Finding Dory review – Pixar sequel treads water

Finding Dory Still

Dory, of course, is course the regal blue tang fish voiced by Ellen DeGeneres in Pixar’s 2003 animation Finding Nemo. She has short-term memory loss, something between disability and adorable quirk.

But with the ability to retrieve crucial glimpses of memory, and surrounded as she is by friendly helpful souls, Dory is basically not much different from any other wide-eyed, vulnerable, child-like Pixar character.

Now, Nemo director and co-writer Andrew Stanton has brought Dory back for a moderately entertaining, borderline-pointless sequel and star-showcase. The echoes and parallels of the first film are so obvious, it could be that semi-amnesiac Dory is Stanton’s satirical comment on the unending parade of studio franchise sequels which have to be pitched at a consumer base whose memory loss is just severe enough that they can find them exciting and novel, and yet not so extreme that they aren’t reassured by the familiar characters and stories.

Finding Dory begins just one short year after the action of the first film is supposed to have ended, which creates a slightly disturbing return-from-Narnia temporal effect for those among us who are parents and whose children were toddlers when they first thrilled to Finding Nemo but are now edging teenagerdom. Dory is still voiced by DeGeneres, and Nemo’s dad Marlin is voiced by Albert Brooks, whose warm performance is a career highlight for him. But the voice-breaking effects of time and puberty mean that little Nemo is no longer voiced by Alexander Gould (he is now 22) but by the 10-year-old Hayden Rolence.

The quest narrative is revived and redoubled. Dory goes in search of the parents whom she now realises she lost shortly before she encountered Marlin in the first film; then she gets into trouble, so Marlin and Nemo go in search of her. Where Nemo once found himself in a dentist’s fishtank (a brilliantly judged comic contraction of his natural habitat), the law of sequels means that things have to be bigger if not necessarily better and Dory finds herself lost in a huge aquatic theme park (based on the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California) where Sigourney Weaver surreally does the announcements and where, by a stroke of good fortune, Dory’s parents appear also to be. Nobody mentions Nemo’s late mother this time around.

There is always great audio chemistry between DeGeneres and Brooks: her voice pitched naturally high and repeatedly pushing up to a soprano-note of fear, with Brooks’s voice slightly lower but also on the edge of keening with anxiety and self-doubt.

Two likeable new characters are Destiny (voiced by Kaitlin Olson), a whale shark with a Mr Magoo-type tendency to bump into things with whom Dory has a natural rapport, using her whooping, ululating “whale” voice; and also Bailey (Ty Burrell), a crotchety, hypochondriac beluga whale who is convinced that the large bump on his head is the symptom of some terrible problem rather than the natural order of things.

There is also an octopus called Hank who befriends Dory; she pedantically calls him a septopus because he has lost one of his legs. Hank is able to survive outside water and camouflage himself like an octopus in the real world – although these skills are so pronounced in his case as to give him what amount to superpowers. Dory has a nice line when she notes that he is not very sympathetic for someone who has three hearts.

Finding Dory is a sequel which appears to have been cloned from the first film using an impossibly smart and sophisticated process of concept development and audience-demographic research. It’s watchable, with all the wonderful animation technique that we are in danger of taking for granted. But it’s basically a footnote or retread of the movie which melted everyone’s heart 12 years ago.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Peter Bradshaw, for The Guardian on Thursday 28th July 2016 21.00 Europe/London

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