*** (3 stars)
d – Andrew Stanton
co-d – Angus MacLane
w – Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse
ph – Ian Megibben, Jeremy Lasky
pd – Steve Pilcher
m – Thomas Newman
ed – Axel Geddes
p – Lindsey Collins
Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Sigourney Weaver, John Ratzenberger
Like many cinephiles, my obsession with cinema began as a child. That’s when I first secured grasp of its language, its rhythms, its cadency and its philosophy, as well as the confidence that cinema is a living thing that is constantly evolving, creating an amalgamation of all the images and all the sounds of all the movies. It was also during childhood that I discovered that not everyone felt this way. Not only did they not understand what I was talking about, they didn’t want to. This led to the speculation of “Well, what do they feel when they see a film”?
It was then I understood that everyone experiences something different when they see a film. How many different experiences can there be? This was also my passageway into the understanding of mental disabilities. Once my parents educated me to what this was, how it occurred and how the mentally challenged behaved in certain situations, I began to mull over what their cinematic experiences were like. Did they accept movies in the same way as the general public or was their perception of the sounds and images something altogether different and instinctual? How can one comprehend a movie instinctually? Do we as humans in fact do anything instinctually?
There have been many films produced about characters with mental disabilities, most of them bad. But the two that stand out for me as piercing works are both tropological. Both happen to also be animated: The first is Mamoru Hosoda’s Japanese film Wolf Children (2013), and the second is Andrew Stanton’s Finding Dory.
Mr Stanton is one of the original members of Pixar Animation Studios, and co-originated and co-wrote the company’s first four films. Pixar’s fifth film, Finding Nemo (2003), was his directorial debut, and went on to become one of the most beloved animated films of the current era. Finding Dory, a sequel, is now his fourth directorial effort and, as sequels go, is completely substantiated. Finding Nemo was an emotional journey of relinquishing overprotection; Finding Dory is a little more existential than that.
Taking place, for the most part, a year after the first film, we learn that Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a blue tang, was separated from her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). She wandered off one day, and grew to adulthood looking for her family. She travels the entire ocean and in the midst of her search, bumps into Marlin (Albert Brooks), a distressed clownfish who himself is on a search for his son Nemo. This leads to the events of the first film.
Dory suffers from short-term memory loss, thus making her search for pretty much anything extremely difficult and fairly scary because, well, she lives in the ocean. Though unlike the first film, this story takes place mostly in the confines of the Marine Life Institute, "the jewel of Morro Bay, California", an institution inspired by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.
Dory believes her parents are there and she, Marlin and Nemo go on the hunt. While there, they receive help from an array of new characters including a white beluga whale (Ty Burrell), a whale shark (Kaitlin Olson) and an octopus (Ed O’Neill) that provides the film’s best gags. Dory has certain abilities in the first film (she can read English, she can speak whale etc.) that are given clarification in this film.
Finding Dory is somewhat of a problematic movie in a way its predecessor wasn’t: I was a little concerned throughout the film’s first half that a supporting comic character like Dory, especially one with a tendency to screw things up for others, might be a trying protagonist to accompany (remember Cars 2?). In making her the heroine of this film, she is in some ways less humorous. Because of this, Finding Dory takes a good twenty minutes to get going. I felt similarly about another Pixar sequel, Monsters University (2013).
All these concerns melted away in the film’s sublime second half, which is altogether poignant, tense, funny and at times devastating. Mr Stanton undoubtedly believes that each person is instinctually wired a certain way by nature and that no matter how hard you try as parents to guide your children to the path you think is best, the seeds of desire and complacency are sewn in at birth – whether that be one’s sexual preference, athletic capacity or mental health – and the frustration of dealing with that as a parent, family member or friend can lead to regrets. Mr Stanton also explored the hypothesis of going with or against nature in what is still his best film, WALL-E (2008).
Those who have spent a large extent of time with people with special needs will be particularly affected by Finding Dory. Its works as a paen to the notion that all human beings (or, you know, fish) have the ability to accomplish astonishing things and lead happy, peaceful lives despite the disabilities they may possess. The key is to just keep swimming.
Finding Dory doesn’t arrive anywhere new that the studio, or for that matter other films, haven’t already disembarked upon. And those with a devotion to the first film might consider the sequel subpar. But the wit, charm, humanity and affecting work by the Pixar artists remains irresistible.