I was pretty much the target audience for “Finding Nemo” as an impressionable 10-year-old cinephile when Pixar debuted the film in 2003. It was back in the time when movies could stay in theaters for months, not just weeks, and I think I saw it five times that summer before fifth grade. I was rapt by the wit, creativity and storytelling sophistication.
But, as my mom was quick to point out, the film might frustrate or confuse viewers slightly younger. With its frequent cross-cutting between the split storylines of Marlin/Dory and Nemo, the delicate back and forth is a far cry from most children’s entertainment with a singularly focus and strict linear plot.
I can only imagine how some of them reacted to the sequel, “Finding Dory,” which is so frenzied and frenetic in its storytelling that I often wondered if the Pixar brain trust was attempting to replicate the scattered mind of its memory-troubled protagonist. The film moves quite jarringly about, cramming every scene full of joke lines, plot points and sentimental reflections. It is frequently fun and enjoyable, but the tagline of the movie should have been Dory’s oft-repeated mantra, “Just keep swimming.” The film requires constant motion to keep up and stay afloat.
Still, this is a Pixar product, so it still manages to provide all the typical stirring and sweet moments that define the studio. (Even “Cars 2” had these.) As Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory fights her way through a labyrinthine aquarium unit – as well as her own mind – to find her parents, she has many an opportunity to reflect on the importance of family. This means not only where they are, but who they are; always a step or two behind are Marlin and Nemo swimming to keep up with her.
“Finding Dory” celebrates these improvised families and impromptu units, proclaiming what makes them different is what makes them beautiful. This message might ring a little more profoundly were it not cheapened by silly shenanigans like an octopus driving a truck, but I’m willing to let that one slide given that there are more clever running jokes. For example, frequently throughout “Finding Dory,” a male and female pairing will appear on screen to provide directions or information. Each offers slightly different information; they bicker; the woman wins out. In many ways, these duos provide a mirror of Marlin and Dory’s character dynamics offered up in hilarious microcosm. B /