PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


On Finding Forgetful Dory and Remembering How to Make a Decent Pixar Sequel

The Finding Nemo follow-up sends its forgetful fish on another ocean-crossing quest: this time to find her parents.

Director: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Hayden Rolence, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Sigourney Weaver
Rated: PG
Writer: Andrew Stanton
Year: 2016
US date: 2016-06-17

There’s some argument over when the Golden Era of Pixar, which started in 1995 with the first Toy Story, concluded. Did Pixar's recipe for creative innovation and emotive sincerity last all the way through 2009’s Up? Or did it hit its first road bump back in 2004 with the good-not-great The Incredibles? Whatever the answer, there’s almost no argument that Finding Nemo (2003) sits square in the studio’s pre-Disney sweet spot, and not just because it had zero Randy Newman songs. That status would make the average moviegoer, who remembers clanking bores like Cars 2 and beside-the-point follow-ups like Monsters University a little nervous as the inevitable sequel hits theaters.

Fortunately, Finding Dory at least exceeds expectations, if not the original. As with any children’s sequel, particularly in the corporate-synergistic era when every popular animated property can’t just sit there like an exhibit on a shelf. Those characters need to earn their keep by delivering to the firm’s bottom line. It’s a relief to be able to report that they do so with much the same spirit of wonderment, easy humor, and teary-eyed sentiment that characterized the films that made Pixar the heir to the Disney mantle before it was acquired in 2006.

Finding Nemo worked a variation on the classic Disney formula of single- or no-parent children with incredible obstacles to overcome. The unlikely duo of worrywart clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and forgetful blue tang fish Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) crossed leagues of ocean to rescue Marlin’s son Nemo from a fish tank in an Australian dentist’s office. Much as the sweep of The Lion King allowed the animators to present a living exhibit of natural beauty and exotic wildlife, Finding Nemo used the great quest to explore the colorful varieties of rare, wonderful aquatic flora and fauna from the Great Barrier Reef to the deep ocean. It was like the world’s greatest aquarium, only in film form.

There's nothing in the lighter, breezier Finding Dory to match the dark chill of Finding Nemo’s opening sequence, where Marlin loses Nemo’s mother and the rest of his children to a barracuda attack. The new film does begin on a similarly emotional note, though. We see Dory as a tiny and even bigger-eyed child, working out her short-term memory loss issues -- just about the only thing she can remember is that she usually can’t remember -- and being fussed over by the parents she was separated from long before Finding Nemo.

Back in the present, Dory is still happy as the exuberantly friendly but spectacularly unhelpful and vaguely stoned-seeming co-parent of Nemo with Marlin. But her childhood loss keeps backing up on her, filling her with a nagging need to find out what happened back then. It’s a tall order, given that Dory can barely swim two feet without forgetting where she’s headed; how she manages to remember who Marlin and Nemo are is never addressed, of course. After some nagging from both sides, Marlin is convinced to leave the protection of the Great Barrier Reef and once again hit a ride on a current with the surfer turtles to a marine research institute where Dory thinks her parents are.

The greatest missed opportunity in Finding Dory is the journey itself. Most likely, the filmmakers -- Andrew Stanton back again, this time with new co-director Angus MacLane -- didn’t want to risk repeating themselves. But with the exception of a slam-bang chase scene through a wrecked container ship with a giant squid, most of the film takes place at the institute itself. This leaves the journey without much of the original’s epic scope, which helped temper some of the sentiment.

Still, Dory continually pulls back from its characters to emphasize just how tiny they are in a dauntingly vast sea. There’s a great perspective-shift moment when the fish have to cross a kiddie touch pool, which turns into a gauntlet of terror, with kids’ hands slamming down into the water to grab rays and anemones like mythological monsters looking for playthings. Also, the institute’s closed environment with all its different ecosystems provides plenty of opportunity for the introduction of new characters. They range from the gently comic gold-bricking beluga whale voiced by Ty Burrell to a wild-eyed, possibly bipolar loon bird and Sigourney Weaver as … Sigourney Weaver, sort of.

Spending much of the film separated from Marlin and Nemo, Dory is forced to rely on herself, as in any decent quest narrative. She makes friends with a cranky octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill) whom Dory terms a septopus since he lost an arm. Hank’s antisocial obsession with being sent to an aquarium in Cleveland where he doesn’t know anybody (“I just want to live in a glass box … alone!”) is played initially for humor and later for pathos, as the story’s familiar strands of ad-hoc communities and families weave together.

The film rattles through a car chase and multiple gut-check moments for an ever-braver Dory to a surprisingly goofy conclusion (Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” getting maybe its best off-key usage ever). But even though heartstrings are relentlessly plucked throughout, the effect is not as over-the-top as it easily could have been. This is particularly due to DeGeneres’s uncanny ability to deliver her lines with a simultaneous sincerity and a wry self-deprecating sarcasm that is as winning now as it was 13 years ago.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.