There are enough laughs in “Finding Dory” to justify Disney wanting a sequel to “Finding Nemo,” one of the most successful animated films of all time. And there’s enough heart and smarts to warrant Pixar making it.
A message-heavy action comedy about the short-term memory loss sidekick of “Nemo,” Dory the blue tang, “Dory” is about her search the family she lost and almost forgot she had.
It’s built around Dory’s “special needs,” in the current parlance, and about her special gifts, too. Fewer jokes revolve around Dory’s disability, and the perfect timing of the woman who voices her, Ellen DeGeneres, who rose to fame with a clever if distracted act described by the line, “My point, and I DO have one.”
A flashback shows Dory’s childhood, when she first memorized “I have short-term memory loss,” and “Just keep swimming.” Mom and Dad (Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy) drilled those into her. In their way, they were the first to under-estimate the “helpless” fish who could get lost between the time she started a sentence and the time she didn’t quite finish it.
Dory’s been living with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his one-bum-fin kid Nemo (Hayden Roylence) for years. Everybody on the reef has learned to work-around her little problem. It takes a village, after all.
But a memory stirs — Dory did come from SOMEwhere, after all. And someone.
She’s got to find her folks. All she remembers is a phrase — “The Jewel of Morro Bay.” She needs to travel there. Nemo is raring to go. Marlin? Not so much.
“The only reason to travel is so you never have to travel again.”
Their adventures get them separated. Dory has to rely on her own work-arounds and a lot of blind luck. “WWWDD” is her new motto — “What would Dory Do?” Having a wonky memory makes her impulsive, but it’s those impulses that get her to a seaquarium she has glimpses of in her memory.
New characters she encounters include sea lions (Idris Elba, Dominic West), a chameleoid octopus (Ed O’Neill), a beluga whale (Ty Burrell) and a near-sighted basking shark (Kaitlin Olson).
“Dory” is a more downbeat movie that drags, here and there. And a lot of the snap has gone out of DeGeneres’ “What was the first part again?” We’re not meant to giggle at her shortcomings.
The seven-tentacled octopus has a glum worldview that matches the tone of the picture.
“You’re lucky. No memory, no problems.”
An early squid chase is the only real fright flung at the littlest kids, and the big chase finale has a backward slap at Sea World in its subtext.
Pixar’s productions long ago lost their “can’t miss” sheen, and “Dory” is closer to “Brave” than “Inside Out” in appeal and quality. That’s still a long way from “Monsters University” and “The Good Dinosaur.”
And the prologue cartoon — a photo-realistic seaside short about a baby wading bird titled “Piper” — is here to remind us that when they sometimes not only get it right, they get it Pixar perfect .
MPAA Rating: PG for mild thematic elements
Cast: The voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Idris Elba, Diane Keaton, Ty Burrell, Kaitlin Olson, Sigourney Weaver
Credits: Directed by Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane, script by Andrew Stanton. A Disney Pixar release.
Running time: 1:49