In 2003 FINDING NEMO won Pixar’s first Oscar for best animated feature. A lot has changed in the technology and landscape of the world of animation since then. Can this week’s highly anticipated release FINDING DORY capture the imaginations of fans old and new, and become its own box office sensation?
FINDING NEMO made a huge splash in 2003 and filmmakers, as most of the crew are back from the original, are hoping Finding Dory wins the hearts of not only those who love the first one, but also those who are new to the expression it made famous, “Just keep swimming”. Director Andrew Stanton says that a few years ago he was struck by the feeling that Dory’s story was unfinished. He noticed that for a fish that was so open hearted and nonjudgemental to others she apologized way too much for her own short term memory loss, and he says he heard the call to help her find self-acceptance. Helping her take that trip is the challenge he created for himself, and the cast and crew of FINDING DORY. I’m happy to say he does make worth taking the journey with them.
Certainly some of our favorites are back. In addition to Dory, Marlin and Nemo play a major role. When Dory remembers she has a family she misses, the three embark together on a trip across the ocean in search of her parents, based only on her feeling and useful fragments of memory that come back to her. We get to visit again with Crush, Squirt, and Mr. Ray. It’s the new characters, however, that allow FINDING DORY to stand on its own as a worthy entertainment that will stay with you. Most notable is Hank. Anyone aware of the elements that go into character animation will recognize the design challenges, but for the rest of you, suffice to say Hank took 2 years to come to life, instead of the usual 6 months. A cantankerous septipus (part of his personal history involves losing an arm in an undisclosed trauma, but it was also a character design solution that dovetailed perfectly with his persona) Hank just wants to be left alone. As voiced by Ed O’Neill, he is the standout newcomer that will connect with Pixar fans, especially as the foil for Dory’s eternal optimism. Also notable are characters Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey (Ty Burrell), both of whom are being rehabilitated and have various disabilities that Dory accepts without question.
Look too for the animated re-partnering of Idris Alba and Dominic West from The Wire as two lazy sea lions who steal every moment they have onscreen.
As an animation geek, it is incumbent upon me to point out the advancements courtesy of a new computer rendering system that allowed FINDING DORY to set a new bar in the animation of underwater and surface water scenes. It turns out the kelp forest, which Stanton wanted to use in the first film but wasn’t appropriate to the environment of the Great Barrier Reef, was perfectly suited to this the new technology used for FINDING DORY. They could simulate each and every leaf, both below the surface, suffused with light, and above the surface, floating on the water. These new advancements lend a quality of visual depth and emotional truth to them that deepens connection with the viewer, whether they are aware of the source of that connection or not.
On the down side, as the name implies, FINDING DORY follows similar plot points as FINDING NEMO and might feel far less surprising for those looking for originality, although I believe the new characters make up for that. Also be warned that Finding Dory could be a bit difficult for younger viewers, as I can imagine it spawning some abandonment issues or fears of parental loss. There are several protracted scenes that are poignant yet very sad, and could be hard viewing for the tenderhearted.
Still, the dip back into the flow of some of Pixar’s best work building a world has its rewards. Not only is Dory’s story charming and engaging, the new characters and impressive advancements add new reasons to spend a little time under the sea again this summer.