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Dustin Putman

Finding Dory  (2016)
3½ Stars
Directed by Andrew Stanton; co-directed by Angus MacLane.
Voice Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O'Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Bill Hader, Ty Burrell, Sloane Murray, Kate McKinnon, Bennett Dammann, Andrew Stanton, John Ratzenberger, Allison Janney, Brad Garrett, Willem Dafoe, Austin Pendleton, Stephen Root, Vicki Lewis, Sigourney Weaver.
2016 – 103 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for mild thematic elements).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, June 10, 2016.
If 2011's "Cars 2" was the epitome of everything wrong with unnecessary sequels, an interminable, flat-footed, hypocritical spy caper that contradicted every last one of the "slow-down-and-enjoy-the-ride" messages imparted by 2006's lovely "Cars," Pixar has had notably better luck with 1999's "Toy Story 2," 2010's "Toy Story 3," and 2013's "Monsters University." The computer-animation studio once more raises the bar on its big-screen continuations with the sublime "Finding Dory," verifying that follow-ups have the ability to be even more boundlessly imaginative than their already-successful predecessors. Thirteen years may stand between 2003's "Finding Nemo" and this picture, but by focusing anew on the first film's standout sidekick—a plucky blue tang fish with short-term memory loss—writer-director Andrew Stanton (2008's "WALL•E") proves there is still a great deal more story to tell.

One year after Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres) met widowed clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and helped him find missing son Nemo (Hayden Rolence, taking over for Alexander Gould), the three have formed their own special family in the deep blue sea. When Nemo's class is taught a lesson on stingray migration and the discussion turns to where each of them come from, Dory experiences an epiphany: she has no idea who her parents are. For a fish who regularly forgets all she has learned every 15 seconds, she has precious little to go on in finding her mom and dad save for, eventually, a location: Morro Bay, California. When Dory finds herself captured and tagged at the Marine Life Institute for imminent transfer to Cleveland, the race is on to find her parents. Agreeing to help her in exchange for her tag is antisocial octopus Hank (Ed O'Neill), a camouflage artist with a desire to live out his days alone, away from the ocean. Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo—the former regretful over a mean thing he said to his friend the last time he saw her—devise a plan to rescue Dory before they are separated forever.

There is a reason the delightful "Finding Nemo" has become a beloved modern animated classic, and "Finding Dory" is headed for the same heralded status. Unequivocal joy in cinematic form, the film satisfyingly kicks off with early scenes building the unbreakable bond between a child Dory (Sloane Murray) and parents Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy) before they are torn apart, then promptly joins up with the older Dory at the precise moment when she met Marlin. As the present-day tale gets underway and Dory's search for her parents begins, director Andrew Stanton and co-director Angus MacLane soon surpass the first movie in bountiful creativity and visual exuberance. This project is the diametric opposite of a cheap cash-grab; in every way, the filmmakers have gone above and beyond to bring fans a sequel to cherish, one with giant helpings of heart and majesty, electrifying, against-the-clock action set-pieces set throughout the aquarium, and a collection of memorably appealing new characters—among them, the seven-tentacled Hank, friendly near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), territorial sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West), and kooky wild-card loon Becky.

Morro Bay's Marine Life Institute (the park's motto: "Rescue, Rehabilitate and Release") is a playground of possibilities, one that Stanton uses to its fullest as Dory and Hank sneak around the grounds, buildings and water tanks, dodging guests and hiding from employees as they move closer to hopefully locating Dory's parents. While Marlin and Nemo remain prominent in the narrative—Albert Brooks (2011's "Drive") and newcomer Hayden Rolence share a winning father-son chemistry in their roles—it is the adorable Dory who this time leads the charge. It is very much her story, and the movie buzzes along all the more because of her. Ellen DeGeneres (TV's "The Ellen DeGeneres Show"), who has semi-retired from acting since the start of her ABC daytime talk show, was born to play Dory, rarely before a performer and an animated character forming such perfect synchronicity. Bringing her sympathetic nature and upbeat sense of humor to the sunny Dory, the wonderful DeGeneres makes the latest case for why vocal acting is worthy of garnering awards consideration.

An earnest comedy-adventure about finding acceptance through the families we make for ourselves, "Finding Dory" is a huge four-quadrant entertainment with which anyone will be able to identify. The writing is terrific, right down to its unforced but responsible animal conservation themes, while the recurring use of Sigourney Weaver (playing herself) as the tranquil, god-like voice of the park is a clever, very funny touch. In a film where one's suspension of disbelief is necessary and expected, only the closing post-credits coda reintroducing a group of characters from "Finding Nemo" goes a step too far by betraying its own internal logic. This is a minor issue, especially considering it arrives after the end credits, but one that might have been better off being reimagined. In all other ways, "Finding Dory" is 103 minutes of magic. Morro Bay—a real-life waterfront city in Southern California, its fictional Marine Life Institute inspired by the beautiful Monterey Bay Aquarium—is an idyllic location, lushly and innovatively brought to life as only animation artists can. The steep seaside highways and rocky shores are sights to behold, but, then, so is every other image on display. The biggest attraction, however, is Dory herself, a lovable fish who doesn't let her handicap stop her from achieving her goals. She deserves only the best, and she has received just that with her own touching, instantly timeless family feature.
© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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