Martin W. Bender
Today I took the kids up to Statesboro to watch Finding Dory. I hadn’t looked at any reviews or seen trailers for the film, but I knew the general story line: the gang from the first movie try to find Dory. Simple enough.
What I didn’t know was how much the story would develop the fairly one-dimensional character from the first film. Let’s face it, Finding Nemo is half coming of age story, half rescue mission. Imagine a Pixar produced mashup of Stand by Me and Taken. Dory does little more in the original than provide comic relief and an alternative perspective to nudge Marlin away from his tendency toward pessimism to a more optimistic view of the world. Finding Dory takes a decidedly different approach to storytelling, focusing almost solely on Dory with little help from Marlin and Nemo. In fact, Marlin and Nemo essentially become the damsel in distress to be rescued by Dory and her newly found friends. This significant difference keeps the story fresh and avoids the pitfalls of what could have easily been a simple rehash of the original.
Finding Dory feels more like a detective story than a rescue mission. Dory begins her search prompted by dreams of her parents and finds that her short term memory loss seems to be helped by having some family stability in her life. The journey she took between being lost and finding Marlin is exceptionally tragic and terrifying. The imagery of her being alone in the vast ocean is startlingly bleak, both in the scenes where she is a child and later as an adult. My sweet little daughter cried as Dory found herself alone in deep trying desperately to remember where she was and what she was doing. This makes her relationship with her parents and friends all the more important and real for the movie goer. There is a true sense of dread in the film that rivals many modern horror movies. In fact, if one were to remove the shells at the end of the second act it would be a horror film.
The film works so well because it plays on a different set of fears than the original. In Finding Nemo the great fear is the loss of family. This is seen in both the death of Nemo’s mother as well as the kidnapping. In Finding Dory the great fear is the loss of self, as Dory only understands who she is within the context of her relationships. This is why it is so satisfying to see her develop relationships wherever she goes. Certainly, she needs Hank, Destiny, and other’s help to get around the aquarium, but working with them helps her to remain on task to regain that sense of self she loses as a result of her condition. Her continual search for community reflects humanity’s innately social nature and forces consideration of the communal nature of human interaction.
In a world where sequels are so often an attempt to make a second pile of money using the success of the original film, Finding Dory stands soundly on its own as an exceptional character study. The use of 3D avoided the temptation of having random objects flying at the screen and instead simply adds a field of depth that gives the viewer the experience of looking into an actual aquarium. Generally, I don’t like 3D, but Pixar used the technology well to fully immerse the audience in its undersea landscape. The animation is stellar and the short, Piper, shown before the film shows just how incredible animation and 3D technology has become since Avatar made 3D viable.
Finding Dory is an exceptional film. I loved it. I may go see it again tomorrow.