Directed by Andrew Stanton & Angus MacLane
As a voice over performer, I’m always amazed at how seamlessly certain movie stars are able to inhabit their anthropomorphized characters. Of course, no amount of exceptional voice acting can overcome a flat script or unremarkable animation. As an example, “Zootopia”, which I also screened quite recently, suffers from animation that is way too interested in giving us vibrancy, instead of depth. As a result, to my eyes, anyway, I found it jarring visually…and without a perfect script (which it did not possess), it didn’t matter at all how hard the actors tried to breathe life in to its artifice.
Pixar, on the other hand, just gets it. With the exception of the overtly-commercial “Good Dinosaur”, every Pixar release gives their scripts at least as much energy and focus as all other aspects of their films. And “Dory” is no exception. Picking up where “Finding Nemo” left off, “Dory” spends most of its three act structure building, evolving and solidifying relationships, not capers. Since the stakes are, as with all Disney films, grounded in finding family (whether family-of-origin or family-of-choice)…or more specifically, filling the hole left by the lack of family connection, you can’t help but become emotionally involved in the story. Which is a very long-winded way of saying BRING TISSUES! In addition, the comedy of the film is every bit as well-developed as “Nemo”, especially with DeGenerous playing the absent-minded Dory. And finally, the pitfalls and adventures of our leads are unbelievably creative and tvisually arresting, especially in 3d. I know many are not fans of the technology, but, if ever there was a reason to see movie with the silly glasses on, any Pixar film is it.
So, about those performances…I was concerned I would find DeGenerous cloying…since I found it so when seeing the commercials for the film. But, I have to give it to her, she plays every shift in emotion with an innocence and purity that draws you in from the get-go, and carries it all the way to the finish. Ed O’Neill is terrific as a subversive octopus…in fact, I thought it was Bill Murray for the first couple scenes, that’s how subtle it was. Since this is not Nemo’s film, Albert Brooks, while emotionally complete, is not given enough to do to take advantage of his comic chops. But this is more than made up for by Ty Burrell, who is very, very funny as a bumbling Beluga, and the pairing of Idris Elba and Dominic West, as the Statler and Waldorf of the film. The only sour performances belong to Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy, but that’s more likely because they are the only actors asked to play melodrama, than because they can’t handle the subtleties of voice performance.
On a side note, who knew that the deep-voiced Elba, whose characters’ perpetrated such acts of atrocity in “The Wire” and “Beasts of No Nation”, would be the go-to actor for Disney animation, with “Jungle Book”, “Zootopia”, and “Dory” in his repertoire this summer alone!
Okay…DEAR THOMAS NEWMAN, how about writing a new theme once in a while. Once again, he has pretty-much duplicated his Oscar-nominated “The Judge” score note for note, but with different voicing. The average movie-goer won’t notice at all, but if you see a lot of films, like I do, it’s becoming very tedious and distracting. That said, in context of the film, it’s a fine score in that it allows the script to do the heavy-lifting emotionally. But, I mean, come ON!
Listen, “Finding Dory” is not as good as “Nemo”, or rather, not quite as wondrous. But how could it be? The environments that first film created were like witnessing something we couldn’t believe existed…and, as this film is left to simply build on that, we are left relying on story. But it is here that “Dory” really excels. It’s utterly miles ahead of all other animated films in the past year, it has plenty of laughs and joy for adults, and absolute gasps of awe from the children in the theater. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you to see it, but I think you’ll find it’s a couple hours well worth the effort – and the tears.
A quick word about the short that precedes it, a wondrous piece of animation called “Piper”. The six-minute piece about a baby sand-piper, is extraordinary. I usually dislike the Pixar shorts, especially the ultra-sappy “Lava” which preceded “Inside Out” when it had its theatrical release. Even the Oscar-nommed “Sanjay’s Super Team”, while visually arresting and of a more complex plot structure than most, left me cold. But “Piper” is the simplest of tales with just the right amount of charm, and almost no sap. And the animation is simply spectacular. A shoo-in for another Pixar animated short Oscar nomination.