Despite the more-than-a-decade time lapse between the two fish-filled films, Finding Dory picks up just one year after the conclusion of Finding Nemo. In this new deep-sea dive, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), Marlin (Albert Brooks), and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) are living together in the reef after returning from the epic quest across the ocean to rescue Nemo. Everything seems to be going pretty well, until Dory, who suffers from short term memory loss, remembers that she has forgotten something important: her family. With the help of Marlin and Nemo, the forgetful fish sets out on another cross-ocean adventure to find her long lost parents.
The movie definitely falls into line with some of its Disney•Pixar predecessors when it comes to the sad factor: in short, if you cried during Inside Out, Toy Story 3, or Up you should probably bring some tissues. Despite feel-good-sad movies being part of Disney•Pixar’s creative identity, Finding Dory doesn’t lay it on too thick. The heart-wrenching moments are moving and vital to the story. The film gets to the heart of one of life’s truths: sometimes the happiest people are the ones with the most heartbreaking backstory.
Visually, Finding Dory is nothing short of impressive. Not only are audiences met with stunning details of what lies on the ocean floor, but Dory also explores more of the human world from the unique, visually surreal perspective of fish.
Finding Dory mostly takes place in the Marine Life Institute in California, a rehabilitation center for sea creatures. Here, we see a much nicer side of humanity’s treatment of wildlife. Dory gets lost (no major spoilers there) in the Marine Life Institute after she is rescued from the ocean while snagged inside a plastic six-pack ring. This point isn’t belabored—you’re not beaten over the head with it, but it’s there. Rather than an aquatic prison, the Marine Life Institute is where fish go to get better before they are released back into the ocean.
Though the film largely takes place within the walls of the Marine Life Institute rather than the ocean, there is no shortage of beautiful imagery here. The myriad exhibits were stunning, and I found myself excited to see what kinds of creatures I would meet next as Dory went from place to place in search of her family.
While Dory provided the necessary amount of nostalgia for older viewers, it also offers enough fresh and exciting elements for kids who may have been introduced to this world recently. The plot is similar to the original’s, but it doesn’t feel stagnant because it introduces so many new, standout characters. Hank (Ed O’Neil) the octopus—or septopus, to be precise—is so ornery he makes Marlin seem like an easy travel companion, while Destiny (Kaitlin Olsen) joins the ranks of show-stealing sharks that came before her. Each of these characters brought his or her own unique perspective to the world we were first introduced to in Nemo, making the familiar tale of a fish trying to get home feel fresh and exciting.
If you grew up watching Finding Nemo, Finding Dory is like returning to old friends, but rather than being sad to learn that they have changed and moved on in your absence, you’re able to pick right up where you left off. Seeing Nemo, Marlin, and Dory so soon after we left them made me feel like 13 years had not passed, like I hadn’t first met Nemo when I was in elementary school, and like I wasn’t seeing the sequel after getting out of my 9-to-5 job.
Like all Disney•Pixar movies, the engaging story and beautiful animation are joined by so many important lessons. Dory’s perseverance despite her disability is inspiring, as is the support she receives from the fish who love her. The movie is filled with characters overcoming obstacles of all kinds in order to find the happiness they’ve always wanted. Finding Dory teaches us to never give up and, most importantly, to just keep swimming.