We are living in an oft-criticised age of sequels and reboots. This summer alone has seen a fantastic Ghostbusters reboot, the next stage in the Star Trek franchise, and even a sequel to Independence Day. Yet Finding Dory refuses to succumb to the perils of the usual staid sequel, and instead provides the perfect follow up to Finding Nemo.
Finding Dory, starting off a year on from Finding Nemo, is a story of crossed paths, perhaps missing some of the grand adventure found in its predecessor – but it’s all the better for it. Pixar is at its best with simple stories and standard structures; what makes its films exciting are its ingenious characters and concepts. This is what makes Toy Story brilliant – playing on the childhood suspicion that our toys are secretly partying without us when our backs are turned – and the Cars movies less so. Visually, Finding Dory monopolises on both the unknown and the familiar; the director, Andrew Stanton, employs an eerily beautiful use of lighting to depict the world at the bottom of the ocean that will never be entirely known to us. Yet Stanton also takes advantage of some more familiar environments for its comedic undercurrents; set largely in a Marine Life Institute, Finding Dory isn’t afraid to show up the worst of children in the same way the Toy Story franchise often does, much to the delight of older viewers in the audience.
Yet it’s the relationships, first established in Finding Nemo, that really allows the core of the narrative to move along. It says a lot about the brilliance of the original film that its characters and their chemistry are communicated once again so easily after thirteen years, but fortunately Finding Dory is rare in that it doesn’t rely on the success of its predecessor to carry it. There are a few references and call-backs, but Finding Dory ultimately stands on its own two feet by introducing new characters and refocusing on the narrative on Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), whilst still acknowledging the importance of Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo’s (Hayden Rolence) relationship. Dory and her new friend Hank, a grouchy ‘septupus’ – brought to life, of course, by Ed O’Neill, best-known for playing the cranky patriarch of Modern Family – were particularly lovely together, but everyone – from a pair of hypochondriac whales (Kaitlin Olson and Ty Burrell) to a sea lion voiced by the wonderful Idris Elba – shone through. It should come as no surprise that a high-profile Pixar movie can put together a great cast, but even Finding Dory’s bit-parts were portrayed by big names, with Kate McKinnon and Bill Hader teaming up to play a married pair of fish for all of five minutes. Oh, and Sigourney Weaver was in it too, playing Sigourney Weaver. Because why not.
Thematically, Finding Dory doesn’t buck the trend, but does embrace the warm outlook on family that has dominated children’s films of late; The Jungle Book, for example, focussed on the importance of building your own family. Finding Dory does much the same, as Dory places equal importance on both her biological parents and the strange, sweet family she has built with Marlin and Nemo. This trend is an important one; in this film, Pixar has made some steps, both big and small (a very sweet blink-and-you’ll-miss it moment features a lesbian couple with a young baby, a first for Pixar), to acknowledge that families are not always conventional, or the ones you are necessarily born with, but are all equally important – and that’s a good lesson for everyone, kid or not, to learn.