Childhood and the very act of being human involves a certain level of loneliness. The great news is, you can make money off it. For close to 80 years, if you go by Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs making history in 1937, all sorts of feature animation have preyed on the fears, insecurities and isolating circumstances of growing up. The best Pixar features, such as those from Pixar’s parent company, Disney, have exploited that loneliness brilliantly, and the lesser Pixars have tried to do the same.
Finding Dory, the satisfying follow-up to 2003’s Finding Nemo, amplifies the defining characteristic — short-term memory loss — of the blue tang fish voiced, then and now, with subtle warmth and unerring comic timing by Ellen DeGeneres.
What began as comic gold, with a delicate, bittersweet undercurrent, is now a sensitively handled disability. Flashbacks to Dory’s childhood (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton voice Dory’s parents) reveal her barely recalled family life as an enviable and loving one. Finding Dory, which more accurately would be titled Nemo and Marlin Help Dory Find Her Folks, manages to raise its newly central character’s emotional stakes without wiping out the comedy altogether.
Finding Dory takes place a year after Finding Nemo. Dory fin-twists, gently, Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) into aiding her search for the parents she only periodically recalls. The quest takes the trio to the coast of California and the Marine Life Institute, based visually on the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
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There, Dory meets her newest comrades. They include the misanthropic but redeemable “septopus” (octopus minus one tentacle) named Hank, voiced by Ed O’Neill, whose mission in life is not to leave captivity but to stay in it. Beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) and whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) join forces, and they’re pleasant comic company.
The visual personality of the movie is vivid and bright; the story itself, less so. Too much of the action is confined to the marine institute and on dry land. There’s a typically complex and inventive action climax for a Pixar project, this one all around the hills and highways of what appears to be the coastal Bay Area. The open ocean is the reward for Dory, along with reuniting with her parents, and I felt slightly jerked around in getting to the reward part.
Still, we’re a long way from the sequel contrivances of a Cars 2 or Monsters University. Will we ever again hit the Pixar heights of the early 21st century? Who knows. And technically it’s still early in the century.
Rated PG for mild thematic elements. 1:43. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond, Winchester, Woodhill.