Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Film Review: Finding Dory

Sexuality/Nudity No Objection
Violence No Objection
Vulgarity No Objection
Anti-Catholic Philosophy No Objection

The best part about this movie is that it has some of the most beautiful representations of patient love I have seen on the big screen.

Finding Dory is the sequel to PIXAR's wildly successful Finding Nemo, a movie about a clown fish father Marlin (Albert Brooks) trying to find his lost son Nemo (Alexander Gould) in the vast ocean with the help forgetful fish Dory (Ellen Degeneres).  This film centers around memory-challenged Dory as she searches for the family she has mostly forgotten.  

The film begins with flashbacks of Dory's childhood and the challenges her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) have in dealing with her special needs.  Dory has short term memory loss and cannot hold on to most of the things she is told.  These flashbacks are some of the most affective in the whole film.  It is amazing to me that a movie about talking fish can capture something so real for so many families.  Dory's parents worry and frustration are real, though masked with great compassion.  And poor Dory knows that something is wrong and it somehow involves her, and yet she is powerless to fix it.  As a teacher, I've come across a number of special needs students who sadly conflate the challenges they face because of their disability with the feeling that "I did something bad."

But when Dory begins to remember fragmented details about her past, she begins a quest to find her parents, this time with Marlin and Nemo (this time voiced by Hayden Rolence) helping.  Along the way they encounter other strange aquatic creatures, not the least of which is Hank (Ed O'Neill), a cynical octopus that makes a perfect foil to the ever-optimistic Dory.  

Visually, the movie is beautiful to watch.  Not only has the PIXAR kicked up the technological side of things, but directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane know how to use it most effectively.  The waterworld they create is alternately magical and malicious.  I was either on the edge of my seat scared (though this may stem more from my fear of the ocean instilled in my from Jaws) or wide-eyed with delight.

Thematically, the movie is very strong in the above-mentioned area of special needs.  It surprisingly does not sugarcoat the challenge.  Dory IS frustrating at times and this has consequences.  But the movie does a wonderful job of showing others not only must help Dory, but Dory as she is helps teach others.  The phrase "What Would Dory Do" becomes almost a mantra of the film.

(I know that there may be some concerns from some parents as the internet was awash with rumors about lesbian couples and transgendered fish.  But honestly, there is nothing like that from what I saw in the movie at all.)

And the movie does a fantastic job of building on earlier elements in the story so that the payoffs work.  This is particularly true in what the film does with sea shells.  I won't spoil it, but what I saw from a purely visual storytelling standpoint moved me very deeply.

The biggest detriment the movie has is that it lacks a feeling of freshness.  It has been 13 years since Finding Nemo, but this feels like it should have been made ten years ago.  Whereas the Toy Story films kept adding scope and dimension, this film feels about on par with the original, but seems more of a rehash with the characters roles reversed.  This doesn't make the movie bad in any way.   But because it has a tad of the "been-there-done-that" feel, some of the film's effectiveness, especially in humor, is lessened.

But if you are looking for a good summer movie to see with the whole family that will reinforce the values of love, patience, and courage, you will find it with Dory.

4 out of 5 stars.

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