If anyone were to ask me what the greatest film trilogy of all-time is, I might give an unexpected answer. In my mind, it’s not Star Wars. It’s not The Godfather. It’s not Indiana Jones. Or Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Nor is it Spider-Man. Or Back to the Future. No, no. I feel that the greatest film trilogy of all-time is also oft overlooked due to its medium. But it’s full of pathos and emotion. Twists and turns. Relatable character motivation. Real stakes and consequences. Laugh-out-loud comedy. Consistent quality across the board. And the original installment in the series was a breakthrough film that changed the industry forever.
The greatest film trilogy of all-time is the Toy Story series.
And now, perhaps hoping to replicate the success found with their Toy Story films, Pixar is back with Finding Dory, a sequel to the most successful original film in their history, Finding Nemo. Unlike many, Finding Nemo isn’t among my favorite Pixar films. I’d put it above Cars 2, The Good Dinosaur, and maybe (but maybe not) A Bug’s Life, but that’s it. (Yes, I really liked the original Cars and feel it’s extremely underrated.). That’s not to say that I don’t like it. I do; just not as much as most of Pixar’s other films. But guess what? They don’t need me to because most other people do. So, how does Finding Dory measure up?
Pretty well, actually. For one, I found the writing to be much wittier and funnier than its predecessor, and that counts for a lot in my eyes. I know the kind of humor Pixar is capable of, so when I see one of their films for the first time, I have high expectations in that regard. Dory isn’t the funniest movie in their portfolio, but it holds its own and it’s up to their standard.
More importantly, the story is where the film truly soars (swims?). I will admit to a little initial disappointment when the film veers into familiar Finding Nemo territory after a wholly unique first act. Initially being established as a mystery revolving around Dory’s search for her family amidst her inability to create new short-term memories, the film largely plays like “Pixar does Memento“. Invoking this idea also has the effect of taking Dory’s disability – played for laughs in the first film – and using it to round her out as a character. And while there are fun moments revolving around this problem she has, it’s also shown to be the hindrance that it would be in real life. She becomes a truly sympathetic figure rather than the comic relief and hopefully, kids (and many adults) can come to a greater understanding of what it would be like to have to deal with this sort of issue on a daily basis.
Tying into that idea of empathy is my favorite aspect of Finding Dory: there are no antagonists. Every single character that Dory encounters on her journey wants to help her. Some have their own agenda, some don’t. But none are malicious and all genuinely care for her. There is of course nothing wrong with films having villains, and many films need to have at least one. Oftentimes, however, a villain is forced into a movie seemingly because that’s just the way it’s done. I’m so glad that Pixar resisted this temptation. Not only is no villain necessary, but I would even argue that having one would have hurt the film. We don’t need to see either the message that impeding someone with a disability nor that coming between someone and their family is entertaining. In another film that is aimed directly at (supposedly) mature, responsible adults, who can take those sorts of characters and stories and put them into context, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But Pixar and Disney put out family (not “kids'”) films. Younger, more impressionable, minds are a large portion of the target audience, so I’m pleased to see that, even though freedom of speech and creativity are alive and well, Pixar directors Andrew Stanton and Angus McLane take their responsibility to that demographic seriously. They tell their story in a more-than-adequate fashion without risking harm. Well done. And, not to mention, I found the lack of an antagonist unique and frankly refreshing.
But villains are used to create conflict. But Finding Dory had a built-in conflict and it was all an internal one within the title character. It’s probably safe to say that in almost all instances, we are our own harshest critic. We beat ourselves up, blame ourselves for events that are out of control, and carry interminable guilt on our shoulders like we aspire to be Atlas. Dory is struggling with guilt due to an event caused by her disability. That’s a deep and difficult subject to approach – especially in a family film – and Pixar handles it with dexterity, grace, and humor.
So, even when the story does become a little more paint-by-numbers, the underlying themes are still prevalent. In Finding Dory, not only are other characters trying to find Dory, but Dory is finding herself,, as well.
This story is not an easy one to tell under any circumstances but it seems as if Stanton, McLane, and company threw down the gauntlet to themselves and then rose to their own challenge. Ellen DeGeneres and the rest of the cast deliver on their end, as expected, and the whole cast and crew unite to tell a story about the importance of family, friends, and ourselves. It’s another huge win for Pixar, both creatively and financially, and delivers in all of the ways that I’m sure everyone involved hoped it would.