Rarely is a sequel worthy of its predecessor. Sequels often disappoint us, because we enter them with big expectations and a pre-conceived idea of what this universe should be; of what the tone should be. The filmmakers are then faced with a dilemma:
- either stick to what has been done with the first film; that means keeping the same structure, tone, and facing the risk of repeating yourself; we'll call that the Home Alone 2 syndrome.
- or they do something completely different, unexpected, with the consequence of losing the fans of the first film. That's the Cars 2 syndrome.
Fortunately, there's also a third option. The one for the worthy sequel which finds the right balance between looking back and saying something new. On this spoiler-free review, I'll explain why I think Dory is a rare example of that kind of sequel.
Finding Dory is the story of the forgetful blue tang who lost her family and goes on a quest to find them.
Dory was of course a memorable character in Finding Nemo, but she is the star of this new film. It was a risky choice to do that, as a transition from funny sidekick to main protagonist can quickly become annoying (again, see Cars 2). But Dory is no Mater, and she's never annoying; she's still funny, and more affecting than ever. Of course, Dory wouldn't be Dory without Ellen DeGeneres' performance, and she's still the perfect match for the blue tang.
How it escapes the Cars 2 syndrome
Finding Dory has a lot in common with Nemo. The first act, in particular, pays tribute to it, with returning characters from the first film in similar scenes. Sometimes, a sequence or a shot look like they were taken from Finding Nemo - and in one particular instance, it doesn't just look like it: it's the case.
It's clear it was a conscious decision from director Andrew Stanton; from the get-go, he wanted to reassure the audience that this is indeed the world they know and love. It feels exactly like the movie that came out 13 years ago. But then everything changes.
How it escapes the Home Alone 2 syndrome
When we go into act 2, we are introduced to a great batch of new characters: there's Hank the cranky octopus, Destiny the short-sighted whale shark, Bailey the slightly paranoid Beluga, sea lions, Becky the loon… They all bring freshness and fun to the story, but there's also some heart in there.
The story, in that regard, does a very nice job of being hysterically funny in some parts (with some pretty dark and adult jokes, but also very silly moments), and moving in other. Maybe even more moving than Nemo was. Probably because we've known these characters for a while now, but also because the journey Dory goes through here is incredibly poignant; it sends a strong message of acceptance and inclusion regarding disability. It was kind of there already in Finding Nemo, but it's the main focus here and it's done superbly.
In that sense, this sequel completes the first film beautifully.
There is also a new way of filming in Finding Dory; in key moments of the story, Andrew Stanton and his co-director Angus MacLane use camera angles, lenses and cinematography that have rarely/never been seen at Pixar before.
The action and setpieces are crazy good (especially the climax, that Pixar thankfully didn't spoil in the trailers).
The use of sound is clever, the soundtrack by Thomas Newman doesn't overuse the old themes (some are there, but the score is mostly completely new music).
Technically - and it will surprise no one - Finding Dory is perfect. The effects, the animation are gorgeous.
Now, if I have to mention flaws, I can; I felt the beginning of the movie, while good, was a bit slow. In contrast, some of the action in the third act is clearly over the top. I wouldn't say Dory jumps the shark, although she kind of does in a way…
Despite these minor problems, Finding Dory is a worthy sequel. One of the few follow-ups that manage to get very close to being as good as the original (which I consider a masterpiece, so that's saying something). One that completes its predecessor naturally. A moving, funny, inventive piece of entertainment that should satisfy yet surprise fans of Nemo.