FINDING DORY, the eminently worthy sequel to 2003’s FINDING NEMO, is essentially one long chase. In this it shares much with last year’s blockbuster MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, including the sense that nothing is impossible, including testing the laws of physics to their limits, and a strong message of feminine empowerment, as exemplified by that most unlikely of action heroine’s, the eponymous Dory. Voiced again with perfect aural acuity by Ellen DeGeneres, the blue tang with short-term memory issues strikes a blow for the underdog (underfish?), by proving that we should never underestimate a particular skill set just because doesn’t conform to the norm. There is little of MAX’s violence, instead the operative, and high-pitched, emotional roller coaster involves having the cockles of one’s heart warmed, hair-raising escapes, and a sweet sense of humor that is inclusive rather than mean-spirited.
It’s a year after the events of NEMO, and Dory is having flashbacks triggered by specific phrases. She can’t remember that the anemone tendrils in which clownfish Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and his perpetually angst-ridden father, Marlin (Albert Brooks), sleep will sting her, but the word “undertow” suddenly reminds her of her parents (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton), and the horrific accident that swept her literally from their loving fins. Thus begins another trek across the treacherous open ocean, using all the tricks learned in the previous film, so that the story proper can begin after a quick visit with old sea turtle friends, and an adventure through the exhibits and backstage areas of a fictitious marine life institute in Morro Bay, CA.
The first step is easy. Caught in a set of plastic six-pack rings, Dory is rescued by biologists and painlessly tagged for permanent exhibition rather than release back into the wild. In short order, Hank (Ed O’Neill), a testy octopus with highly advanced chromatophores who dreams of moving to an solo exhibit in Cleveland, has volunteered to help Dory in exchange for her tag, and the two set out to negotiate land, sea, and even air in order to reunite Dory with her parents, and Hank to live out his dreams of being alone and as far away from kids as possible.
Well, easy for Dory. Nemo and Marlin, who have accompanied Dory on her quest, have, of course, become separated from her after Marlin says something harsh to her. Spurred by guilt, and the sulking Nemo is aiming at him, Marlin negotiates similar obstacles in order to find the blue tang and apologize. Not that she’ll remember the insult, but guilt is a powerful motivator, almost as strong as the tug of family, which Dory now is for the two clownfish.
Dory introduces a whole new cast of supporting characters, each one as enchanting and/or quirky and/or compelling as those from the original. A quick cameo of those single-mindedly avaricious seagulls are more than enough when there is a visually impaired whale shark (Kaitlin Olsin), and beluga whale (Ty Burrell) with separation anxiety, a dash of an emotionally needy clam, and several fish couples that squabble in a pointedly passive-aggressive fashion. As for the Becky the red-eyed loon who figures prominently courtesy of a pair of clique-ish sea lions, there is less charm than a disquieting sort of mental instability.
The plot progresses by taking us with baby steps through situations that become more and more inventively improbable, working up that improbability in manageable increments of clever silliness while also building on a foundation of precedent and credibility. It also ratchets up the suspense in a way that will keep everyone from toddler to jaded adult on the edge of his or her seat while also playing your heartstrings like a virtuoso harpist. It never panders, it never stoops to simple sentiment, but it is always so emotionally true through the banter that it will likely provoke tears of joy as well as guffaws and gasps.
FINDING DORY is a sequel as good as the original. It expands the story while never taking shortcuts or resting on its laurels (kelp). It pays the same attention to marine biology and oceanography, too, without once being pedantic. Word of advice, sit through the credits. The payoff is on par with everything else that’s perfection about DORY.