By Chaz Lipp
In trying to assess Pixar’s Finding Dory, the sequel to 2003’s beloved Finding Nemo, I find myself at a deficit. Starting with the relatively obvious: I’m not a child. Less obvious: I am not a parent. Probably also pertinent—I’ve never seen Nemo. The perfect trifecta, one that absolutely defines me as being about as far outside the target demographic as possible.
But I’m gonna talk about Dory anyway, which has raked in money hand over fist this summer and also garnered mostly sterling reviews. It’s cute (almost terminally so). It passes by pretty quickly (but even at 97 minutes it manages to wear out its welcome). And it’s intended for kids. Try as I may, I cannot quite grasp why so many adults claim to love Pixar’s product on its own terms, especially when I see critics place their films on top ten lists. Or when the Academy nominates them in non-animation categories (i.e. the agonizing Inside Out, which was nominated for Best Original Screenplay). It surprises me that some adults can find such depth in films that are conceived for the comparatively simple mentality of children.
As the memory-impaired Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) struggles mightily to locate her parents, it’s pretty easy to simply bask in the stunning animation. There seems to be no end to the visual invention of which Pixar’s wizards are capable. But as it races towards a stupefying climax that involves Hank the octopus (Ed O’Neill) driving a truck, Dory‘s sentiments remain stubbornly shallow. Frankly, the memory issues Dory has to deal with are pretty horrifying. Perhaps her constant forgetfulness is giggle-inducing for children. Maybe writer-director Andrew Stanton didn’t intend for it to play as a kiddie version of Memento. But it kinda does. And it’s a bit squirm-inducing at times if you give the scenario a moment’s thought, to say the least.
How does Dory overcome her problem? That’s a bit of a hazy cheat. At some point, Dory stumbles upon a kind of personal mantra: “What would Dory do?” I half-expected to hear of Christian protest of this variation on “What would Jesus do?” but apparently the only “controversial” element of Dory among hardcore circles is a glimpse of a presumed lesbian couple visiting an aquarium. I didn’t even notice it, but the Internet was ablaze with ludicrous debate since the trailer premiered. At any rate, the “What would Dory do?” method of dealing with memory loss isn’t really a method at all. It’s more of a lazy conceit that stands in for any kind of real way for Dory to deal with her anterograde amnesia (she, being a fish, obviously can’t write herself notes a la Memento‘s Leonard Shelby).
Disturbingly light treatment of a real and serious disorder aside, Finding Dory is basically harmless fun for young kids.
Finding Dory Images: Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios