In Finding Dory, there are such large reserves of genuine warmth and residual goodwill towards the classic characters introduced in Finding Nemo (2003) that you spend most of the running time grinning like a loon and walk out of the cinema with aching cheeks. It helps that there are plenty LOLz throughout the film and I found my cinema audience frequently guffawing in the way they just didn’t during, say, Absolutely Fabulous The Movie (2016).
What both Finding films succeed at so gloriously is in providing endless amounts of razzle-dazzle for the little ’uns, but also making grown-ups giggle at characters and situations that are super-silly, yet make you feel part of the silliness and not a detached spectator. Like being a kid again, in fact. That’s magic right there. And it’s the sort of magic that Pixar Animation Studios have established as their stock in trade for decades now.
Released by parent company Disney, Finding Dory immerses us in exactly what is promised: an adventure to recover the memory-addled ditzy ADHD tang fish (a hilarious Ellen DeGeneres) from the fictional California Marine Life Institute, but also an origin story to trace Dory’s history, and in so doing imbue the character with even greater heart and a previously uncharted depth.
The exceptional CGI animation team knows not to mess with a good thing, so the gentle, soft, squishy and tactile nature of the original style remains intact: foam, flecks, sprays, whirls, rushes and eddies of water play around our fishy friends, while refracted light in a thousand variations lends texture and atmosphere to their watery environs. Tiny light and plankton particles play on the periphery, barely noticeable, but just there enough to make this world seem real.
Dory’s rescue party is of course her clown-fish family, dad Marlin (nervy and anxious Albert Brooks) and son Nemo (gung-ho enthusiastic Hayden Rolence – not the original voice artist, but then after 13 years that would have been tricky; Hayden instead voices a truck passenger this time round). But once Dory arrives at the institute, she also meets a whole new cast of oddballs just as vibrant and entertaining as Bruce the shark or Crush the sea turtle in the original film. Chief among these are Hank the seven-tentacled octopus (an aloof but endearing Ed O’Neill – Jay from Modern Family); Destiny the nearsighted whale shark (a sweet but goofy Kaitlin Olson); and Bailey the beluga whale (another Modern Family alumnus, Ty Burrell, who somehow manages to make a whale sexy … maybe that’s just because I knew it was Ty Burrell).
Also worth mentioning is the Idris Elba/Dominic West double act of two crabby sea lions whose territorial “Orf! Orf! Orf!” to protect “their” rock recalls the loony seagulls’ covetous “Mine! Mine! Mine!” from Finding Nemo.
There are frequent nods to the original film’s characters, but never to the extent that it overwhelms the new and fresh – only enough to enhance the feeling of familiarity. The message – there always has to be one, doesn’t there? – is about overcoming disability or personal shortcomings, and finding the strengths that help you to triumph over the things that hold you back. That this message never feels heavy-handed is a special magic trick all of its own.
Once you’ve picked through the weaknesses and strengths of our protagonists, the feeling of identification with the characters is so strong you’d be hard-pressed to find live-action films that deliver the same amount of emotional fuzzy.
Slap on top of this a good old-fashioned feel that pretty much eschews glorifying rampant technology, and it’s “romp” with a capital R. Stay till the end of the credits to spot the gang from Finding Nemo’s dentist office aquarium.