Finding Dory

Finding Dory is a 2016 computer-animated comedy family film starring Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolance, Ed O’Neil, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, and Gene Levy. It is a sequel to the 2003 film Finding Nemo. Finding Dory  was directed by Andrew Stanton, the director of Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Lifeand Wall-EStanton also wrote the films he has directed, as well as writing all three of the Toy Story films and Monsters, Inc. He also provides several small roles in various Pixar films, including the bug that gets zapped in A Bug’s Life, Emperor Zurg in Toy Story 2, Fred in Cars, and most notably Crush the Sea Turtle in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory.

Whereas almost all of Pixar’s original films are great (I say almost having not yet seen The Good Dinosaur), the sequels are a mixed bag. In fact, the only Pixar sequels that are good are the Toy Story franchise. Cars 2 was a wreck and Monsters University was a forgettable film that crapped all over the original by being a prequel rather than a sequel and telling a boring story that didn’t really need to be told. My theory is that the Toy Story sequels are successful and good because, unlike the other sequels, Toy Story seems to have made an effort to keep the original behind the scenes crew on board, especially Stanton, who seems to be Pixar’s ace in the hole. On a side note, I hope my theory proves correct with The Incredibles 2 and the decision to keep the wonderfully talented and artistically varied Brad Bird on as director and writer of both the story and the screenplay (as he was with the original) is an indicator that the film will be just as incredible as the original.

Finding Nemo came out in 2003, when I was 8 years old, and it was awesome. It was great like all of Pixar’s original films, it seems. I still get enjoyment out of it to this day. A year later, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie came out, which was also great.In 2015, Spongebob Squarepants: A Sponge Out of Water premiered… and RUINED MY CHILDHOOD!!!! SOILED IT!!!! I do not remember seeing a worse movie that year, or at least a movie that angered me on such a deep level. That film took the best TV series of my young life… and crushed it. So thanks… thanks for nothing.

Full disclosure, I have the first three seasons of Spongebob Squarepants on my hard drive to watch at my viewing pleasure. Fair warning, as a vehement defender of Spongebob circa 1999-2005, I am going to go off on a tangent completely unrelated to Finding Dory.

Spongebob Squarepants was created by oceanographer and animator Stephen Hillenburg. Hillenburg and a few others also single-handedly wrote the episodes. The series was a smash hit that took the world by storm and is to this day ingrained in pop culture. The series was so huge, they made a film in 2005. This was meant to be the end of the series, but the movie was too huge, so Nickelodeon had to keep Spongebob going, much to Hillenburg’s dismay. So they fired him and all the original writers, so now instead of having brilliant jokes like this….

Spongebob now has no jokes at all and has turned into an unwatchable piece of crap. Spongebob 2006-present is god-awful, but 1999-2005 was the best thing ever for my generation, and I will defend it to the death.

I’ve heard very good things about Finding Dory, but after the travesty of Sponge Out of Water, I had a healthy sense of skepticism. That skepticism, as well as knowing full well I would have to deal with a multitude of small children in the theater (I understand it’s a kids movie, I’m just REALLY not a fan of kids) is honestly why I have been dragging my feet to see this movie.

Luckily, this movie is amazing. In many ways, it was even better than Finding Nemo. As is usual for Pixar, the film opened with a short called PiperBoth Piper and Finding Dory were breathtakingly and painstakingly animated. I’m going to nerd out here, fair warning, but we have gotten to the point were computer animation can render individual grains of sand!!! That is amazing! Also the feather effects in Piper were extremely well done. In both films, the water effects were mind-blowing. Water, for various reasons relating to how dynamic and fluid water is, is the Holy Grail of computer animation. I went with my friends Kyle and Alec, both computer science majors, and during the credits (all great movies are now required post-credits scenes), when the water effects people were listed, they both said “That’s what I would want to be.” Being able to animate water well is the nerd version of Olympic Gold. Everything else in the film is also brilliant. The physics, the character movements, the characters themselves, everything is perfect. The character of Hank the Septopus alone took Pixar 2 years. Every single piece of animation is utterly brilliant and I have no complaints on that end, whatsoever.

Having spent pretty much the entirety of my twenty years on Earth watching movies, I’ve turned into somewhat of a movie cynic. I like my movies adult and dark. This isn’t because I am a heartless cynic in real-life, quite the opposite, in fact. I don’t like happy movies because the majority of the time (UNBROKEN), there’s no true emotion in them. Movies like that usually pander to get people to think they enjoy it, when oftentimes, there’s no truth in anything about it. There’s no pandering to a cynic. I’m pretty sure  that’s impossible by definition. There seems to be more passion in Guillermo del Toro or Denis Villeneuve on their worst days than anything Angelina Jolie has ever directed or will ever direct. It’s sad, but true, and makes me a little angry.

Finding Dory, on the other hand, gave this movie cynic a little hope for the industry. It is a genuinely emotional, impactful movie that hit me on more levels than I was ever expecting. To be honest, after going back and watching Finding Nemo, though it was still a great and touching film, I find it didn’t hit me as much as Pixar’s other work. Finding Dory, however, is tear-inducingly tragic, uplifting, humorous, and heartfelt. In most movies, again due to pandering and lack of creativity, making the sidekick the main character almost never works and the movie is terrible. Dory is a really fleshed out, interesting, and relatable character, so it works to amazing effect.

The first line of the film is Dory as a small child reciting “Hi. I’m Dory, and I suffer from short-term memory loss.” This is what she is supposed to say if she ever needs help. The overriding theme of the film is disability and overcoming the limitations of said disability, and I honestly haven’t seen that executed in a (good) film ever up until this point, and that puts a smile on my face. One year after the events of Finding Nemo, the lovable yet forgettable Dory starts Jason Bourne-style remembering that she had a family in “the Jewel of Moro Bay, California,” the fictional Marine Life Institute (fish hospital). After Dory’s parents use seashells to train and improve Dory’s memory, Dory’s mother Jenny (voiced by Diane Keaton) tells Dory that purple seashells are her favorite.One thing Dory has extreme difficulty remembering is to stay away from the undertow. Dory’s parents try everything, to no effect. That evening, Jenny and Charlie have an emotional breakdown, worried that, because of Dory’s memory issues, she will never be able to live on her own. This hit a nerve with me. I am a student at the University of Illinois, but before I got there, I had thoughts like these, possibly moreso than my parents did. Well, they probably did, they just didn’t want to freak me out, but whatever. Dory sees her parents upset, and seeks out a purple seashell to make her Mom happy; she is swept away by the undertow and lost. She then spends the rest of her formative years since that point trying to find her way back to her parents, which is a futile effort due to her memory loss. She perserveres until running into Marlin, setting off the events of Nemo and forgetting about her quest.

Dory, having partially recovered her memory, recruits Nemo and a very reluctant Marlin to join her quest. After Nemo is injured due to Dory’s actions, Marlin snaps and tells her to “Go away and forget. That’s all you’re good at.” The somewhat saddened yet undeterred Dory goes to the surface to find help and is captured and taken to the Marine Life Institute. This devestates the guilty Marlin. The film then follows Marlin and Nemo’s quest to get to Dory and Dory’s quest to get to her parents. Along the way, they all three meet an interesting, loveable, and hilarious cast of new characters while Dory ultimately learns to cope with her disability and even use it to her advantage.

I saw this movie with my best friend Kyle, his roomate Alec, and my little brother Alex sitting next to me. That’s three twentysomethings and a sixteen-year-old. I kid you not, we laughed harder and louder than anyone in the theater, and I am not ashamed of that at all. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, so I will just say this. There’s an octopus missing an arm who’s sneaky, paranoid, crabby, and afraid of the ocean voiced by Ed O’Neil from Modern Family, a nearsighted whale voiced by Kate Olson, a Beluga whale with a psycosomatic case of broken echolocation voiced by Ty Burrell, also from Modern Family, a couple who find a young Dory voiced by SNL alums Kate McKinnon and Bill Hader, and a pair of laid back stoner-ish sea otters played by Idris Elba and Dominic West, who co-starred together on the legendary HBO police drama The Wire as organized crime lieutenant Stringer Bell and protagonist Detective Jimmy McNulty, respectively. (You didn’t need that information, but I can’t resist plugging The Wire.) You probably want to see it based on that cast list alone (you should), and that isn’t even the full list of people. I will spoil a small bit that had all of us dying from laughter. People in the theater probably looked at us like we were insane throughout the movie. There’s a scene where Dory ends up in the Kids’ Zone, and the entire sequence is stylized like a horrifying monster movie, with terrified sea creatures desperately trying to avoid “the hands” and being forcefully grabbed and yanked by the children. There are screams of “My Legs!!!” and horrifying gutteral noises all set to a Jaws-style instrumental overture. One starfish is grabbed by his legs and drug away while he screams in agony a la the infamous “under the bed” scene from Taken. The people at Pixar, more specifically Andrew Stanton, know how to appeal to everyone in the audience, not just a certain section of it.

Finding Dory surpassed all my expectations. It managed to do what sequels rarely accomplish, something that is even rarer for a comedy/family movie, and that is to be better than the original in every possible way. The trailers in front of this movie were all utter garabage. They were so bad that I remember every single one. There was Pete’s Dragon, Moana, Sing, Ghostbusters, Nine Lives, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Lifeand Monster Trucks. The Monster Trucks trailer had us red in the face, dying laughing. Kyle was at that stage mid-laugh attack where everything that comes out of your mouth will be high-pitched and whiney, going “Was that just real?” I haven’t seen a new kid’s movie in the theater since Sponge Out of Water, and trailers like this are why. Moana has potential, but it was still a bad trailer. The rest of them were worthy of SNL. No, Kyle, I have no idea what is reality anymore. That’s how bad these were. I had my head in my hands, asking “Why do I go to these things?” Finding Dory is why. As horrible as the trailers in front of it were, and as horrible as kid’s movies have been in the last few years (Planes, Planes 2, Cars 2, Turbo, all of which I’ve seen), Finding Dory reminded me they’re not all bad, even though it can sometimes seem like it. It is a film that did what few films can do: it woke up my perpetually comatose inner child and got me feeling nostalgic about my childhood, and if you know me, you understand why that is such a magnificent feat. Finding Dory, armed with an unexpectedly deep and profound message that connected with me on pretty much every emotional level, as well as excellently crafted humor and jokes that almost made my chest burst, has convinced me to go and watch Inside Out and Zootopia, two critically acclaimed family films I will begrudgingly admit I haven’t seen because of the “family movie” stigma. Finding Dory isn’t a “family movie.” Really good “family movies” like this and like everything else Andrew Stanton has ever done for Pixar aren’t family movies and don’t deserve that staple. They are “everyone” movies. That should be a new offical film category for the family movies that are actually good and don’t deserve to be lumped in with the crap. Finding Dory is a movie for everyone, and everyone should go see it.

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