When approaching this review, all I needed to ask myself was–what would Dory do? She’d ignore the mediocre trailers, for a start; Finding Dory is as good as if not slightly better than Finding Nemo. It’s taken the heart of the first movie and ramped up the characters’ personas, action and most importantly the emotions. In movie time, Finding Dory takes place just one year after the original Pixar classic. In real time it’s 14 years later and CGI has improved a lot. Finding Dory looks sharper, with so much more going on compared to the original. The virtual camera swoops past so many fish it’s a wonderful sight. That said, it’s not as good as the Pixar short that runs before the movie.
The short is called Piper and it’s about sandpipers, small birds that mostly eat at the tidal line, either wading or dodging the waves to get at food. In it we meet a baby piper who is learning to feed themselves for the first time, encouraged by their watchful parent. The little piper makes a mistake and is hit by a large wave and then has to overcome their fear of the water. It’s cute and funny, one of the best Pixar shorts for quite some time. If you’re an animation fan like me then it’s worth the price of admission just to see this short on the big screen.
As well as ignoring the Finding Dory trailers, you also have to ignore Ellen DeGeneres, who continues to be a jerk to transgender people. Before the movie’s release she was joking around about a transgender stingray–“We have a stingray that become a sting-Rhonda”–and people started wondering if Finding Dory could be considered a film with trans representation. All trans people started panicking about cis-written trans representation and hoping that it wasn’t a mess. It turns out that this was another of Ellen’s jokes made in poor taste at the trans community’s expense–her third in recent years. I wish Ellen cared about transgender people but her repeated behavior says she doesn’t–however, you can see this movie without worrying about encountering any bad trans jokes.
The trailer showed two women together and many people assumed from their looks, proximity and body language that they were lesbians. The official word came down from Disney-Pixar that they could be ‘whatever you want them to be’–straight coding for ‘yes, but we’re not going to say.’ Very disappointing, Disney. I’d certainly ship them but it’s frustrating that we have to rely on body language and looks instead of Disney just saying ‘Yes, they happen to be lesbian.’ The couple gets a small cute scene with Hank the septapus (as they have seven legs not eight) and Dory–which conveniently brings us to the best part of Finding Dory. Each of the characters is disabled in some way, and through perseverance or with the help of their friends the characters overcome their perceived limitations and triumph–aside from Marlin, who is really just kind of a jerk (though he does kind of overcome that too).
I’ve not seen a kids’ movie that is so overtly positive towards disabled characters as Finding Dory is and I love it. All the new characters inside the marine rescue centre (based on Vancouver Aquarium) have some form of disability. These new characters include the aforementioned Hank (Ed O’Neill), the sea lions Rudder and Fluke (Dominic West and Idris Elba – though there is disappointingly no mention of the Pacific Rim breach), Destiny the whale shark (Kaitlin Olson), Bailey the beluga whale (Ty Burrell) and lastly Becky the loon bird. Becky is by far the best of the new characters and although she’s not in many scenes and doesn’t even speak she steals every scene she’s in. Becky forever. Through flashback we also get to meet the young Dory, who is just so cute I swear she’s eighty percent eyeballs, and her parents Charlie and Jenny (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton). It’s great seeing Dory’s parents be so supportive and work with her to provide strategies to manage her short-term memory loss.
The plot is a little circular but works well–this is no Cars 2. It’s more Toy Story 2, a sequel that works. Dory remembers she was born at the rescue centre and convinces Marlin and Nemo to help her find her parents and cross the ocean once again. With the help of some familiar turtles and a sequence right out of Finding Nemo we’re then at the rescue centre where ‘Finding Nemo’ is dropped in favor of ‘Finding Dory’. How does a fish navigate the dry land? With difficulty and the help of her friends but mostly a septapus, a coffee pot, a sippy cup and some fountains. It’s pipework that saves the day–and as a result, the latter part of the film is not so bright and colorful as the characters swim through pipes and the polluted bay.
Reviews that are saying this movie is a reworking of the first are missing the point. Yes, the opening act is familiar, but this is a kids’ movie and it establishes a comfortable world that anyone who has seen Finding Nemo will recognize. The movie then goes off on a potentially complex tangent, so without the groundwork kids would find this movie a lot more confusing. Finding Dory isn’t about physically finding someone, unlike the first. The purpose is more abstract; this movie is about Dory finding herself. About Hank overcoming anger and self loathing. About Bailey believing in themselves after a head injury and Destiny daring to act even though she can barely see. It’s a little deeper and more complex yet still kid friendly.
Finding Dory is a great addition to Pixar’s movie history; it’s far better than their last movie, The Good Dinosaur. It’s also a step up from the earlier Monsters University and Pixar’s nadir Cars 2. I hope this is the level of quality we can expect from Toy Story 4, Cars 3 and the one I’m most excited about: Incredibles 2. I wasn’t sure about Pixar’s jump into sequels but generally speaking they are doing a better job than their parent company. Finding Dory is a fun movie with a positive message and it’s well-worth going to see. (Oh, and stay right to the end of the closing credits for a great nod back to more characters from the original Finding Nemo.)
Marcy (@marcyjcook) is an immigrant trans woman and writer. This includes Transcanuck.com, a website dedicated to informing and helping trans Canadians. She also has a nerd job, too many cats, is a part time volunteer sex educator and has an ongoing sordid love affair with Lego. Those last two are not related… probably.
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