Animated Sequel Swims Into Your Heart
DIRECTORS: ANDREW STANTON AND ANGUS MACLANE/2016
While Pixar has turned out sequels to their most beloved franchise, Toy Story, they have largely resisted sequels until their merger with Disney. Besides Toy Story, Cars 2 was their first attempt in trying to follow up previous success. That was received with a lukewarm response, but now, sequels and world building are in. In recent years we have gone back to the world of Monsters, Inc. to see the college years of Mike and Sully in Monsters University. Despite having a more obvious sequel-potential franchise with The Incredibles, Pixar has decided to dip their fins back into the oceanic world of Finding Nemo.
Ellen Degeneres returns as everyone’s favorite memory-challenged fish, Dory, who last helped Marlin (Albert Brooks) find his son Nemo in the first film, Finding Nemo, which was 13 years ago. Now, we find our story picking up 1 year after Nemo’s rescue from the Australian Dentist’s office where Nemo was about to be gifted to one terrible child, the Dentist’s niece. Dory has settled in with Marlin and Nemo, and has become a part of their community, until she suddenly remembers some details of her life as a child, and the parents she had forgotten about. The story then is a search, not so much for Dory, but for the past family she had forgotten she had.
While Finding Nemo was more of a cross-ocean adventure, where a fearful clown fish forced himself out of his comfort zone, willing to do it all for the love of his son, Finding Dory chooses to dispense with such travel fairly shortly and instead focus on one main set piece, the Marine Life Institute, a large marine rescue center and aquarium where Sigourney Weaver’s presence is front and center in this theme park/hospital and where fish and ocean mammals find a second chance for rehabilitation, restoration and release.
Finding Dory is set up to be a separate story and sequel to Finding Nemo, but it can be best viewed as more of a companion piece to the original story, continuing the narrative threads established in the first film in order to bring closure to anything left unsaid. It is easily a commentary on family and community, but also becomes a film about disabilities, affirming that such disabilities do not have to define one’s ability to accomplish great things.
To bolster this and to reach out to audience members with disabilities, Disney is offering new technology (which they first did through their Disney Movies Anywhere (DMA) app a few months ago) for fans of the film who also have visual disabilities. Fans with low-vision, and who are blind, can now sit alongside every other fan in the theater with a smart-synching audio description that narrates important on-screen action for those who can’t always follow along visually. This app allows theater goers to ditch the burdensome gear that can usually only be found at a limited number of theaters, and allows one’s iPhone or iPad, with some ear-buds, to transform the movie going experience of some 21 million Americans who are blind or visually impaired.
Disney is actively seeking to reach out and include a whole audience of people who have, up to this point, been limited in their ability to be a part of this ocean-going movie world, and sought to not only give them an experience they have never had before, but to also put their money where their animated mouth is by using their characters to send an empowering message that all audience members can take home with them. From a 7-legged Octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill), a beluga whale with sonar problems named Bailey (Ty Burrell), to a shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) suffering from vision issues, Finding Dory gives each new character a depth that allows them to contribute to the overall heart of the story, without ever fixating on each character’s deficiency. In Dory’s world, everyone is unique and valued.
Ellen Degeneres has found a way to carry the heart she has on her daily talk show, and through her public persona, back to a character she first embodied 13 years ago, providing Dory with even more relevance today. It is that pure-heart that Dory possesses that is infectious to all of the supporting cast we find in this new film. While each of these characters comedically play their disabilities to laughs, Disney/Pixar’s film never makes them the object of humor. We are invited to laugh with them, not at them, and with Dory’s can-do optimism and ability to “just keep swimming”, we find that even in weakness we can turn any such weakness into a great strength to help others when we work together.
Finding Dory is a worthy sequel to Finding Nemo. While not living up fully to the adventure and fun of the first film, Finding Dory never suffers from being less than its predecessor in terms of its heart and message. Its humor is timely and fun, and the visuals were impressive, especially in IMAX 3D. Fans of the original will find delight in this follow-up, and will fall in love with the new characters, while still getting to revisit a few of their favorites from Finding Nemo along the way. Make sure you stay all the way through the credits for a fun connection back to the first film, and a possible way forward should we be talking about a threequel in the future. Finding Dory and the ocean it swims in is deep, and satisfying….even Sigourney Weaver will think so!