Baby Dory is the cutest thing that has ever been recorded in the history of cinema. This is an inarguable fact. She’s 90 percent eyes. It’s a perfect formula for adorable; that’s just science. You can ask Mike Tyson! Sorry, I meant Neil deGrasse Tyson. And yes, that was an intentional metaphor for switching two things that share similarities but aren’t actually the same thing…
Finding Dory follows Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), the comic relief from Finding Nemo cursed with a lack of memory, as she attempts to find her long-lost parents. In the same way, literally, that you physically ached for Marlin (Albert Brooks) reuniting with his abducted son, Nemo (Hayden Rolence), in the first movie, Dory’s plight in the sequel is palpably emotional. Cutting to flashbacks of the aforementioned giganto-eyed baby Dory absentmindedly losing track of her family is emotional manipulation more than worth the price of admission.
Her journey takes her into an aquatic recovery center, where she meets Hank (Ed O’Neill), an octopus who is actually a septopus because he’s missing a tentacle, and reunites with Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a near-sighted whale shark who used to be Dory’s friend when she was little. With the aid of layabout sea lions, half-witted birds and an almost infinite amount of Rube Goldberg-style escape sequences, Dory tries to find her way back to where she came from… which is basically the exact plot of Finding Nemo.
Look, I get it: A sequel doesn’t (and largely shouldn’t) deviate hugely from the source material that birthed it. Finding Dory hits all the same themes as Finding Nemo just with prettier, more advanced, CGI animation. “Family is important,” “never give up” and “just keep swimming” are repeated ad infinitum. That isn’t a complaint so much as it is a statement of fact. Thus, Finding Dory is a responsibly worthy sequel. Mostly.
The problems exist almost entirely in the last third of the film, with a series of unnecessarily increasing stakes. Having watched the memory-challenged Dory scrape her brains to find her origins, it seems almost cruel to introduce weird plot contrivances simply for the sake of visual tomfoolery. Car chases and otter-assisted traffic jams feel too silly for a sequel to a film that was grounded in genuine, honest emotion. This isn’t to say that Finding Dory is Cars 2. It has a soul and won’t steal yours or anything.
The degree to which you enjoy this by-the-numbers, unfortunately unnecessary sequel will heavily rely on your tolerance for DeGeneres and embrace of baby Dory, who is, again, the cutest thing ever created by humankind. In terms of cash-grabbing franchises, a commitment Pixar doubled down upon some time ago now, Finding Dory is beyond acceptable. Pleasant, endearing and possessed of enough charm to make you overlook its lack of originality, the film is about as much as you could hope for from such a calculated follow-up. Sadly and honestly, even now, I don’t know if that’s a compliment.
The review previously appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Nebraska.