It has been one year since Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) returned to the Great Barrier Reef after rescuing Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Dory has become a part of their family, but one day her memory is jogged and she suddenly remembers her parents (voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) and where she grew up on the coast of California. Dory decides that she must embark on a journey to find them and, after some trepidation on Marlin’s part, the three set of a new adventure. Along the way they meet some new friends, including a pair of sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West), a whale shark and childhood friend of Dory’s named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), an injured beluga named Bailey (Ty Burrell), and a cranky octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill). But will Dory be able to remember enough about her past to find her parents, and will they still be waiting for her after so many years?
What made the sequels to Toy Story so great, in my opinion, is that they’re not just more of the same. Each of the three Toy Story films are very different movies with very different stories. Each of them is unique and vibrant and, well, a great movie independently of each other. Finding Dory, on the other hand, is very much a normal sequel in the sense that it’s more of the same of the first one. And don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t make it bad. Finding Nemo is one of Pixar’s greatest films, and having more of it is certainly great. It lets you see the characters you know and love again, and it brings you back to Pixar’s loving-crafted undersea world (which looks better than ever thanks to 13 years of advancement in animation technology since the first film). It makes you laugh, and it may bring tears to your eyes at times. Plus, Dory was always the most interesting character in Finding Nemo, and her short-term memory loss is utilized in this film for both humor and somewhat haunting drama.
But the problem is that Finding Dory never does anything more than Finding Nemo did- it’s essentially the same plot a second time. Unlike the Toy Story sequels, it never tries to be anything more than the original one. Finding Dory cannot stand on its own as a great movie because it never tries to step out of its predecessor’s shadow. And frankly, this isn’t enough. It’s not enough for Pixar to tread water because we know they’re better than that. Part of the problem is the Pixar Effect, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have such high expectations of them when they have consistently shown that they can do better than this.
Now, I don’t want you to get to the end of this and think Finding Dory is a bad movie. It absolutely is not, and any fan of Pixar will thoroughly enjoy the film. But this isn’t enough. If Pixar is going to continue to make so many sequels to their earlier films, they need to demonstrate that those sequels can have a life beyond the original film- that they can stand on their own as great movies. Finding Dory, good as it is, cannot do this. Trapped in the shadow of its forerunner, it never learns to swim on its own.