Well, I finally found Dory.
This is actually the first time I've missed a Pixar film on opening weekend since WALL-E, coincidentally another film directed by Andrew Stanton. Life got in the way in this time, though I don't quite remember what held me from seeing WALL-E on opening weekend back in 2008. Anyways... Like my review for Captain America: Civil War, this will be a collaborative review with my good friend, fellow writer, and animation fanatic Munir A. of A113 Animation...
Oh, and as usual... Major spoilers ahoy...
K: So here we are, the newest Pixar sequel... Finding Dory. Like the Toy Story sequels, it takes advantage of the characters and the setting that we loved in the first film, and takes our familiar friends on a new, big adventure. One that develops them and comes with many surprises along the way. Like a good sequel should do.
M: Yes. This film is a worthy companion to the original film and a great film on its own giving Dory a wonderful and heartfelt arc. The thing is, for a long time, Finding Dory was not one of my most anticipated Pixar films at all. But now I think the film is essential.
K: Dory's story arc is particularly special here. Like Woody in Toy Story 2, we learn a thing or two about her backstory. One could argue that her backstory was unnecessary, but it adds a lot of depth to her character. In Finding Nemo she's more than a great deuteragonist, here she wonderfully carries the film without ever outstaying her welcome. This is because in this film, as reported before, she learns to embrace and come to terms with her "problem", her short-term memory loss. As someone who has a disability, I couldn't have been any happier that Pixar chose to do a story that covered this topic. It's complimented by her backstory and how she got separated from her parents, and also enhanced by two faces we meet at the Marine Life Institute - whale shark Destiny and beluga whale Bailey.
M: I love how they handle that. It could've gone very wrong or Dory could've ended up like Mater in Cars 2, with no real character development. I also like that Marlin, despite taking the backseat, had a significant story and didn't end doing a cameo.
K: Marlin and his frustrations with Dory's short-term memory loss, as well as his reluctance to go on another perilous journey, really added to his character. At the same time it works well with the themes exploring Dory's disability, and how she looks at it. He also gets a lot of funny moments, and still has that worrywart in him.
M: Exactly, he also had a significant story even if this time, it wasn't the main one. Let's talk about the short that preceded the film, Piper. After Day & Night, I haven't been completely enthralled with the Pixar shorts. They were enjoyable but nothing else. Piper changed that. Beautiful and simple, the character animation is just spectacular and the story was completely immersive.
K: I liked it a great deal. It was like an animated National Geographic wildlife special, had so much personality, plus it was absolutely gorgeous. Some of the lighting and cinematography stood out, big time. That being said, I wasn't that blown away. For me, Sanjay's Super Team is the best post-2010 short, but I do agree this one beats the likes of La Luna, Blue Umbrella, Lava, et al. Shorts I still liked.
M: I also have enjoyed all the shorts but they were nothing spectacular in my opinion. Particularly Blue Umbrella and Lava, which are too similar to Paperman (still my favorite short from this decade)... Anyways, returning to the film, the supporting characters were great with Hank stealing the show with his grumpy yet good-hearted attitude. That being said, one thing that nagged me was that we never learned why Hank didn't want to return to the ocean. I needed a little more backstory but it's a minor complaint in an otherwise well-written film...
K: I absolutely loved Hank. Not only is he such a compelling and interesting character animation-wise, he just literally pops off the screen. The story team do so much with the fact that he can camouflage, they take full advantage, making for many inventive and thrilling sequences. As for his backstory, I think that simple line about his "bad memories" of the ocean and the fact that he's missing a tentacle was enough for me. Perhaps a detail on what exactly happened would've been nice, but in a way, he's like Marlin in the first film - he has to let go of the fear of going to the ocean, and settles for going there at the end. It's a nice little reprise of those ideas.
M: It's not a big problem but I just wished they would reveal a little bit more. I don't know about you but I feel this film was less epic than Nemo. In that film, they had to cross the ocean and Nemo had to get out of the fish tank. Dory had many thrilling sequences but it was a more quiet film and I like that. The change in tone was a welcome thing.
K: In a way it was still big, but yes, much quieter - I think the fact that the film mostly takes place on land and in one place plays a big part. The Marine Life Institute is gargantuan, but yet most of the action takes place in corners, hallways, specific areas. It's very contained. I appreciated that. And yes, the new tone differentiates it from the first one, so it doesn't feel like a rehash.
M: The use of flashbacks was very well-done as well. It gave us more clues about Dory and her parents and they gave us the chance to see baby Dory often which was extremely cute.
K: It's interesting that the film used flashbacks in this manner. Director Andrew Stanton had wanted to do just that with Finding Nemo, until realizing it wasn't going to work at all - Coral's death was a reveal that would've been obvious. Here, it works, because it lines up with Dory remembering the past and the events that lead up to her separation, we have no idea what happened - making it more unpredictable. Much like how Pixar used discarded Toy Story ideas in the sequels, they do it here too - and it suits the story.
M: Exactly. I also liked how they showed Dory's parents struggle to keep her safe. The part where Jenny is crying, felt really gut-wrenching.
K: That scene is particularly hard-hitting... Their frustrations with Dory's problem come to a head here, and I appreciated that they went as far as having a scene where a parent of someone with a "disability" or "problem" cries about it, or is deeply, vocally upset about it. It's not easy for those parents in real life, even if their frustration-based reactions might be insensitive.
M: It gave the film more depth and it made it more relatable to the audience. Let's talk about the film's gigantic opening weekend!
K: It's about damn time someone unseated the green ogre!
M: I never expected the film to gross that much. I guess I underestimated the people's demand for this film.
K: It didn't beat Shrek the Third adjusted, but I still thought it would at least top that $121m opening weekend gross given how beloved Finding Nemo was and still is, plus the 13-year gap. Never underestimate the nostalgic crowd too!
M: I guess the "we don't want more Pixar sequels" talk is overrated. If the upcoming Pixar sequels are like this, there's nothing to worry about.
K: I see the tides kind of changing on Pixar sequel discussion, given this film's really high quality. A country mile from what the talk and attitude was when Cars 2 and Monsters University came out, and it's good to see the "Pixar is dwindling" and/or "Pixar can't make sequels except Toy Story" talk fade.
M: Yes. Although I feel people are still not holding their breath for Cars 3 but I guess there's more goodwill towards Toy Story 4. Incredibles 2 never suffered any backslash so this film's reception will just make the audience even more eager to see it.
K: You'll never please the Internet when it comes to Cars, even if Cars 3 is really something special, haha. But yes, it's good to see the narrative change a bit.
M: I like how the humor still came from Dory's condition but in a way that it didn't feel like they were mocking her. I also liked how Marlin, despite his worried attitude, used that for humor and also I felt like he was a little more relaxed this time than in Nemo.
K: Yes, it was actually very balanced and tasteful - quite the tightrope walk for the creative team. The humor overall is never overdone here, and it's used so well throughout the pretty adventurous, if at times madcap plot. Thoughts on that third act?
M: I like it although I felt it could be a little bit shorter. The sequence after Dory finds her parents but lose Nemo and Marlin was thrilling but I think it went on too long. A little editing would've made it more effective. But again, it's a minor complaint.
K: I honestly loved every second, but it was really unexpected - for me at least. Finding Nemo had this one big "How are they going to do that?" before the third act in the dentist's office, this movie is full of them and then some... The payoffs are all wonderful, and like I said, some of it took me by surprise!
M: The truck sequence was amazing and hilarious.
K: Pixar really went all out here, just concocting the wildest climax they could think of!
M: Agreed. I just felt it dragged a little but it was thrilling nonetheless.
K: A lot of the Marine Life Institute escapades are a bit bonkers, too, in a good way though! Becky... Becky is one of the best Pixar comic relief characters.
M: She was great. Her relationship with Marlin was a complete riot.
K: The sea lions are especially fun, and do advance the story in ways. And how about the post-credits scene with the Tank Gang's return?
M: The sea lions were great. Their obsession with the rock reminded me of Bubbles and his obsession with, well, bubbles. I loved the post-credits scene. It was a good way to catch up with the tank gang without incorporating them to the story. Although, I'm guessing Gill would not be pleased with their outcome haha.
K: Yep, because having them all be in tow would've been complicated. It was already complicated with three fish navigating a land-based location! Plus, the Tank Gang could go a whole year without food? Haha. I also wonder, jokingly, if that's a sly threequel hook.
M: Escape from the Marine Institute! An action-packed film featuring the tank gang! Haha. Jokes aside, as much as I would've loved to see the tank gang in the film, their story was linked to Nemo and his story was truly done after the first film. We needed characters that felt an emotional attachment to Dory such as Hank and Destiny.
K: I especially loved how Destiny and Bailey were integrated into the story. Hank's awesome, but I love how they expand upon Dory knowing how to speak whale, making it a part of her backstory in such a cool way. Something that was really just one big gag in Nemo, is something really important here - again, a good sequel doing neat things with elements from the original to enhance the story and character development.
M: Agreed. I love how many things that were played for laughs in Nemo, were given more depth in this film, making Dory a more rounded character.
K: All without feeling forced or phoned-in. It really does so much right and then some. So in conclusion...
M: Was Finding Dory necessary? Absolutely not. But, then again most sequels are the same. What truly sets Dory apart, like the Toy Story films, is that it becomes an essential story and companion to the original film. Funny, heartfelt and brimming with creativity and wonderful old and new chatacters, Finding Dory is an absolute blast that will move and enchant audiences from all ages and will become a classic on its own right. Another Pixar winner!
K: Agreed there, what sequel really is necessary? It's what you do with the sequel that counts, and Finding Dory more than justifies its existence. It's not only a fun, big, and at-times bonkers action-adventure on land and underwater, it has a very heartfelt and very forward-thinking central theme, something Hollywood and all their live-action needs to take note from. It's an overall great sequel that has so much to offer. Bravo once again, Pixar!