Earlier this week, Jody and I had the chance to pre-screen Disney•Pixar’s Finding Dory, and I must say that this, for us, was THE most highly anticipated pre-screening we have attended to date. Our kids were green with envy (we only get two tickets to pre-screenings, so our kids have to wait for the theatrical release like everyone else). Even our husbands were bummed that they couldn’t make it to this one.
Finding Nemo is one of my all time favorite animated movies. In fact, I think it’s such a great example of top notch storytelling that I use it whenever I teach basic storytelling techniques to kids. I’m not alone in my opinion on this film. It won the 2003 Academy Award® for best animated feature. In 2008, the American Film Institute named it among the top 10 greatest animated films ever made. And at the time of its release, Finding Nemo was the highest grossing G-rated movie of all time. It is still the fifth highest grossing animated film worldwide. The film has more than 19 million Likes on Facebook, and Dory—with more than 25 million—is the most liked individual character from any Disney or Disney•Pixar film.
So with all those accolades in mind, we were pumped for a GREAT sequel. And Disney•Pixar knows how to do a sequel. I’m not sure which Toy Story is my favorite. They are all so good, and I think I might have liked Monsters University even a tad bit more than Monsters Inc.
Boy were we surprised by Finding Dory!
Finding Nemo instantly drew us into the plight of its main characters. In the opening scene, we were delighted for the young fish couple Marlin and Coral who just bought their first home and were expecting a clutch of baby clown fish. And then we were shocked and grieved when nearly everything was ripped away from Marlin in a tragic barracuda attack that took Coral and all but one egg. So naturally, we sympathized with Marlin’s helicopter parenting compulsions, and when the unthinkable happened, and Nemo was scooped up by the monstrous diver, we were fully invested in Marlin’s quest to find his son.
Along the way, we encountered surprising and endearing situations and characters like the AA-style shark meeting who chanted the mantra, “Fish are friends, not food,” and the thrill-seeking, surfer-dude sea turtle Crush and of course, Marlin’s adopted sidekick Dory. The journey had great momentum. With every new situation and encounter, we sensed we were getting closer to finding Nemo.
In the meantime, there was a captivating B story with Nemo in the fish tank at the dentist’s office that had its own set of interesting characters and an additional threat — Darla, the dentist’s fish-killing niece. Plus, all of it, from the fish tank to the ocean was visually spectacular.
Although both Nemo and Finding Dory were directed by Andrew Stanton, who also directed WALL•E, the sequel had none of the elements that made the original so great. Although it was endearing to meet a young Dory (albeit incredibly sad, as you learn more about her short-term memory loss disability and witness some of her nearly-too-painful-to-watch struggles), we weren’t quite as invested in her sudden plight to find her family. Perhaps it’s because it seemed to come out of left field. There wasn’t a distinct inciting incident. You could almost sense that the real reason for Dory’s quest was to give Disney’s most beloved character a vehicle for her own movie.
From the moment the journey started it just seemed to go in circles. We couldn’t feel a forward momentum toward the goal, and after a short while, we found ourselves wanting to get off the merry-go-round.
The visuals didn’t help. In stark contrast to the vibrant colors of Nemo, Dory felt drab and even dingy at times. There weren’t any truly memorable moments, and although this might sound strange since we’re talking about a flick of talking fish, many of the scenarios in Finding Dory felt contrived and unrealistic. At least in Nemo, the situations they encountered seemed plausible in the ocean world.
Jody and I were so sad and disappointed. The car ride home from Tampa felt almost depressing.
So although Finding Dory opens in theaters everywhere tonight, we’d suggest you skip this one, and wait for it for to come on video. Head to the beach, have a barbecue or go on a family hike instead. You’ll have a more memorable weekend.