She was comic relief in “Finding Nemo.” The ever-chipper Ellen DeGeneres-voiced blue tang delightfully counterbalanced the ever-anxious Marlin (Albert Brooks), father to the captured kid clownfish Nemo (Alexander Gould).
Now she’s front and center in a movie of her own, “Finding Dory,” a Pixar picture whose mood is very different from the 2003 megahit that spawned it.
“Nemo” is tinged with sadness, being the tale of a father and son left bereft by the sudden death of mother and siblings at the start, and then following the father as he searches the ocean for his abducted son. But it’s sprightly and funny thanks to Dory and the other offbeat sea creatures who join the effort to reunite the separated twosome.
By contrast, “Finding Dory” is significantly more somber, the story of a struggle with disability in which short-term memory loss, Dory’s signature characteristic, is at the center of the narrative. That’s announced baldly, and repeatedly, right from the start when cute baby Dory — all big soulful eyes and squeaky little voice — declares “I suffer from short-term memory loss” over and over again — yes, child, we get it — and is reassured by her parents (voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton) that she can function just fine with their love and support. She worries that she’ll forget them and fears they will forget her. And then one day she’s swept away by a strong undertow and, sure enough, she winds up forgetting them. The rest of “Finding Dory” is about her long effort to A) recall them, and B) find her way back to them.
Marlin and Nemo (voiced this time by Hayden Rolence) accompany her on the quest, reluctantly in the case of Marlin, who just wants to stay home and protect his son from harm.
The tone of “Dory,” written and directed, as was “Nemo,” by Andew Stanton (Angus MacLane co-directed) is plaintive — Where, oh where, have those parents gone? Oh where, oh where, can they be? — until Dory reaches the coast of California, is captured and taken to an aquarium/marine life research institute where the movie finally gets some comic mojo going on.
That’s principally thanks to a grouchy, shape-shifting octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill) who is to “Dory” what Dory was to “Nemo”: a secondary character who steals the movie in every scene he’s in. Acrobatic (see him slither across floors and suction his way up pipes) and opinionated, he gives it the energy and lightness it otherwise lacks.
There’s a sense throughout that “Dory” is trying too hard. That sense is there in DeGeneres’ voice, which lacks the ditzy lilt of her work in “Nemo.” Too much of the dialogue, by all characters, is delivered in frantic tones. And with the exception of the octopus, the supporting fish are rather toothless, literally so in the case of a shark character. Mustn’t distress the kiddies, I guess.
The visuals, as always in Pixar pictures, are gorgeous, full of dappling light and bright colors.
But by the end, “Dory” devolves into group hugs and — heaven help us — a car chase, the last refuge of a moviemaker out of ideas.
All in all, “Dory” disappoints.
☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Featuring the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Eugene Levy, Diane Keaton and Hayden Rolence.
Directors: Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane.
Running time: 1:35.
Rated: PG, for mild thematic elements.