Yesterday evening I found myself in the extremely plush Picturehouse Central with my friend L. watching the Disney Pixar release Finding Dory. I had never seen the film that spawned this sequel. Nor have I ever to my knowledge seen a Pixar film. They seemed aimed at kids and I wasn't too interested. But, Finding Dory had good reviews and I was in the mood for some undemanding laughs. And it starred Ellen De Generes as the central character, a blue tang fish, thus ticking a Bechdel-Wallace test box. So.... in I went.
It wasn't too hard to pick up on the plot, though I needed the steer the film provides that it picks up one year after Finding Nemo, with Nemo's dad Marlin proving to be Dory's guide/father figure. Dory's most interesting characteristic, aside from her very disturbing bulging eyes, is her short term memory loss, which provides the film's chief complication. How can she search for her missing parents when she can't remember more than a few seconds back? It is unusual for mainstream films to foreground any kind of disability and this one handles it pretty well. The parents, seen in flashback, try to reassure Dory and also take steps to make it easier to find them, which proves useful. Despite their worried expressions and glances, they clearly want her to make the most of herself. And Marlin losing his temper with her is also easy to understand, though he tries to make amends.
Dory, for me, was a somewhat difficult character. Her age is uncertain. She is meant to be somewhat grown up and is voiced by an adult, but her behaviour is extremely childlike, as she constantly wanders, asking strangers for help and dreaming wistfully of finding the parents she forgot. I guess this makes her easier for kids to relate to, but I found her helplessness grated on me over time. Of course, the mouse house wants its characers to be cute and ingratiating, but it did get to be a bit much, especially as the "finding home" storyline was laid on with increasing unsubtlety.
Thank heavens for Hank the septopus, who turns up in a marine lab to help extricate Dory from captivity. As voiced by Ed O'Neill, he is gruff and gnarled, and desperate to reach the marine centre in Cleveland for his retirement. The character is used to very clever effect, as he is able to camouflage himself in the most unlikely situations and the scene in which he and Dory take over a shipment of fish, with him at the wheel is one of the funniest things I've seen in ages.
The sealife breakout is quite radical in its own way, as the characters resist the centre's entreaty (as voiced by Sigourney Weaver!) of "Rescue, Rehabilitate, Release" to force their own liberation. This is when the film really took off, its family values homillies expanding to encompass a whole community.