, well, rest assured “Finding Dory” does too. Like any movie of this sort, simply finding her parents isn’t enough; there also has to be a ticking clock. That clock presents itself in the form of a truck scheduled to ferry all manner of aquatic animals to vast aquarium in Cleveland, a truck which Dory winds up on, and then Nemo and then Marlin, and which Hank wants on, given that he’s the Murtaugh of this story, too old for this octopus ink. And the ticking clock goes off with a chase down the coastal highway that finds Hank at the truck’s wheel, making like Indiana Jones.
This rip-roaring denouement, however, is preceded by Dory’s requisite re-uniting with her parents, a mystical sequence underlined by a haunting musical score that sounds like something out off Pure Moods, where muddy waters give way to the color of bright white shells pointing the way home, pulling at the heartstrings. It’s strange, then, that after a moment of such earnestness, the movie proceeds to more or less turn her parents into semi-comic bystanders to the madcap conclusion on the freeway. It lets some of the air out of this all-important encounter, sacrificing emotion for sensation, as if “Finding Dory” is afflicted with the same case of sequelitis that plagues so many productions this time of year.
Still, that madcap conclusion is pretty darn good in spite of what it sacrifices, and speaks to the film’s predominant tone of action-packed farcicality. It might not be as poignant as its predecessor, but it is undoubtedly enjoyable in its own way, that as a Pixar poster quote movie that wants to take you for the proverbial ride. It’s an animated aquatic rollercoaster; it’s Oceans of Fun™!