The old saw about Pixar is true: Its worst films are better than many studios’ best, and that includes critically panned titles like “Cars 2” and “The Good Dinosaur.” Pixar has set a very high bar with its latest, “Finding Dory,” a sequel to one of its best-loved and highest-grossing films, 2003’s “Finding Nemo.”
That movie, about a fearful clownfish named Marlin who braves unknown waters to find his son, featured a scene-stealing sidekick named Dory, a forgetful blue tang with the endearing voice of Ellen DeGeneres. Here, the show is all Dory’s — and DeGeneres’ — as she searches for the parents she has suddenly remembered. Her quest will take her from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to California’s Marine Life Institute, where she’ll find new friends and, perhaps, a clue to her past.
“Finding Dory” is a script-flip of the first film — now the child must rescue the parents — though the themes of independence and self-reliance are similar. (Original director Andrew Stanton co-wrote with Victoria Strouse.) There’s something a little odd about the Hitchcockian plot, which progresses only when something triggers Dory’s flashbacks, and there’s something familiar about the notion of marine life-forms pulling off outlandish escapes. Nevertheless, “Finding Dory” upholds the Pixar tradition with plenty of inventive humor, cleverly drawn characters and emotionally resonant moments.
Albert Brooks once again delivers some choice lines as the neurotic Marlin (“The only reason to travel in the first place is so you don’t have to travel again!”), but he’s now a supporting character. Dory finds a new partner in Hank, a cynical octopus. Thanks partly to the wonderfully grouchy voice of Ed O’Neill (“Modern Family”), Hank is easily the film’s best creation, and his gift for camouflage provides the film’s funniest gags. To escape attention, he blends into walls, poses as a potted plant and disguises himself as a hideous infant in a stroller.
To be honest, Dory occasionally struggles to carry her own feature film. Her scattered mind, which seems reflected in the unfocused storyline, can be a little frustrating. Still, DeGeneres’ pure, sweet voice — with just a hint of sarcasm to remind us that Dory is no dope — keeps us rooting for her in every scene. In the end, “Finding Dory” is that rarest of breeds: the satisfying sequel.