If “Finding Nemo” was groundbreaking filmmaking, then the long-gestating sequel “Finding Dory” is cinematic comfort food. It’s not really necessary, and it certainly doesn’t match its predecessor, but we get a warm feeling just from having it around.
Set some time after the last adventure, the star here is Dory, the forgetful blue tang voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. We find out more about her backstory, such as the fact her funny/annoying short-term memory loss is not the result of some injurious experience, but something she grew up with as a little fishy.
My friend Ed Johnson-Ott of NUVO Newsweekly, a wonderful film critic and even better human being, correctly noted that this revelation irrevocably alters how we feel about Dory as a special-needs person, likening it to his own family.
“Dory is presented as what she is: an individual trying to work around her limitations. She assumes that most of those around her will help when they can, and most of the time she is right,” he wrote. “Individuals like Dory remind us that we are a community and, especially when one of us is a little more vulnerable, we need to behave like one.”
Dory, suddenly instilled with flashes of long-ago memories of her parents, determines to go on a quest to find them. Nebbishy clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and son Nemo (Hayden Rolence) come along, too. They end up at the fictional Marine Life Institute, which first seems like a haven for injured sea life, but has a dark shadow just beneath the surface.
Many of the critters there display odd behavior as a result of their captivity. Some want to be free, but many others are complacent about their stable existence. One is Hank, a cranky octopus lovingly voiced by Ed O’Neill. He can change colors and mold his squishy body into all sorts of shapes, even operating human gizmos like a pro. He helps Dory and the gang, but only if they first scratch his back (so to speak).
A combination of slapstick antics and empathetic storytelling, “Finding Dory” will make us remember why we adored the original film so much, and fall a little bit more in love with Dory.
Bonus materials are extravagant, though you’ll have to buy the Blu-ray version for most of them. The DVD has only the short film “Piper” and a feature-length commentary track by director Andrew Stanton, co-director Angus MacLane and producer Lindsey Collins.
The Blu-ray adds nine deleted scenes and 10 making-of featurettes, touching on everything from creating Hank, the musical team, underwater explorations of real fish who inspired the onscreen ones, interviews with inhabitants of the Marine Life Institute, and more. Personal favorite: “Casual Carpool,” in which Stanton drives some of the key voice actors around.