PIXAR KEEPS SWIMMING
Pixar has done it again. When they are at they best, they find a combination of laughs, action and heart that few other animated (or live action) films can match.
Until Cars 2, Pixar had a fairly miraculous winning streak going. Few filmmakers have even come close to an eleven movie streak of successful films that have been across the board winners at the box office, with critics and during awards season. Spielberg’s run of ‘70s and ‘80s blockbusters came across a 1941 or Empire of the Sunonce in a while. The Coens had a ‘90s and 2000s run of critical hits, but they didn’t all reach audiences. But fromToy Story (1995) to Toy Story 3 (2010), Pixar was firing on all cylinders.
I think most Pixar fans would agree that the main ingredient of their films that put them over the top was story. Story was labored over intensely for YEARS during production, characters were revered and the Pixar creators worked in some kind of group mind configuration that yielded fantastic results. Another thing they did (and continue to do) is really follow the tenets of the G rating. G means “all audiences”, not kids only. There are few people who Pixar films fail to reach.
Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University would probably be considered Pixar’s “rough patch”, but how good is a studio, that during their “rough patch”, still earns 1.8 billion in box office revenues and an Oscar? The move of pushing The Good Dinosaur, Pixar’s lowest grossing movie, to after the release of Inside Out turned out to be a good one, as Dinosaur couldn’t then be considered a movie that extended the rough patch, but instead Inside Out was widely referred to as Pixar’s glorious return to form. Finding Dory continues that good form.
It took one of the Pixar inner circle directors, Pete Docter, to make Inside Out an unquestionably original and wildly inventive entry into the Pixar catalog. Dory brings back another director from Pixar’s core, Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E, whose return not only keeps Pixar’s best traits in place, but also restores Stanton’s credibility after John Carter (which is actually better than you’ve heard).
This looks to be the first full-on home run sequel outside of the Toy Story franchise for Disney/Pixar, as we return to the Austrailian reef to find forgetful blue tang Dory (voiced by Ellen Degeneres) now living with her new friends Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (now voiced by Hayden Rolence). A series of memories, however, flood Dory’s brain, reminding her that before these friends, she had a family – a mother and a father who loved her, who she feels she’s left behind because of her short-term memory. Just as Dory helped Marlin find Nemo, now Marlin and Nemo must help Dory reunite with her long-lost family.
Stanton’s script has our heroes meet with a huge roster of supporting characters (this is another excellent Pixar trait – who can forget Bing Bong, Dug, Stinky Pete and Edna Mode!). It seems like high praise to compare the rich landscape of characters in the Pixar universe to something like Dickens but I’m doing it! The variety and urgency of the ancillary characters is as vibrant as any great novel, even if the end result is a widely-enjoyable animated film as opposed to a lengthy page-turner. In Finding Dory, we meet a self-motivated but tenacious octopus (actually a septopus), two territorial sea lions, a self-doubting beluga whale and a nearsighted whale shark. The plot kicks in early and this sea of creatures keeps it zipping throughout.
It should be noted that the animation is outstanding. Pixar is so consistently brilliant with their care and detail in animation that you can take it for granted, so I will not. It’s outstanding. From the depth of the water, including particles and light breaking through it to the unique expressions they give to animals that otherwise might not draw emotion from me in real life, they continue to surpass all other animation companies.
This is matched with excellent voice work throughout. Brooks is hilarious again as Marlin, bringing his trademark worry but mixing it with warmth. Ed O’Neill voices the septopus, his voice sounding similarly gravelly to Brooks’. When Dory remembers her parents, they are voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton with all the parental joy and hope you could ask for. They’re perfectly cast. But in the middle of it all is Degeneres, who has an uncanny knack for giving Dory the perfect balance of making her humorous and making her sympathetic. Dory has a charming innocence that makes her capable of being followed anywhere by the viewer.
The finale ratchets up the trouble with our heroes having to get out of one situation after another to where there’s a car chase that has to be seen to be believed. And then the heart kicks in. And the humor. And the everything. Again, when Pixar is at their best, their movies just have everything.
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Release Date: June 17, 2016
Run Time: 103 Minutes
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar