Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Jimbo Goes To The Movies: 'Finding Dory' (2016) Review

It's not the best Pixar movie of the decade, but it's nonetheless an immensely enjoyable little diversion. Bonus: it features Al Bundy as an ornery octopus with just seven tentacles.

By: Jimbo X

Of course, Finding Dory is an unnecessary sequel. Indeed, the 13-year-late follow-up might just be the most superfluous Pixar movie to date, a film that clearly has no creative reason to exist other than to capitalize on a popular I.P. and make Walt Disney a ton of moolah.

But in that shameless cash grab, something unexpected happened – Pixar wound up making a really, really good movie. Granted, it’s not quite as good as Inside Out or Toy Story 3, but it’s certainly a more enjoyable romp than Monsters University, Brave and especially the studio’s ultimate disappointment, Cars 2.

The plotline for Finding Dory is pretty much a carbon copy of the script for Finding Nemo, albeit with a grander flare for extravagant action sequences. Whereas the first film was a heartfelt paean to the insecurities of parenthood, this flick is pure popcorn hokum through and through, a movie more interested in connecting one improbable escape sequence to the next, even more improbable one than laying on the sentimentality.

That’s not to say Dory doesn’t have its syrupy moments. After all, the movie is about a character trying to find her long-last parents. Nonetheless, the movie never gets bogged down in the saccharine stuff, instead emphasizing the kind of high drama you’d expect out of the latest Mission: Impossible offering.

Nemo and Marlin, the father and son clownfish duo that were the focal point of the original, are stuck playing second bananas to the eponymous character, a blue tang plagued by short term memory loss (which, as displayed in the film, appears to be much closer to fish ADD than anything else.) Stirred by faint recollections of her parents, Dory decides to make the trek from the Great Barrier Reef to coastal California, an endeavor that is filled with dire miscalculations and missteps from the get-go. After almost being devoured by a giant squid, she finds herself stuck in the “quarantine” zone of a marine rehabilitation institute, where the stern-yet-reassuring audio recordings of Sigourney Weaver play on an infinite loop. There, she meets an octopus – well, technically, a septupus, since he only has seven tentacles – voiced by AL FUCKIN' BUNDY, who hashes out an agreement to help her escape if and only if she gives him a tag that allows him safe passage to that cephalopod Shangri-La … Cleveland, Ohio?

From there, we’re introduced to your usual assortment of quirky Pixar side characters. There are two seals who hang out in the bay beside the institute who sound like the blokes from Top Gear and a seagull named Becky that is either diseased, mentally retarded or both. But hey, she’s at least handy with a bucket when it counts, though. Rounding out the franchise newcomers is a whale shark with poor eyesight (but a crucial water duct navigator), a beluga with echolocation abilities that rival Daredevil, a gigantic (and gigantically emo) clam and a gaggle of otters whose sole function in the film is to look adorable so as to distract human captors.

Which brings us to the best thing about Dory – its absurdly over-the-top action sequences. While you probably shouldn’t be looking for realism in a film about talking aquatic life (which is apparently something that the reviewers who inherited Roger Ebert’s domain name take into consideration), the stuff that goes on here is just absolutely bonkers. Whereas the wackiest thing that happened in the first film was Nemo hopping out of an aquarium tank in a dentist’s office, this flick ends with a 20-minute long truck-jacking that culminates in a big rig careening into the San Francisco Bay. Granted, we all knew octopi were intelligent creatures, but who knew they were intelligent enough to operate a manual transmission?

Sequels – especially ones like Dory that are meticulously crafted to reap profits instead of tell decent stories – are tricky business. While no one will ever lump this one along with the likes of Aliens or Terminator 2, you at least have to give Pixar some credit. Really, they could have simply phoned in a lite and frothy rehash of the original, but instead, they sought to do something unexpected. It’s not quite a jailbreak movie and it’s not quite an ensemble caper movie, but it definitely has touches of both sub-genres infused into its celluloid structure. The guys at Pixar never sat out to make “a bigger and badder” Nemo, they simply took the core concept of the first movie, wedged it into a carefully formatted jape narrative, and went buck wild with the set pieces. I mean, if you are going to make a movie about something as ridiculous as an octopus trying to help a fish find her mother and father, why not anchor the hootenanny around an I-5 car chase?

For those of you worried that the film takes an undesired detour into soulless Cars 2 like territory, rest assured, the film still packs plenty of emotion (if not forced emotion, in some respects.) The film’s big reunion scene has all the syrupiness you’d expect it to, and the grand finale gives the series a nice sense of closure – although considering the impressive box office take, we probably won’t have to wait another 13 years for Finding Hank, or Finding Destiny or Finding Forrester or whatever the hell they want to call part 3. Oh, and the requisite pre-feature short? My goodness, is it the goddamnedest most adorable thing ever.

Give this Andrew Stanton guy his props. He had absolutely no incentive to make Finding Dory worth a toot, but by golly, he managed to turn what was almost destined to be a half-hearted warm-over into one of the more interesting popcorn cinema offerings to come pouring down the pipes so far this year.

Dory ain’t revolutionary cinema. Nor is it top-of-the-line storytelling. What it is, however, is an extraordinarily entertaining romp that never falls into the doldrums many films of its type are prone to. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming and it has some downright insane action scenes, especially for a kids movie. And come one, people: do you really think I’m going to give a negative review to anything starring Ed O'Neil as a misanthropic mollusk? 

My Score:

Three Tofu Dogs out of Four.


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