Finding Dory (Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane, 2016)
To me, and I know I am in the minority on this, Finding Nemo (2003) has always been one of Pixar’s minor successes; it’s nowhere near as awful as their worst output, like Cars 2 or Wall-E, but it’s nowhere near as good as their classics (Toy Story, Monsters Inc.). And since Pixar’s track record with post-TS2 sequels has been, to put it kindly, abysmal, I wouldn’t have even gone to see Finding Dory if my four-year-old hadn’t begged. And I wasn’t exactly predisposed to liking it today; the mall had a Pokémon Go event going on, so it took half an hour to find a parking spot, and of course at a Saturday matinee, the theater was full of loud toddlers. (I’m not going to say mine is a model, but his mother and I have taught him that quiet is necessary in a cinema, and he mostly gets it.) And yet, I walked out of that theater amazed. Finding Dory is a far, far superior film to its predecessor, and continues the jaw-dropping revitalization of Pixar that started with Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur last year.
We open (after a quick montage of Dory’s life up to that point) a year after the events of Nemo. Dory is still scatterbrained, but is getting slightly better about it—to the point where her sleep-talking, overheard and parroted by Nemo, kicks off a flash in her brain of her parents, which sends the three of them on an adventure, this time to Monterey Bay, California, in search of Dory’s family. Of course, everyone gets separated, meet an amazing cast of characters, have great adventures, etc. In other words, as far as plot etc. goes, it’s a pretty typical pre-Cars Pixar flick. Good, but not immortal.
However, there’s one thing about Finding Dory that propels it into the shortlist of classic Pixar titles. I hadn’t really thought about it in Nemo, because they usually play Dory for comic relief there, but Dory is, in essence, neurodivergent. At the very least, if you put aside the Guy Pearce syndrome, she’s severely ADHD and suffers from anxiety. And, just as I said in my review of Jordan Krall’s False Magic Kingdom, one of the strongest points of Finding Dory is its treatment of her neurodivergence. These folks either suffer the same conditions or they were pristine in their research.
Dory’s memory improves steadily throughout the movie as she gains self-confidence and stops doubting herself, as does her ADHD. However, about three quarters of the way through the movie, she finds herself in an unexpected, stressful situation. She has had a few temporary setbacks of this sort previously in the movie, but this one’s major. And the stress triggers the anxiety. Her babbling to herself right before she cracks is heartbreaking, because I’ve been there. Recently. I know exactly what she’s going through. And when she snaps, and the ADHD and memory loss come roaring back full force, that scene is as real any any of Dame Judi Dench’s Alzheimer’s scenes in Iris. That is not a comparison I make lightly; as of this writing Iris is #11 on my list of the greatest movies ever made. And while I’m not going to even begin to say that the relatively lightweight Finding Dory is on that same level of excellence, Ellen DeGeneres’ performance is so dead-on it hurts. It’s one of those movies I am very, very glad to have seen, and I find it extremely important in educating the “norms” when it comes to neurodivergence, but like Iris and other movies of its ilk, I’m reasonably certain it’s going to be years, maybe decades, before I can watch it again. It’s enough to know that Pixar continues to be gloriously back on track.
Oh, and one other thing. Even when Pixar was making crap features, the one pla
ce they continued to excel was in their shorts. They have yet to turn out a bad one, and Piper, directed by Monsters, Inc. animator Alan Barillaro, continues the trend. It’s almost saccharine-cute, a simple story told with sympathetic humor and wonderful characters. Oftentimes Pixar’s movie-preceding shorts have been enough to brave the woeful features they were making for so long; now, as they were at the turn of the millennium, they’re just gold-leaf icing on an equally wonderful cake.
Finding Dory: ****
Piper: *** ½