Like its memory-challenged hero, Finding Dory just keeps swimming, swimming, swimming, losing track of why it's here. This is a dimmer adventure than its beloved predecessor Finding Nemo in theme, pacing and palette. A teachable moment kneaded to feature length.
Finding Dory is a good sequel to a great film, and perhaps that's all fans could hope for. The year 2003 is an eternity ago in Disney-Pixar's relationship, in technology and profit motive. After the past decade's animation glut, Finding Dory feels packaged like the rest, unavoidably absent the original's freshness.
Screenwriter/co-director Andrew Stanton immediately dives into a unique pool of parental discomfort. While Finding Nemo was constructed upon the fear of a child disappearing, Finding Dory recasts a klutzy sidekick as an adult (voice of Ellen DeGeneres) with a lifelong learning disability. Dory's opening line recites what her parents (Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy) teach her to tell strangers, if lost: "Hi, I'm Dory. I suffer from short-term memory loss."
It's an ambitious theme for a family-friendly movie, like Inside Out explaining how people think. Finding Dory isn't as limitless in material, however. Dory's cognitive impairment narrows the options of behavior; her opening line is repeated in some form ad nauseum, and flashbacks to childhood are the only way to change direction.
One such reminder sends Dory, her clownfish pals Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) to the other side of the world, searching for her parents. This improbable journey will be assisted by numerous sea critters, including a chameleonic octopus named Hank (Ed O'Neill) and hilariously pushy sea lions (Idris Elba, Dominic West).
Stanton rushes through a voyage that might be visually redundant, to reach a sensory stifling setting. Dory's parents are believed to reside in a marine aquarium with a motto of "rescue, rehabilitation, release," a rusting, tunneled, poorly lighted enclosure that, coupled with 3-D glasses makes Finding Dory's third act tougher to make out. When will filmmakers learn to compensate for the tint on those glasses?
It's fine to just squint and listen to DeGeneres prattle and stammer, deepening a character we already adored and now understand. But that serious subtext creates the need for a Dory-like scene stealer. Hank never quite measures up. DeGeneres carries the comedic load as far as Disney protocol for happy endings allows.
Finding Dory can't be faulted for much except it isn't Finding Nemo. There's no shame in that, just a twinge of sadness. Thirteen years ago a movie broke ground now stomped flat by an animation stampede. Finding Dory is just another cute face in the crowd. Greatness deserves better. How soon we forget.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.