Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Before director Andrew Stanton gave us a perfect film with WALL-E, he gifted the world with FINDING NEMO, an extremely touching story about an overprotective father and his special needs son. Similar to Brad Bird before him, Stanton chose to transition into the world of live-action with JOHN CARTER, learning the hard way that they’re two different approaches to filmmaking. Animation requires intense planning years in advance, so if mistakes are made, there’s time to revise heavily or even start from scratch. Live-action production doesn’t generally allow for that. The prodigal son returns, possibly a tad humbled, with FINDING DORY – or as I like to call it, DORY: ORIGINS. Co-directed by Angus MacLane (TOY STORY OF TERROR), the film functions best when it embraces humor over heart – an unusual thing for me to say about a film coming from Pixar. It’s funny, beautifully animated and cute – it just forgot to add an emotional punch.
Blue tang Dory (voiced as an adult by Ellen DeGeneres and as a youth by an ovaries-exploding kid) has always had problems remembering things. In fact, the only thing she can remember is that she can’t remember. And the struggle doesn’t end there: in her youth, she’s separated from her loving parents (voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton) and goes on a ocean-wide search looking for them. Years later, and post FINDING NEMO adventure, she’s completely happy living near her new family, clownfish father and son, Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and Nemo (voiced by Hayden Rolence). That is, until her quest to find her parents is re-awakened when the memories come flooding back. She, Marlin and Nemo embark on a journey filled with plenty of hijinks and hilarity.
Stanton’s script works effortlessly when it embraces the comedic undercurrents of Dory’s shenanigans. It’s clear it’s easy for the filmmakers to be funny when it’s not at a detriment to the storyline. It’s something that rings true to Dory’s carefree, light-hearted spirit. She’s inherently funny and brings a sweet innocence to the humorous sequences – like when she and curmudgeon septopus Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neill) break out of quarantine (and into our hearts). Goofy tertiary characters like crazy-eyed bird Becky (voiced by second film editor Torbin Xan Bullock) and the trio of sea lions (voiced by THE WIRE reunion of Idris Elba and Dominic West) – specifically unibrowed Gerald (also voiced by Bullock) – are extremely indelible and the film’s break-out stars. Supporting characters like echo-location-challenged beluga whale Bailey (voiced by Ty Burrell) and near-sighted whale shark Destiny (voiced by Kaitlin Olson) introduce physical comedy gags into the narrative. Even the escape sequence set to Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” is zany enough to garner smiles.
Key to any Pixar film is the gorgeous animation. The world we take an awesome deep dive into is immersive and imaginative. The ocean feels more expansive than the first film, and there’s even more color and scenery to behold when Dory finds her way to the more insular location at the Marine Life Institute. The way Stanton, MacLane and his animators handle Dory’s flashbacks is akin to the standout one involving the food critic in RATATOUILLE. There are a few action sequences that look like visual poetry in their elegance and refinement. Similar to what he did with NEMO, Thomas Newman’s score is an auditory journey. It’s a touchstone to the past, but it also builds on what was already there, creating a wholly individual sound.
Even though there are many things to praise about this sequel, I found myself completely at odds with its message – one that’s shouted at the audience during act three (in case you hadn’t realized it by then). “What’s so great about making plans,” an emphatic, resolute Dory questions, instantly following-up with her belief that good things happen when there’s no set plan. Um. That’s an anxiety-inducing lesson to teach kids – to not make plans, or prepare. The “go with the flow” mentality isn’t always the right one and can be damaging to those practicing this philosophy. I mean, things don’t get done in this world because people are unprepared! As Oprah says, “luck is preparation meeting opportunity.” And I’m inclined to believe the richest woman on the planet.
Typically, Pixar films are a balanced blend of heart and humor. Though FINDING DORY tips the scales more in the humorous side than the gut-wrenchingly emotional side, it’s still an adventure worth taking. Also, make sure to stay after the credits for a fantastic end tag.
FINDING DORY opens on June 17.