While I probably wasn’t the only one to scratch my head at the prospect of a sequel to Pixar’s beloved Finding Nemo, I went in with high hopes that Pixar could recapture the same feelings they did over a decade ago. 

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting on that Incredibles sequel, but that’s neither here nor there (though 2019 cannot come quite fast enough.)

So where does Pixar go with a sequel twelve years after its predecessor? Having been seriously hit or miss over the past couple years (I’m looking at you, The Good Dinosaur) Pixar has become increasingly unreliable in terms of mustering up that same amount of heart, magic, and imagination that we’ve come to expect from them. Last year was the perfect example of what succeeds (Inside Out) and what doesn’t (still looking at you, Good Dinosaur).

Finding Dory is somewhere in-between these two extremes. Having thirteen years for audiences to develop a love and attachment for Marlin (Albert Brooks), Nemo (Hayden Rolence,) and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) builds a certain sort of expectation as the first movie is so close to many a heart. Pixar thankfully does their best with these expectations, though in some moments it’s not nearly enough. 

The handful of throwbacks are welcoming, and thankfully Pixar was smart enough to not rely too heavily on them (though we do get a lot more backstory that helps flesh out key elements of the first film). Instead, they take us on a journey that is a little too much about the journey and less of the heart as they fumble a few key scenes resulting in far less of a blow to the feels than something like dear old Bing Bong in Inside Out (still crying about that one).

After remembering that she lost her family as a baby, Dory sets out to find them. With a bit of a whirlwind of an opening that zips (literally) straight across the ocean in a matter of minutes to a marine institute in California, we come to learn of Dory’s youth as she has wandered the ocean her entire life trying to find her way back home (that is until she ran into Marlin, and we know where that goes).

The remainder of the movie takes place in said marine institute (basically a huge side-eye at the whole SeaWorld and aquarium industry) as the gang swims from one exhibit to the next, meeting some lovable animals along the way. Adding in cast members like Idris Elba, Ty Burrell, Eugene Levy, Diane Keaton, Ed O’Neil and Dominic West, along with a slew of brand new marine life breathes a lot of life and energy into the film. 

However, my problem lies in the fact that there is less of a concern for dialogue and more for pure adventure and excitement (wait until you see the ridiculously over-the-top finale.) While the first film had a wonderful balance between dialogue-heavy moments and thrilling spectacles, there’s a lot more focus on the latter here as many emotional moments are rushed through and never quite savored. This by no means makes it a bad movie, it just comes off as more of an adventure than a story of self-discovery and family. Don’t get me wrong, there are some beautifully poignant moments, but you probably won’t be reaching for the box of tissues.

Will Finding Dory be remembered as fondly as Nemo was? Perhaps, but then again I saw it in theaters when I was a kid, so I’ve had over a decade to let that love grow. Is it better than its predecessor? Not quite, but it does offer quite a nice bit of entertainment and a return to the ocean with some spectacular animation and a heart-wrenchingly brilliant voice-performance from DeGeneres.

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