I normally do not hold much hope for sequels that appear more than five years after the first installment (“The Two Jakes” comes immediately to mind). And although they fared alright with “Monsters, Inc.” and “Monsters University” (a prequel technicality), the same feeling came over me when I heard Pixar/Disney was releasing Finding Dory, a sequel to “Finding Nemo” which shines the light on the sweet, albeit annoying fish (voice of Ellen DeGeneres) who helped find the little Nemo in 2003.
I also thought of how “Cars 2” stumbled when it centered the attention on the secondary character (the lame “Mater”), as well. Here, however, I was quite surprised to find that this newest picture not only successfully incorporated beloved roles from the first film, Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks, “A Most Violent Year” and an Academy Award nominee for “Broadcast News”), Nemo (voice of Hayden Rolence) and Mr. Ray, (voice of Bob Peterson, “Up”) among others, but added some new characters to flesh out the fun and intelligent plot.
It’s a year after Nemo has been found and the fish in this neck of the ocean are going about their lives. Nemo and his friends are still in school and continue to take field trips with Mr. Ray. On this occasion, he takes them to see the annual Ray migration. That’s where “classroom helper” Dory begins to remember bits and pieces from her past. She begins to put together these memories and it leads to flashbacks of her parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton, “Love the Coopers” and an Academy Award winner for “Annie Hall”) and Charlie (Eugene Levy, “American Reunion”).
It’s during these sequences that we see a baby Dory (with the adorable voice of Sloane Murray) struggling with her short term memory loss and becoming more and frustrated at her inability to recall even the simplest of thoughts.
Back to the present, Dory impulsively takes off for California (with Marlin and his kid in tow) picking up clues in bits and pieces which finally leads her to the soothing voice of Sigourney Weaver (“Exodus: Gods and Kings” and a thrice Academy Award nominee) recorded for a Seaworld-type facility. Still gathering more and more recollections, she swims her way in and meets Hank (voice of Ed O’Neill, “Modern Family” TV series), an octopus (actually, “septapus,” since he’s missing a tentacle) that’s afraid of the ocean and one of the film’s most memorable characters.
While trying to obtain Dory’s tag (which will send him to a marine lab in Cleveland), he actually helps her pick up more and more memories, sneaking about, changing colors and even releasing black ink in a hilarious scene. She also meets her “pipe friend,” Destiny (voice of Kaitlin Olson, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” TV series), a happy, but sight-impaired shark, and Bailey (voice of Ty Burrell, “Modern Family” TV series), a beluga whale trying to get his sonar vision back after an accident.
Of course, Marlin and Nemo are always a step behind Dory and their adventures are just as exciting and funny. One such sequence has the pair running into a couple of sea lions (Idris Elba, “Beasts of No Nation” and Dominic West, “Money Monster”) and being introduced to a wacky sea bird, Betty.
Whether Dory eventually finds her folks or not, the lesson learned in Finding Dory is that families can consist of more than just mothers and fathers and children; and also goes beyond bloodlines and genetics. In addition to O’Neill’s fine turn, look for Olson and Burrell to have some goofy situations while director Andrew Stanton (“WALL·E,” “Finding Nemo”; we’ll forgive him, however, for that whole “John Carter” thing), one of the founding members of Pixar, exhibits that pedigree very well.
Let’s also not forget the wonderful animation work, led by art director Don Shank (“Inside Out”) and visual effects supervisor Chris Chapman (“The Good Dinosaur”). Almost every scene (especially those underwater) are realistic, lush and amazingly colorful.
There is a sequence where the ocean creatures cringe when a gaggle of little children begin reaching for them is not only hilarious, but very lifelike, as well. In addition, the writing (script by Stanton and Victoria Strouse with some help from Bob Peterson and Angus MacLane [who also co-directed]) for Finding Dory is filled with kid-friendly dialogue, but also leaves room for some pop culture references to keep the grown ups amused.
Expect some laughs, some love and a lot of heart from this latest Pixar effort, which, only having to go up against “Central Intelligence,” will undoubtedly — and rightfully so — own the box office this weekend.