In my May 28, 2003 essay on Pixar's talking fish comedy-adventure I wrote:
"Finding Nemo is a triumph, with a different, richer feel than any previous Pixar film. Aided by a smart, evocative score by Thomas Newman, the story is funny, moving and completely engrossing. The ambitious computer animation is stunning, the best the studio has ever done. The underwater setting is brilliantly realized – look at the play of light through the water. Though the film is fast-paced and packed with adventure, it has a soothing feel, largely from the movement of the waters, I suspect.
But the heart of the saga comes from the inspired teaming of Albert Brooks as a frantic father searching for his son and Ellen DeGeneres as a sweet, memory-impaired soul who helps him on his way. Together they are magic, the Tracy and Hepburn of the Mrs. Paul's set."
I could spend the next few hundred words contrasting and comparing the movies, but thankfully, I don't need to, because Finding Dory takes an intriguing twist. The film opens with Dory as a very young child, with her parents Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy) training her to tell any stranger she meets, "I suffer from short-term memory loss."
We knew this from the original film, but watching the parents changes everything. Yes, Dory the blue tang fish is dingy. But that dinginess is placed in context: Dory is mentally challenged, a special needs child. And that changes the movie.
Some of you may have just read this and thought, "I want to see a comedy, not a tearjerker." I assure you — Finding Dory is funny, with lots of good lines and well-choreographed slapstick. But it's also something bigger.
I'm the parent of a mentally challenged son. He can be repetitive and pesky, just like Dory. He approaches almost everybody as a potential friend and he says whatever is on his mind. That puts some people off, but he has more friends than anyone I know, because most people get it.
That's the glorious message of Finding Dory. Most people get it. They recognize and understand people dealing with clear limitations, and they are willing to go the extra step to help mentally-challenged individuals as they struggle to travel the same paths as everyone else.
Dory is presented as what she is: an individual trying to work around her limitations. She assumes that most of those around her will help when they can, and most of the time she is right.
Individuals like Dory remind us that we are a community and, especially when one of us is a little more vulnerable, we need to behave like one.
Aside from the Dory story, the film sticks to the sequel formula. Dory's memory is jogged and she remembers her parents and sets out to find them. Fretful Marlin (Brooks) and his chipper son Nemo (Hayden Rolence) join her. Co-directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLaine, working from a screenplay by Stanton and Victoria Strouse, eventually separate Dory from the boys; all the better to double up on the adventures.
They spend a great deal of time at the Marine Life Institute, a popular tourist destination that is MOST DEFINITELY NOT SEAWORLD. The human setting appears to be employed primarily to make the sequel visually differ from the original. Never mind, it works well enough. Sigourney Weaver is involved in one of the film's better running gags, while Ed O'Neil offers support as Hank, a grumpy seven-legged octopus with impressive chameleon-like skills. Idris Elba and Dominic West play sea lions, Kaitlin Olson plays a whale shark and Ty Burrell appears as her beluga pal.
In general, Finding Dory doesn't reach the heights of the original, but it delivers an hour and 40 minutes of solid entertainment. Add the nuanced portrait of a mentally challenged individual in a vast supportive community and you've got something special.
NOTE: There is a brief, funny scene included after the lengthy closing credits.