Dory, Marlin and Nemo are back, and in the thirteen years since Disney-Pixar’s Finding Nemo, only six months have passed for our protagonists, who we re-join living happily on a reef where Nemo (newcomer Hayden Rolence) attends school and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) helps out as an additional guardian (although, realistically, she needs the most looking after). Things get complicated, however, when a moment of déjà vu sparks Dory’s memories of her estranged parents, lost since she was a child. From this point onwards, Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse’s narrative operates in counterpoint to Marlin’s (Albert Brooks) journey to find Nemo, with Dory now setting out to find her own estranged parents, guided only by the vague recollection that they were somewhere in California.
Our travellers are joined by a number of new and lovable faces throughout their journey. Most notable is a jaded, seven-legged octopus, Hank, voiced by Ed O’Neil (Modern Family), who will no doubt become a fan favourite for his cynical, yet paradoxically warming presence. Also appearing are Idris Elba and Dominic West who conjure their rough-cut performances in The Wire as a pair of cockney sea-lions, and a number of excellent supporting actors including Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader and Kate McKinnon, as well as Sigourney Weaver amusingly playing herself as the omnipresent loudspeaker voice at the Marine Life Institute where most of the film takes place.
In a similar fashion to Finding Nemo, the film’s scenery always mirrors our protagonist’s emotional state, with the colourful and bright reef making way for murky, green and polluted waters when their journey inevitably runs into trouble. During the second act, however, this treatment changes dramatically, with most of the action taking place inside the crisp, metallic Marine Life Institute. Despite the comparatively dull colours, these scenes are full of life, and when our travellers find their way into the Open Ocean exhibit we witness the full scope of Pixar’s efforts to animate hundreds of individual fish—all vibrant, expressive and with seemingly independent animations.
Flashbacks to Dory’s childhood also retain substantial screen-time and offer a welcome break from the human-world scenery (baby Dory is adorable, which is an added bonus). Dory’s relationship with her parents is perfect in her memory, with Charlie (Eugene Levy) and Jenny (Diane Keaton) being flawlessly supportive parents with infinite patience in helping Dory overcome her difficulties with memory loss. This is a dynamic that the film doesn’t explore to its fullest extent, however, as it never confronts the realities of nostalgia and selective remembering—key factors in the formation of childhood memories and an important emotional process to encounter during any journey into adulthood. We all confront the realities of our infancy when looking back through mature hindsight, and Stanton and Strouse’s characters may have benefitted from this same complexity.1
Regarding cinematography, Sharon Calahan and Jeremy Lasky’s treatment relies heavily, and often successfully, on a close depth of field to support the strong emotional presence of its characters—a choice that also conveniently emphasises the technological leaps Pixar has made since Finding Nemo. Framing its protagonists with Gaussian blurs and light-filled, dreamlike landscapes gives Finding Dory a platform through which we can palpably engage with Dory’s near-sighted condition. The camera’s intimate, yet fleeting focus is empathetic to her forgetfulness and characters drift in and out of focus visually just as they do in the mind of our protagonist.
The film isn’t without some substantial flaws, however, and while the exploration of Dory and her struggle with memory loss is endearing, other neurodivergent characters in the film are not explored with the same nuance. A mute sea-lion, Gerald, appears only as comic relief—his mental illness the butt of multiple jokes. Similarly, Becky, a dishevelled, incoherent bird suffers the same derogatory fate, appearing only as a plot device for Nemo and Marlin to break into the Marine Institute after being hypnotised by the sea-lions into assisting them. It’s troubling that these characters feature prominently in a film that otherwise has such a strong and important focus on characters with a disability. It indicates a lack of understanding with the issues at hand, and leaves the film feeling somewhat shallow, concluding with the suggestion that mental illness can only ever be overcome when it manifests itself in accessible forms, that do not detract from eloquence, or socially desirable physical appearance.
Finding Dory presents a mostly familiar narrative and encounters some difficulties with character depth and the aforementioned discourse on mental illness. These drawback, however, are not enough to jeopardise the overarching accomplishments of the film, which, with its numerous tear-jerking moments and loveable characters provides a warming reminder about the importance of family and a rewarding story about staying strong in the face of adversity.2