The second box-office smash out this past week starring an amnesiac, Pixar’s Finding Dory shows how to find new and affecting resonances in an old story. Fish gets separated from family, fish goes in search of family, fish makes friends along the way.
So went the plot of Finding Nemo, which saw audiences expend an ocean of saltwater in its tale of one man — or rather, a neurotic, naysaying clownfish named Marlin (Albert Brooks) — journeying across the ocean, or rather under it, to rescue his son, Nemo (there a meek and mild Alexander Gould, here the somewhat sassier Hayden Rolence).
Along the way he met Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a sweetly enthusiastic regal blue tang with a can-do-attitude some serious memory problems. Having — spoiler — been successfully reunited, now, one year later for them, thirteen for us out in the real world, a Bourne-style flashback sends Dory on her own voyage of discovery in search of her long-forgotten parents.
With Andrew Stanton resuming writer-director duties, the film gets off to a swimming start. Scenes of a young marble-eyed Dory with her loving mum and dad, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy), could be sickly sweet but Pixar have made a cottage industry out of selling our childhoods back to us, both the good and the bad.
It’s this that makes Dory’s distress so relatable, her anxiety at separation, her fear of forgetting, her despair at being alone. Who as a child wasn’t parted from their parents in the supermarket, even for a moment, and believed wholeheartedly that they might never see them again? She’s just trying to get home, despite her impairment.
Now imagine that in a vibrant underwater world of blues, purples, yellows, greens, populated by denizens of the deep both friendly — hippie turtle Crush (Stanton himself) makes a suitably rad appearance — and malign — a terrifying luminous squid that pursues the trio through a dingy graveyard of shipping containers.
There’s a whole new cast of eclectic characters, from near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and echo-impaired beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) to territorial sea lions Fluke and Rudder (a The Wire reunion for Idris Elba and Dominic Cooper). Most inspired, though, is Hank (Ed O’Neill), a cranky but vulnerable “septopus” — he’s missing a tentacle — whose T-1000-like ability of camouflage lends itself to some great visual gags (cat poster, potted plant).
As with Pixar’s best, Finding Dory is as amusing as it is moving. Ultimately, though, the film may not, ironically, prove as memorable as its predecessor. There are no lines with the quotability of “P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney” — an address that, even after many years, I know as well as my own — or characters as memorable, ironically, as, say, Bruce the vegetarian shark; again, “Fish are friends, not food”.
There’s a touch of sequellitis to the final reel — bigger, not necessarily better — and some unnecessary to-ing and fro-ing designed to artificially push up the stakes. Still, there’s at least one moment, involving a shell path and a child’s laugh, that’s genuinely shiver-down-the-spine and an implicit moral (heaven forbid) about turning strengths into weakness and believing in your friends and in your self.
It might not quite take you to pieces like Inside Out did, but, awash in humor and pathos, if it’s a choice between this and the po-faced Jason, then suffice it to say I’ll have the seafood.