Good fun? Yes. A classic? No. Destined to be overrated? Probably.
See also: Toy Story 3 (aye, I went there)
Following a half-decade lull post-2010, real deal Pixar films are once again coming thick and fast. Hot on the heels of the exceptional Inside Out (and the production-hell-hindered, The Good Dinosaur) comes the latest offering, Andrew Stanton’s Finding Dory – a sequel to the director’s 2003 masterpiece, Finding Nemo. Before I get too deep into proceedings, let’s first take a look back at the history of the Pixar sequel (/ prequel)…
Between 1995 and 2009, Pixar produced a single sequel: Toy Story 2. Just about superior to the original (controversial, I know), it is easily one of the finest follow ups in cinematic history, let alone the world of family animation. For years, it appeared as though Lasseter and co. were determined to avoid the temptation to revisit their former, all-conquering glories. Over the next four years, however, Pixar released three character continuations in quick succession: Toy Story 3 (2010), Cars 2 (2011), and Monsters University (2013), with three more due by 2019 (verses one brand new feature) in the form of Cars 3, Toy Story 4, and The Incredibles 2. I think it’s fair to say the emphasis on originality has shifted…
Looking back briefly on the pattern of those released recently; while I’m not here to debate TS3 in any great detail, I’ll still provoke probably everyone reading this by suggesting that, while a great flick in its own right, it lacks behind 1 and 2 in the originality stakes, partly due to plot devices borrowed liberally from its predecessor (toy left by the side of the road, a “alternate” Buzz hindering the gang etc.). MU and C2, on the other hand, were clearly designed with the intention of drifting toward the less complex, ever-shiny spectrum that is the child-heavy audience. Not that there’s anything wrong with such an approach in theory (Pixar has always targeted all ages) or practicality (Cars itself was more of a visual feast than anything else, whilst going down the prequel route with MU thankfully saved it from being taken too seriously).
So, where does Finding Dory fit into this overly serious, I-should-really-be-in-bed cinematic analysis? The answer is somewhere in the middle. Stanton has earned the right to do pretty much whatever he likes, so it’s no surprise he was permitted to run with his idea for a Nemo sequel when he came up with it back in 2012. However, there was always a hint of risk involved from a legacy point of view, mainly because Nemo featured not only one of the most impressive leaps forward in CGI animation at the time, but was also positively overflowing with strong, heartfelt writing, consistent wit, and timeless characters. Even as a cynical, I’ll-no-doubt-roll-my-eyes-at-this fourteen-year-old, I fucking loved it, and had no doubts that it would go down as a classic.
As with the first two Toy Story films, Nemo ended in a manner that in no way required or even prompted a sequel, particularly more than ten years down the line. On top of that – when taking into account the aforementioned nature of C2 and MU – Dory is the first “true”, or, perhaps more accurately, “big” non-Toy Story Pixar sequel. So, in some ways (well, not many; Rotten Tomatoes and the box office were always going to love it), the pressure was on (if internet nerds typing can be classed as pressure).
The reason I’m labouring over more of a history lesson type-theme here – rather than actually reviewing Finding Dory – is that I don’t have a great deal else to say about the picture itself. Indeed, merely finding Dory’s place within my loving deconstruction of the minor footnote in time that is the Pixar sequel/prequel goes a long way to summing up my thoughts. There’s plenty of genuine laughs and effective tug-at-those-heartstrings emotion, but the writing has nowhere near the depth (these puns are gloriously easy) or subtlety of the original. It’s also basically essential for the viewer to have seen Nemo, based on the shallow introduction and numerous callbacks / in-jokes present thereafter. Usually, I wouldn’t have much of a problem with this, but, for a movie aimed at kids (some of whom may not have gotten around to the original just yet), it feels like cutting corners a little bit. Kids aren’t stupid, so don’t make them feel so (again, the Toy Story sequels make for a good comparison – both stand up extremely well on their own). The returning characters come across a tad worn and / or shoehorned in to a certain extent, while the new creations are hit and miss (thankfully Ed O’Neill’s lead newcomer – Hank the Octopus – is a masterful creation and the highlight by some distance…maybe his relentless cynicism hit close to home). The score, too, was a bit of a disappointment. Not bad, but not exactly memorable.
Despite these faults, I’m not saying Dory is weak or not worth seeing; far from it. It’s well paced, to the point, and really rather good fun. Plus, as you’d expect, it looks fantastic. Rather, despite being the Pixar follow up that comes closest to TS3’s all round magnitude, it still reaches down to the colourfully casual, just-keep-swimming attitude of C2 and MU, leaving us, as I said, somewhere in the middle in terms of overall quality. I’d still recommend it to any and everyone who’s a fan of the original (so, basically any and everyone who’s seen it). Indeed, if you’re familiar with Nemo and friends, then I doubt you need my, or anyone else’s recommendation to give Dory a go. All the same, think of Dory as a decent cup of mulled wine; it’s unlikely you’ll remember it in great detail down the road, but in that moment it’ll warm your heart and put a genuine smile on your face.