Pixar, and DreamWorks Animation, had been preparing me for Finding Dory for years.
It’s no secret that DreamWorks Animation was built by Jeffrey Katzenberg – the Disney man who had wanted, but was denied, the mouse house cartoon boss post — to snipe at Disney at every opportunity. When these flicks can take up to eight years to make, there’s plenty of time for creative interference. And staff change from one studio to the other like the weather.
All the Shreks were designed to satirize everything Disney. DWA’s Antz (1998) was rushed into cinemas to beat Pixar’s A Bug’s Life(1998). DWA’s The Prince of Egypt (1998) turned Disney’s epic Mayan project, Kingdom of the Sun (complete with Sting score), into The Emperor’s New Groove (2000). Ever wonder why all the Vikings in How to Train Your Dragon (2010) spoke with Scottish accents? Could it be to hamstring Brave (2012), which suddenly borrowed the plot from its own Brother Bear (2003) at the last second? Mmmm…could be!
But my real prep for Finding Dory was Pixar’s previous production The Good Dinosaur (which, in itself, may have been warped by DWA’sThe Croods) – the first wholly inexplicable Pixar feature I had seen (I may not have liked Cars 2, but at least it was explicable). Most of the creative decisions on Dinosaur perplexed me. Why steal the story motivation from The Lion King? Why have photo-realistic environments with a title character who looked like a pre-historic Gumby? Why just meander from here to there until ninety minutes was filled? Had Pixar, after eleven classics, finally run out of good ideas or the strength to implement them?
Pixar’s Inside Out (2015), as well as Disney’s Tangled, Wreck It Ralph, Frozen, and Zootopia, say otherwise, but I still came to Finding Dory preparing ample benefit of the doubt. This sequel, coming thirteen years after the original, had a sweet smell of “well, why not” on it. It immediately benefitted from Piper, a stunning, wonderful pre-film short directed by Alan Barillaro (Pixar always assigns its up and coming talents a technical problem which they must solve within a self-contained, hopefully delightful, short film, which the studio then attaches to its features. The Good Dinosaur was all but saved for me by Sanjay’s Super Team, the short by Sanjay Patel, which preceded it). Finding Dory is worth seeing just for Piper.
Naturally, the look of Dory’s undersea world (and surface world, come to think of it) is glorious and eminently bask-able. The characters are familiar and welcome, as is Pixar’s willingness to blend tragedy and comedy in unexpected, yet recognizable, ways. Not surprisingly, the plot hinges on the short-term-memory-loss-afflicted title character remembering her family and instantly setting out to seek them. And while she is doing that, the movie is consistently entertaining, if not exactly revolutionary.
On the one hand, I can commend Pixar by continuing not to do the expected – that is, staging the hard-fought, well-worthy reunion at the finale. On the other hand, however, the specifics of the action following the pre-climax home-coming first strained credulity, then, strangely, flatly broke it. At least for me. Years ago, I created a rule for judging a good James Bond film from a not-so-good James Bond film. If the villains become a reckless endangerment to public safety, good Bond. If 007 becomes a reckless endangerment to public safety, bad Bond.
Suffice to say, guess who becomes an extended, inexplicable, disbelief-suspending, credibility-popping, reckless endangerment to public safety in Finding Dory?
Although crinkled-brow-worthy, this climatic sequence doesn’t ruin the film. Far from it. I left the cinema very happy to have seen the eye-filling and emotionally fulfilling sequel. But, even so, I couldn’t help wishing that it had somehow been as well-conceived, structured, and satisfying as my new best buds, Sanjay and Piper.