13 years ago, Disney/Pixar, my favourite-ever animation studios (as I proclaimed in my review of Inside Out), came out with Finding Nemo, the tale of a little clownfish who one day wanders off from his father Marlin into unknown territory. He gets snatched up by deep-sea divers and taken away on a boat towards Sydney, where he ends up in a dentist’s fish tank along with other exotic fishes. Losing his son greatly upsets Marlin, who sets out to the ocean to try to get him back. On his quest, he bumps (or rather swims) into Dory – a blue tang fish who is very friendly and chatty, but doesn’t exactly have the best of memories.
13 years later, the much-wanted sequel to Nemo’s adventure has finally been released into the open sea – Finding Dory.
As the title suggests, this time it’s Dory who is the focus, not Nemo as with the previous film. The film opens with her as a baby blue tang (who just might be the cutest character Pixar has ever animated, aside from so many others, like Boo in Monsters Inc., WALL-E from WALL-E or baby Riley in Inside Out). You just can’t help but stare into those googly, big pink eyes in stark comparison to her tiny fins and body.
Despite suffering from short-term memory loss (as she always repeats to anyone she meets), Dory is loved by her blue tang parents, Jenny and Charlie (as their names are revealed to be later on). However, one day Dory gets lost out in the open ocean, and after unsuccessfully asking other fish to help her out, she begins to wander around underwater, in the hope that she’ll one day see her parents again. The scene in which Marlin accidentally swims into Dory is recreated straight out from Finding Nemo, making for a nice throwback.
As on-screen text indicates, Finding Nemo and Finding Dory are set one year apart, despite a 13-year gap in between the two films in real life. Having being reunited with Marlin, Dory joins Nemo on his way to school, where it’s revealed that Mr. Ray, Nemo’s teacher, is going to be migrating away with thousands of other stingrays. This causes Dory to have an epiphany – she has a family… but they’re right across the ocean in California.
With the help of their old turtle friend Crush (who is 151 years old), the initially-sceptical Marlin, Nemo and Dory ride the ocean currents to California, where Dory thinks she hears the actress Sigourney Weaver’s voice from above the sea. It turns out it’s coming from the Marine Life Institute, a huge water park where sea creatures from everywhere are housed for excited audiences to see. Mirroring what happened to Nemo in the first film, Dory is picked up from the ocean and placed on a boat heading into the MLI (as two sea lions who live on a nearby rock call it for short).
In quarantine, where all the ‘sick’ fish are stationed, Dory meets Hank, a somewhat cranky octopus – or rather ‘septopus’, since he only has seven tentacles instead of the usual eight. After Dory gets tagged by the quarantine staff, Hank comes up with a plan – since Dory has a tag, she’ll be sent to another aquarium across the country in Cleveland, Ohio. Hank offers to put the tag on himself, so Dory can find her family and he can go to Cleveland for her. But much to Hank’s surprise and annoyance, Dory comes along with him, and he becomes her initially-unwilling sidekick. Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo are also trying to get into the MLI, using the flight of a manky loon named Becky, or Rebecca. While their paths start out separate, they will eventually come back together, and Dory’s quest will become everybody’s quest… including Dory’s own parents.
As with anything by Pixar, not only is the animation smooth (how did they animate all those stingrays at the beginning?!) and the environments stunning, but the film’s story itself also manages to pack in both funny moments and sad moments. (Nearly every Pixar film ever has mixed in both happy and sad – particularly Toy Story and Inside Out – so they’re more like animated comedy/dramas.) Have you ever seen a fish – or an octopus – drive a truck, for example? (This might be a bit spoiler-y for those who haven’t yet seen the film.) Not to mention the humans in the film don’t give a second thought to a giant whale – or two – talking right in front of them.
Of course, there’s the sad moments, too. Little Dory realizing she’s lost her parents might strike fear for real-life parents who have lost their own children at some point, or even make children remember a time when they wandered away from their parents and became lost. And another spoiler warning, but a much bigger one: Dory splashes into a tank full of blue tangs like her, where she thinks her parents are. Marlin tells her they had come there to look for her, but that was many years ago. Thinking they might be dead, Dory begins to panic, and she falls down a pipe towards the ocean. The familiar feeling of being lost comes back to haunt the fearful Dory, causing her to forget what she’d come here for… until she spots a shell in the sand.
While Dory may have had to go find her parents – and herself, I may have just already found her:
Pixar really do know how to make art imitate life – even a little blue-and-yellow tropical fish.