Finding Dory is a perfect example of a film that is greater than the some of its parts. Please don’t misunderstand, none of it is bad but none of the individual parts are gold standard either. But the way they interact with one another is what raises this film up. It really is a question of how they position everything for it to have maximum impact. Watching this movie was like watching a chess master play a novice. For most of the game, the chess master doesn’t seem to be doing anything special. That is until he reveals that he was just after spending the whole game arranging his pieces, luring the novice into a false sense of security before absolutely decimating him and making cry like a baby. I didn’t cry though. I swear. I was too busy lifting weights and chopping trees with my face. Seriously I was. Shut up. Also, spoiler warning.
I think the best way to approach this movie is act by act so I can communicate to you as best I can how the pieces are being positioned. So Act One, what’s going down? We have the flashbacks to the past where Dory’s parents are teaching her coping mechanisms, following shells, drilling phrases into her brain. These flashbacks are going to be scattered throughout the film so we need the strong base that these openers provide. They link up well with the present, occurring logically. Simultaneously we are shown that Marlon doesn’t trust Dory because of her disability while Dory is also afraid of being without someone to watch her in case she gets lost. By the end of the first act, Dory is split off from Marlon and Nemo which sets up the journeys for both characters and a discussion about independent living for disabled people. The main issues with the first act are that it’s callbacks to the original and the rest of the sea shenanigans (Sea-nanigans?) feel out of place. The big offender here is the giant squid scene which felt like an action scene for the sake of it. But that aside, the flashbacks have their work and the character conflicts are firmly established. Good base, let’s keep moving.
We spend Act Two inside the Marine Life Institute where we meet a host of wacky characters, spending most of our time with Dory and Hank the Octopus (Ed O’ Neill). They navigate the institute by way of ocean-style shenanigans (Ocean-anigans?) to find the Open Ocean Exhibit where Dory grew up. On the way Dory’s meets up with the short-sighted Whale Shark, Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and the Hypochondriac Beluga who, Bailey (Ty Burrell) who thinks his echo-location doesn’t work any more. Meeting characters with disabilities at this point is to add a bit more depth and show the applicability of the moral to other disabilities aside from short term memory loss.
Everything in place on that side, how is Marlon’s story panning out. Ah. He’s met Becky. A very special bird indeed is Becky. Becky helps the Marlon and Nemo break into the Institute. She briefly goes off mission and Marlon tries to do everything himself because he thinks she’s incapable of doing anything right. He fucks up both immediately and spectacularly while Becky completes the mission without him. Nemo gives him a heaping pile of shit about this and Marlon begins to accept that disabled people might be able to handle a lot more than he thinks they can. Oh and Dory thinks her parents are dead.
Now let’s head over to Act Three. Now it must be said that up to this point I thought the film was good not great, leaning a bit too much on slapstick style comedy, rather than the healthy mix of slapstick and character that the original film had. But the Act Three showed to me how wrong I was Dory reunites with Marlon and Nemo just in time for them to be separated again, Dory escaping into the ocean and Marlon and Nemo ending up on a truck to an aquarium in Cleveland mistakenly as a part of a Blue Tang exhibit. And Hank the octopus is there too. How you ask? Well it starts with a water pun and ends in “nanigans”. Dory panics and tries to – BLUE TANG-ANIGANS. Sorry. Anyway, she tries to figure out what to do. She spots a sea shell and her coping mechanisms takeover and lead her to, drum roll please… the flayed corpses of her parents. No, they are alive and their reunion is almost guaranteed to squeeze a tear out of even the most calloused heart. With the realization that Dory can achieve great things despite her disability she sets out to save Nemo and Marlon from the terrible fate of Cleveland.
Now we are onto the climax and the climax is amazing for three reasons. One, it’s mastery of callback jokes. Not just callback jokes, but jokes that use the rule of three to perfection. Becky had two scenes in Act Two and then a third in Act Three. An equally special seal named Gerald got the same. Two, it mostly works off an upgraded version of an earlier set up between Dory and Hank. And most importantly, three, it gets Bailey and Destiny involved to reinforce the lessons learned from Dory’s story, that disabled people are capable of more than other people or even themselves think they are. Bonus points to Pixar for actually reversing the dynamic of the film from Marlon and Nemo trying to save the disabled Dory to the empowered by new-found confidence Dory saving Marlon and Nemo. The phrase “Elegant as fuck” springs to mind.
So Pixar got me. They fooled me into thinking that Finding Dory was an average film when it turns out it’s a very good one, just really subtle when it comes to its setups. Not as good as Finding Nemo but Finding Dory is a fun, heart-breaking and educational film that’s well worth a watch.
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