Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Finding Dory (2016)

The idea of a short film is common, almost warmed-over by today’s standards, but if there is one company that manages to keep it alive and transcendent, it’s PIXAR. Their recent short film, Piper, is one of the most amiable, lushest, and sweetest PIXAR shorts to date. As well, its place with the succeeding full-length feature is insidiously fitting. It’s thematically united, yet externally, executionally disparate, which is peculiar, because the film that follows presents the loftiest ambitions and dutiful responsibilities in a PIXAR film since…hell…Toy Story 3. Furthermore, it’s placed directly after what may arguably be the year of PIXAR; the year where PIXAR both invigorated and inadvertently alienated their audience. This year, however, it’s time to find Dory!

The film begins with exposition for America’s favorite, forgetful, scatter-brained fish. It shows her as a child, struggling with her short-term memory loss, under the guarding yet supportive hands…er…fins of her parents. However, when she gets separated from her family, she goes on a seemingly endless trek to look for them. She can barely remember the subject of her destination, but she has a deep-rooted insight that she has one. She keeps going, until she finds a boat overhead, which soons leads to her, literally, bumping into a clownfish. One who, coincidentally, has also lost a member of his family, specifically…his son, Nemo.

One year later (or following the events of Finding Nemo, for us initiated spectators), Dory is living next door to Marlin and Nemo (next door, because, you know…the anemone). When Dory accompanies Nemo’s class, as a self-appointed “teacher’s assistant,” on a trip to discuss stingray migration, Dory begins to feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu; an empty spot that hasn’t be filled. Soon after, she remembers that she has a family and she resumes her search for them, with Marlin and Nemo accompanying her, but after a fight with Marlin, she gets separated from the gang, still adamantly pursuing her aspiration to find her family, while Marlin and Nemo are out…finding Dory. *rimshot*

For about three-and-a-half years, this was my most anticipated and frightening PIXAR project. Finding Nemo is not only the third film I ever saw in a theater (The Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, for the record), but it has consistently secured a spot in my top five favorite PIXAR films of all time. Its gorgeous animation, brisk, vibrant, persistently humorous script, simple, effective emotion, and colorful, winsome characters make it a film that has always found consistent viewing throughout my life. The way the film ended didn’t, in my mind, warrant a sequel. And once I found it would dominate around Dory, I thought of it as an appalling cash grab, merely inteding to capitalize and profetize off a character guaranteed to allure an audience.

The thing is that Finding Dory doesn’t really set out to outdo the original film. Outside of an awe-inspiring octopus early on, the animation is rather standard. The new character designs are pleasant, but not anything that’s per se innovative or particularly surprising. Overall, it’s rather restrained. And you know what? That’s the brilliance of this film. For a company known for audacious story strokes and trancesdent animation, playing a sequel to one of the best PIXAR films, critically and financially, predominatly straightforward is one of the boldest achievements PIXAR has accomplished.

All you really need to do to totally satisfy the audience is show us the characters we are more than accustomed to. This film fulfills on that level. Its callbacks to original supporting characters are terse yet liberating and it establishes new characters with distinct personalities and genuine warmth.

Hank is the typical cynically driven, self-focused type of character Disney has done before, but pairing him up with Dory brings out the perfect juxtaposition. The majority of the film takes place in the Marine Life Institute and while Dory merely wishes for a reunion with her family, Hank, a septapus (he’s missing a leg), wishes to stay in captivity in Cleveland. In a genre where most films deal with release, it is astounding to see a character who longs for containment.  It’s not to comment on the moral inquiries related to capitivity, but just merely to give a refreshing slant on a character type. He favors security over freedom. The whales, Destiny and Bailey, are basic, but genial and add some nice comedy to the film. Some of the biggest laughs come from three sea lions, all of whom battling over inhabiting the top of a rock, and a bird named Becky.

But most of all, it gives attentive precision to the main characters, with every beat, nuance, feeling, and piece of dialogue being impeccably timed to completely satisfy each character’s sensibilities and weaknesses. Marlin seems to act more as a side character this time, but it is applicable because it isn’t his journey anymore. He is merely a piece of Dory’s journey, both physically and emotionally. Consider a scene near the beginning where an annoyed Marlin comments that Dory is good at forgetting. Of course, his intentions weren’t malicious, but he considers himself an emotional backbone, because he’s so technical and tentative. In some ways, despite his heart, he does more to inhibit Dory than encourage her. He believes he needs to be her guardian, so she has some stability, and that somehow his frustration is bringing some sanity into her existence, which is a very realistic attitude that some possess when interacting with children with disabilities.

Speaking of which, Dory’s characterization, while not original, is textured, resonant, and extremely appropriate. How her disability is portrayed is actually the singular aspect that outdoes the first film, all the while not feeling contrived or excessively maudlin. Her optimism and internal logic and principles was a key facet of the first film, but here as a main character, it proves to have even greater heft because she should be more lost, naïve, and helpless. Deep down, she knows that, but she also is aware that her method of survival isn’t to cripple or pity herself, but to instead…be herself. She may have limited memory, but she is staunch in her self-worth. As such, she ends up outsmarting people arguably more intelligent and stable than her.

As well, DeGeneres has stepped up as a main voice actor. She was an unmitigated delight in the first film and she revives it here, delivering an unaffected energy in her comedic sections and delivering a frail, delicate vulnerability to her emotional moments. Albert Brooks continues his phenomenal work as Marlin and newcomer Hayden Rolence delivers a flawless vocal performance as Nemo, replacing original voice actor Alexander Gould, who has a cameo role that did a complete flyby over my head. Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Idris Elba are a few of the many actors that bring their own charm and enthusiasm to their roles, along with another glorious cameo that…well, if you know me, I hate spoiling, so…

We are living in a time where we seem to be in much greater of a hurry to reconnect with our nostalgia, which presumably explains the increase of time gaps between sequels. Out of all the belated sequels we have received, Finding Dory, while having a huge legacy to keep in mind, seems to have the simplest of goals: to entertain. In doing so, the film, spearheaded by PIXAR regular, Andrew Stanton, ends up, in my opinion, accomplishing more than a lot of our belated sequels. Again, personal bias definitely has a lot to do with my admiration of it, but this film truly goes for entertaining again, just adding a hint more substance to seem artistically dignified yet culturally pertinent. And it works. The film ends on one of the most poetic final moments in a film, which is linked to the Drop-Off. A location with so much anguish, uncertainty, and fear is instead treated as cathartic and resplendent. How fitting. Many sequels have been known to desecrate on the original likeness by studio imbeciles ravenous for money. This, like many recent sequels, have taken the horror of the sequel territory and provided solace and unadulterated elation. One year later? More like thirteen years later, jackasses!

RATING: Four out of four stars!

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