Generally speaking, all movies from Pixar studios are the same two movies. It’s either an adventure film where characters have to get from Point A to Point B (Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, The Good Dinosaur, Inside Out, Monsters Inc.) or it’s a coming of age film where the main characters stay in one place and fight (Cars, Ratatouille, Monsters University, Toy Story 3, A Bug’s Life). Sometimes the film is a combination of the two (Wall-E, The Incredibles), but more often than not, the plot and the story of a Pixar film is something you’ve seen many times before, often times from a previous Pixar film. However, Pixar remains the top of the animation mountain- both in terms of box office success as well as quality of work. Pixar has been able to consistently churn out great film after great film for over two decades. Even a decent film like Finding Dory is lightyears ahead of most of the animation crop.
Yet there are clear tiers within each individual Pixar films. The tiers used to be “Holy cow, that’s friggin one of the best movies of all time” and “That’s very good, but it’s not one of Pixar’s best”. Films like the Toy Story franchise, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles fall into the former while other films like Cars, Ratatouille, and A Bug’s Life fall into the later. Unfortunately, ever since Cars 2 came out in 2011, we have unfortunately needed to create a third category for Pixar: “wow, that surprisingly was not a good movie”. Films like Cars 2, Monsters University, and Brave has unfortunately taken their place among the Pixar lore and semi-hurting the legacy. Since 2011, Pixar has made some Friggin Best Films of All Time movies like Inside Out and Toy Story 3, but for the most part, the films are either Surprisingly Not Good, or just bordering it. Pixar’s last two films, The Good Dinosaur and Finding Dory are good films and films that I would give a positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes if I had a vote, but clearly rank among of the worst films the studio has ever produced.
However, Dory soon remembers the location of her parents and where she used to live, and the trio travels across the ocean again, this time, instead of attempting to find Nemo, in an attempt to find Dory’s parents. The trio soon arrive in California as they stumble across a Marine Life Conservatory and enlist the help of a squid named Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neill), a beluga whale (voiced by Ty Burrell), a hammerhead shark (surprisingly not voiced by Julie Bowen who clearly had time available away from Modern Family, but by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Kaitlin Olson), and a pair of sea lions (voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West) to help find Dory’s parents. Unlike Nemo, the vast majority of the action in Dory is spent away from traveling within the ocean so it doesn’t feel like a complete rip off of its predecessor, but a lot of the lessons are the name. The neurotic Marlin still needs to learn to trust his son and be more of a free spirit and everyone needs to learn to trust Dory more.
The film is cute and charming, and objectively speaking, everyone will like this movie- especially if you loved Finding Nemo. The film briskly movies from scene to scene keeping everyone, including small children, engaged and has the typical Pixar charisma and humor to make it truly great for everyone of all ages. The movie theater I saw Finding Dory in was (un)surprisingly split between older Millennials like myself, and parents with young kids. While all of those factors help reinforce my point that even a below average picture according to Pixar standards is still better than almost anything else within the marketplace, but it’s still a below average film for Pixar.
Whether it’s fair or not, there’s a certain quality the movie-going audience has come to expect from a Pixar film, especially one that’s a sequel to one of its better films. Pixar has been able to meet that standard when it comes to sequels of Toy Story, but not so much for its other franchises like Monsters University and Cars 2. Finding Dory finds its way in between the two. It’s not as horrific as the latter two films, but it’s not nearly as close to being as up to par as any of the former two.
The very best Pixar films either give us something we’ve never seen before (Toy Story) or something that is just so complex that you can’t believe it’s actually a kid’s film (Inside Out), or both (Wall-E). As previously mentioned, every Pixar film is basically the same movie, but how Pixar deals with the specificity of the characters or the journey itself determines what tier the film will fall into. At this point in their run, Pixar has done a litany of films emphasizing the importance of family and finding your inner strength- the themes Finding Dory harps on. Therefore, in order for Dory to stand out from the pact, it needs to do something more. And it doesn’t. It follows similar beats and similar tropes and similar themes as the last 16 Pixar films before it, which still creates an enjoyable movie experience, but also still deserves to be ranked among Pixar’s worst films. Yet for all the negativity that I have towards Finding Dory, I know you are going to enjoy this film, and for that reason, I can’t recommend it enough.
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