2003's Finding Nemo remains one of Pixar's most beloved films, nearly as much as their Toy Story trilogy. But one thing it didn't do was demand a sequel, at least not story-wise. What were they going to do? Have Nemo get lost all over again? It's a big ocean out there but is daddy Marlin (Albert Brooks) really that incompetent? Fortunately, Pixar has found a way to craft a natural follow-up with Finding Dory, by centering the story on everyone's favorite forgetful Blue Tang voiced by Ellen Degeneres.
One of the great joys of Finding Dory is that every character you loved will be just as dear to your heart as before. The title is both accurate and a little misleading. While Dory does get separated from her friends, young Nemo (now voiced by Hayden Rolence) and his alarmist father Marlin, the story is mainly about her quest to find someone. That would be her parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy, who plays everyone's Dad in everything), the memory of which re-emerges suddenly during a stingray-led field trip at Nemo's school. The flashes of recall instill in her a sense of loss she's never felt before, something Marlin can certainly relate to, which is why he and Nemo agree to aid Dory on her search across the big, wide, beautiful ocean.
One of the amazing things about Pixar is their ability to make so many supporting characters that could easily be lead characters. Finding Dory is literally teeming with them. When Dory ends up at the Marine Life Institute (where Sigourney Weaver has the best running gag), a place she remembers as part of her childhood, she is met by a number of new friends, some perkier than others, who will aid in her journey. Ed O'Neill voices Hal, a sourpuss of an octopus whose sole goal is to hitch a ride to Cleveland and a tank all his own. She also becomes pals with a hilarious whale duo, Bailey (Ty Burrell) the beluga with a broken sonar, and whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) whose near-sightedness has her banging into walls at every turn. Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo get help from a pair of sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West, total The Wire reunion!!!) with boundary issues. All are colorful, fun, and add to the film's familial spirit and belief in a connected ecosystem.
Returning director Andrew Stanton and co-writer Victoria Strouse take a deeper dive into comedy this time around, with most of the supporting cast getting the biggest laughs. That's not to say you won't feel a little misty over Dory's sad past; it's just that the story moves along so quickly there isn't time to dwell. Along with more laughs there is also more action, although Stanton and Co. pump in a little too much in the overdone, ridiculously over-the-top finale. One "narrow escape" is enough, but two or three? Not necessary.
Dory's characterization largely remains the same, which is great, and refreshingly her short term memory loss isn't depicted as a debilitating handicap. It's still mostly used for jokes, but also gives Dory a unique outlook that gets her out of jams. Don't be surprised if "What would Dory do?" becomes a thing all of the kids are saying.
Pixar has built up such a phenomenal resume of original films that every sequel will be compared to one another. It's not really fair so let's avoid doing that this time. Finding Dory has the same heart, charm, memorable characters and gorgeous undersea visuals as its predecessor, so don't be afraid to dive in and enjoy it.
Rating: 4 out of 5