Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Finding Dory (2016)

Film: Finding Dory (2016)
Stars: Ellen Degeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O'Neill, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell
Director: Andrew Stanton
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

When I was growing up, we had things called Direct-to-Video movies, something that seems to kind of be a thing still from what I can tell, but nowhere near the level that it was then in terms of hype.  I distinctly remember, for example, when Return of Jafar came out and having a great amount of fanfare over the prospect of seeing more of the world of Aladdin, only to be severely disappointed that the movie, well, wasn't as good as the first one (I was a very discerning ten-year-old and upon researching this article prior to writing it, I find out critics by-and-large agreed with me).  This started an avalanche of sequels that I wasn't necessarily allowed to watch all of the time (we were not rich, so we only got to buy the films we had actually seen in theaters as a rule), but would catch on the Disney Channel as I got older.  As a whole, these movies were inferior to their previous, theatrical incarnations, the sort of easily dismissed trifles that come along when you have a potential $1 billion franchise on your hand (which seems to be par-for-the-course with the King Midas's of movies, Disney).  However, they didn't really diminish the original pictures as they were easily avoided if you didn't go to that section of your Wal-Mart.

Unfortunately in recent years Pixar hasn't really gotten the memo that their sequels aren't living up to the originals, and that perhaps a direct-to-video situation would be better for all involved.  Likely buoyed by the absolute wonder of the Toy Story films (all of which were sublime), they have instead started popping out sequels that are, well, subpar.  From the critically-lambasted Cars 2 to to the underwhelming Monsters University, the movies of the studio have becoming kind of junk lately, and have vastly tarnished the brand's name in hopes of cashing in on major profits.  This seems to be something that will continue, with at least two Pixar films I point blank refuse to see (Cars 3, because ugh, and Toy Story 4 because apparently it's worth ruining the beautiful bittersweet ending of that third film with an easy cash grab).

(Spoilers Ahead) Which all brings us to Finding Dory, a sequel to a film that didn't need one but based on the ubiquity of Ellen Degeneres and her legion of fans, was inevitable.  Finding Nemo, the original film, is one of my favorite Pixar entries.  It lacks the inventiveness of Toy Story and perhaps the cerebral high-point of WALL-E, but it is complete fun from start to finish and gives Degeneres a truly marvelous, iconic role as Dory, a fish with short-term memory issues.  Absolutely a treat, and one that only the most curmudgeonly of fans could besmirch.

But like I said, the film didn't need a sequel, and the world that it created didn't really need expansion.  After all, we already saw all of these wonderful side characters and it was hard to imagine them finding a more inventive way to add to this universe, so a sequel felt like it was dangerous territory, something that I realized about twenty minutes into the movie when the picture started to continually retread the entire plot-line from the original.  What made the Toy Story films so fantastic was that they felt like they were a part of a larger journey, a journey of a side character named Andy who is growing up while his toys, who are forever stagnant, have to realize that they will be forced to become older or move on as the film progresses.  This is not the case, however, for Dory, as the film instead just decides to go with an origin story, and one that is easily predictable from the onset of the film, and then has another chase-after-someone-captured-by-humans situation.  I mean-come on here-this is everything about Finding Nemo without some of the same excellent side characters we got from the original.

After all, there's no terrific "Sharks Anonymous" or even jumping through the jellies here.  Instead we're treated to a series of side characters that, while rich in their universe-building (Pixar still does that better than anyone, and the actual set direction here is on the better side for a Pixar film) feel more marketed as toys to be sold than actual avenues for the film to progress.  None of the new characters, not even an "Ed from The Lion King"-style sea lion is worth gravitating toward, and most of them are retreads of the original (Gill/Hank stick out, but there's no one that feels wholly unique to Dory despite most of the original side characters getting only cameos this time around).  Even the animation doesn't mirror the beauty and splendor we expect from Pixar-only rare moments like the pollution-filled ocean around Dory's parents' longtime home feels like something spectacular onscreen, as otherwise it's just run-of-the-mill and doesn't pop in the way we've come to be enamored with Pixar.

It also is a major problem putting Dory front-and-center, as her character suffers as a result.  Degeneres' comic timing is still sharp, but here she's not as funny as the same trope of "random flashback/sudden plot advance" is repeated over and over and over again.  The original film had the constant emerging dynamic between Dory and Marlin to rely upon, but here it's less believable that Hank doesn't like Dory or that his urgency isn't as great as a father looking for his son, so the frustrations are less authentic.  Dory the character isn't a well-rounded enough character to be a protagonist, and acts like a one-note side character for too long, eventually wearing out her welcome.

All-in-all, despite occasional laughs and liking some nods to the original film (though the end credits scene would have been cuter if we'd gotten some sort of hint that it was coming earlier in the picture), I was very disappointed in this movie.  If you had a different opinion, please share below in the comments-what did you think about yet another sequel from Pixar?

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