DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
Thirteen years ago, Pixar had one of its biggest hits with Andrew Stanton's "Finding Nemo" featuring the voices of Albert Brooks as a fish in search of his wayward son and Ellen DeGeneres as his sidekick, Dory. In the sequel, "Finding Dory," DeGeneres' memory-challenged fish searches for the parents she barely remembers. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: Building a movie on a one-joke sidekick - Dory, the fish with short-term memory loss - is risky. And the first 20 minutes of the fish odyssey "Finding Dory" made me doubt the risk would pay off. It's a formulaic start for the normally unformulaic (ph) Pixar. But then, the studio's peculiar genius kicks in, and suddenly all is right under the sea.
It helps if you don't expect this one to be too much like "Finding Nemo," which was wonderfully complete. That movie began horribly - a massacre in which the clownfish Marlin lost his family, apart from one son. Predictably, he overprotected that son. And predictably, that son, Nemo, leapt at the chance to be independent. What followed was scary, painful and emotionally knotty but also hilarious thanks to a great script and the vocal pairing of Albert Brooks as the semi-hysterical Marlin and Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, his sweet, befuddled companion.
Don't expect anything like a massacre kicking off "Finding Dory." It's a gentler, cuter opening - too cute for my taste. Dory is a big-eyed little fish. Her eyes are as big as her head. And her doting parents are teaching her to navigate a world in which disorientation for her is the rule. Of course, Dory is fated to lose her parents and much of her identity. But the movie doesn't show you how she became separated from them until later, filling in what happened as she remembers it. That makes for a big payoff down the road but a perfunctory start.
Picking up a year after "Finding Nemo," Dory has a flashback - the remembrance triggered not by a madeleine but a stingray migration.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FINDING DORY")
ELLEN DEGENERES: (As Dory) My family - I remember my family. They're out there somewhere. I have to find them. Guys, you got to help me, guys, guys - hello? Guys, where are you?
ALBERT BROOKS: (As Marlin) Dory.
DEGENERES: (As Dory) Hello?
BROOKS: (As Marlin) Dory.
DEGENERES: (As Dory) Ahh. Where did you go?
BROOKS: (As Marlin) You were the one to go.
DEGENERES: (As Dory) My parents - I remembered them.
HAYDEN ROLENCE: (As Nemo) Wait, what did you remember?
DEGENERES: (As Dory) I remembered them - my mom, my dad. I have a family. They don't know where I am. Let's go. We have to go...
BROOKS: (As Marlin) Dory, no, no - this is crazy. Where exactly are you trying to go?
DEGENERES: (As Dory) To the gem of the - Baltic...
HAYDEN: (As Nemo) The Jewel of Morro Bay, Calif.
DEGENERES: (As Dory) Yes.
BROOKS: (As Marlin) No, Dory, California's all the way across the ocean.
DEGENERES: (As Dory) Then we better get going.
BROOKS: (As Marlin) How come every time we're on the edge of this reef one of us is trying to leave? For once, can't we just enjoy the view?
DEGENERES: (As Dory) How can you be talking about the view when I remembered my family?
BROOKS: (As Marlin) No, no - we've done our ocean travels. That part of our lives is over. The only reason to travel in the first place is so you don't have to travel ever again.
DEGENERES: (As Dory) Yeah but I want to...
DAVIES: Albert Brooks' Marlin is a party pooper in that scene and Ellen DeGeneres' Dory - so scattered that I got a little bored. My mind went to dumb places, like wondering why a fish would know the distance to California or speak English or know how to read.
But directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane have a lot up their sleeve - so much I'm willing to proclaim it the biggest, busiest and best sleeve in the business. The movie kicks into gear when Dory gets to California, to a rescue-and-rehab aquarium modeled on an actual one in Monterey Bay. As she finds her way around - she can read signs and maps - that aquarium becomes a stage - really, multiple stages - for the kind of slapstick set pieces that reduce audiences to puddles of laughter. By the end, my stomach muscles were aching.
How does a fish travel among the complex's many buildings on land? Courtesy of the most marvelous new character, Hank, voiced by Ed O'Neill. He's an octopus - make that a septopus (ph) - his term - since he lost an arm in an accident he's still sore about. Hank is a selfish loner who doesn't think he can survive if he's returned to the ocean. On land, though, he's super resourceful. He can turn any color, slither anywhere, steer any vehicle. I can't do justice to the joy of watching him zigzag in a baby carriage with Dory balanced in a bowl on his lap. The animation is as witty as the dialogue, and Hank is the most delightfully dexterous creature since Bugs Bunny - with three extra limbs to play with.
It's a little jarring that "Finding Dory" gets a lot of comic mileage out of disability - Dory's, obviously, but also a perpetually disoriented whale shark named Destiny, a Beluga named Bailey with no faith in his radar and a seriously brain-damaged bird. But since everyone triumphs over his or her weakness, you could call "Finding Dory" inspirational. At times, it's something deeper. You see the world through Dory's eyes - spinning, objects dissolving along with her memories, a world with nothing to hang onto.
Is it finally as deep as "Finding Nemo?" Maybe not. But it's like the kiddie pool of your childhood dreams. You never want to stop splashing.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
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