The U.S. summer blockbuster season is upon us once again and this year Disney Pixar is leading the way, as the stellar animation studio returns with a sequel to the much beloved and global fan favourite Finding Nemo. Following a 13 year hiatus it has to be said that the sequel has been long overdue. But the good news for eager audiences is that Pixar's latest feature length film, aptly titled Finding Dory, is well worth the wait.
Animation technology has come an incredibly long way in recent years, especially when it comes to living landscapes and backgrounds. This has been demonstrated to fabulous effect in the last 12 months with the release of Disney Pixar's The Good Dinosaur and Disney's live action edition of The Jungle Book. Pixar revolutionised animation and storytelling back in 2003 with the initial release of Finding Nemo, demonstrating that compelling space-age underwater animation and motion sequences were indeed possible. The film also proved that Pixar was far from a one trick pony, allowing the studio to move on from their Toy Story franchise.
Fast forward to today, and from an animation perspective Finding Dory leaves Finding Nemo dead in the water. Some of the shoreline animation is simply spectacular verging on photo realistic. However, in spite of these technological advancements, the film still manages to maintain the essence of character that worked so well in the original. The marine characters within Pixar's story world are not only believable but they maintain their unique individual personality as well. While many of the classic characters are back, Pixar has payed particular attention to making new additions to the cast, with the seaside marine mammals coming off incredibly well. This is particularly true of the highly entertaining sea lions and otters, who have a plethora of scene stealing moments.
The story follows on a year after the events of Finding Nemo, focusing on the unresolved issues left upon the fins of the lovable yet forgetful Dory. The entertaining Ellen Degeneres returns to the role, along with some extremely well cast younger voice actresses, who are utilised in a heart wrenching flashback sequence establishing Dory's plight. Pixar has a habit of developing incredible emotional stakes at the inception of many of their movies, and Finding Dory is no different. Depending on your emotional predisposition, elements of the film can be really tear jerking. While the stakes are heavy from the start, the tail end of the film has some amazingly humourous and entertaining moments. Most of these culminate during the second and third act, with the final sequence making a significant splash.
The story's main narrative drive is fueled by Dory's overwhelming desire to find her family, who until recently she had forgot. This compels her to embark on a quest across the ocean where she finds herself on the California coast. As expected Nemo and the reluctant Marlin return to accompany her, played respectively by newcomer Hayden Rolence and the returning Albert Brooks. While Marlin and Nemo's inclusion is essential, their role in the film features more as a subplot, addressing unresolved father and son issues left unanswered from the previous film.
Director Andrew Stanton also returns with a most welcome cameo, reprising his role as the super cool surfing turtle Crush. The appearance also provides an effective linking thread between Australia's Great Barrier Reef and the California shoreline. While it is essential to move the story to a new location, Australia is surprisingly neglected in the film. It is a interesting narrative choice, especially considering how prominent Sydney and Australia were in the previous movie. As a consequence fans of the franchise will notice some notable exemptions from the original Finding Nemo cast. While this may be disappointing for some, it is all by design and allows for a significant number of additions to the cast.
This time around the characters have a distinctly Californian flavour. Residents of San Francisco and visitors to the Bay Area are sure to appreciate the introduction of Fluke and Rudder, a pair of sea lions with a profound passion for protecting their rock. The highly hilarious characters are voiced brilliantly by Idris Elba and Dominic West, providing an ethnic English flavour that is much needed. Idris Elba has become somewhat of a veteran voice actor for Disney in recent years, featuring as Shere Khan in The Jungle Book as well as Chief Bogo in Zootopia. On this particular occasion he is extremely well cast. Disney Pixar's animators should also be given a great deal of credit. Not only have they maintained the art of creating fascinating fishy characters, but they have now mastered memorable marine mammals as well.
Other characters destined to be fan favourites include Destiny the short sighted whale shark voiced by Kaitlin Olson, Bailey a beluga whale with dysfunctional sonar voiced by Ty Burrell, and of course Hank the mimic octopus with a missing appendage played gloriously by Ed O'Neill. Pixar have built up Hank, the octopus with a penchant for remaining incognito, as one of their most technologically advanced animated characters to date. After watching the movie audiences will see why. From his silky movements to his unique mimicry, all the way to the insane attention to detail. Hank really is a technical marvel of computer animation.
Undoubtedly the star of the film is the unassuming and incredibly haunting musical score, courtesy of renowned composer Thomas Newman. The musical maestro has previously collaborated with director Andrew Stanton on other Disney films including Finding Nemo and Wall-E, with this latest soundtrack adding to his already stellar resume of emotionally stirring film scores.
Overall Finding Dory is highly enjoyable and perhaps has even better narrative drive than its predecessor. The film's sense of purpose and character development also seems to go much deeper than the original ever did. However, Finding Nemo may be perceived by audiences as a little more succinct due to primarily focusing on one or two character arcs. Finding Dory on the other hand negotiates its web of character complexity extremely well, with the juxtaposition between Dory and Hank as well as Marlin and Nemo providing the major points of each individuals revelation.
While the days of morals being profoundly explained at the end of animated films are long gone, Disney Pixar's latest effort seems to have a glorious purpose. On the surface it appears that the symbology around the film's tagline "just keep swimming" relates to striving towards your desires, because you can achieve anything, no matter what anyone tells you. In reality true film connoisseurs will realise that the film's hidden subtext encompasses the fact that it is more than OK to be yourself, and the most important thing of all is to follow your inner guidance. Only then will you truly find what you are looking for and achieve all that you desire.
Finding Dory swims into theatres worldwide from June 16th, with a mouth watering tale that is sure to keep kids and adults entertained for hours. In summary, the animated masterpiece is a must watch at your local cinema.