Directors: Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane
Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill
Running time: 97 mins
Release date: July 29th
It’s been twenty-two years since the Pixar ‘Brain Trust’ sat around a table on a lunch break and hashed out the future creative endeavours of the company. The movies that came out of that meeting ensured years of successes, but by the release of 2008’s WALL·E all the ideas were used up. The last few years have therefore seen Pixar returning to the well quite a few times, wringing increasingly mediocre results from their greatest films, with sequels to Toy Story, Monster’s Inc.and – inexplicably – Cars. To the well again then, or rather the ocean this time, to follow up the beloved Finding Nemo and risk tarnishing their legacy yet further. The results, while not quite insulting, make for no classic either.
The first act of Finding Dory essentially retreads the ground of the first movie, catching up with some fan-favourite characters that are apparently doing, saying and feeling the exact same things that they were first time around, riding the current of nostalgia on which the film ultimately sinks or swims. After this initial wave of déjà vu, the film does eventually reach uncharted waters but where it falls short is in restricting itself to comparatively minimal locations. In Finding Nemo it felt like we could go anywhere, the ocean offering a good seventy percent of the planet to explore; this allowed for unimaginable possibilities in relation to settings and characters. In Dory, what we’re offered is a few pools and some tanks connected by some dirty pipes, a feast for neither the imagination nor the eyes. While old favourite characters Nemo and Marlin play second fiddle in a barely necessary B-story, there are new additions voiced by the likes of Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell and the seemingly inescapable Idris Elba to liven things up somewhat. Most of them are pretty one-note, though Ed O’Neill’s octopus Hank stands out as having some depth, accompanying Dory on her journey with sarcastic commentary and some amusing slapstick moments.
One problem with the film is its darkness, seeming mean-spirited when characters bully mentally deficient seals and birds, and twisted in moments that include Dory cheerily chatting to a bucketful of dead fish. Dory as the lead character is really the biggest issue of all; watching her amnesia-fuelled journey feels less like the vaguely worrying comedy device from the original, instead having all the fun of seeing an elderly relative with dementia wandering in the garden at night struggling to remember the names of their children. It almost commits to its grimness in a gut-punch moment that could have rivalled the untouchable beginning of Up, but it gets pulled almost immediately, making the emotion feel forced and disingenuous. Stanton seems comfortable dealing in certain types of darkness, but when presented with the opportunity to give the tale a bleak twist with some genuine emotional resonance, it fails to commit.
Finding Dory, like most of Pixar’s recent output sees the studio on autopilot. It’s a good film, well made, beautiful to look at and might even draw a tear or two. Business as usual, but Inside Out remains the only true flicker of hope that there remains, somewhere, the beautiful and singular originality of the Pixar we once knew. That said, for something a little fresher make sure to arrive early for the short film Piper, a charming tale presented in a more realistic world than we’ve seen Pixar tackle before, and nostalgia hounds should also stay until the end of the credits to catch up with some old friends.