After thirteen years, we finally got a follow-up to Finding Nemo. While arguably not quite as stellar as its predecessor or the Toy Story sequels, Finding Dory has been met with universal critical acclaim. It’s also made a huge splash at the box office, having the biggest opening weekend ever for an animation feature. Unlike some mega blockbusters, Finding Dory truly deserves such phenomenal success. It’s witty, touching, visually stunning, and simply an all-around wonderful sequel. There’s just one issue that some people seem to have with the film: it’s too familiar.
At their bare bones, Finding Nemo and Finding Dory have almost identical plots. Both are essentially about fish that become separated from their families and try get back home. Along the way, our heroes learn about family, friendship, and letting go. Finding Dory hits numerous familiar beats. So what separates this sequel from something like The Hangover Part II, which was criticized for just being The Hangover Part I again?
Well for starters, Finding Dory isn’t just a carbon copy of the original film, despite the similarities. If this follow-up once again involved Nemo getting taken by divers, the plot would’ve felt painfully lazy. As the title suggests, though, this outing is all about Dory and the search for her long-lost family. By shining the spotlight on a supporting character, we’re introduced to a new backstory, new dynamics, and new possibilities. On top of that, the setting is also a little different. Where Finding Nemo mainly took place in the great sea and a fish take, most of the action here is set in the Marine Life Institute. One would think than an aquarium would be a very limited setting, but the filmmakers actually come up with a ton of creative scenarios and set pieces.
Most notably, the relationship Dory shares with her mother and father isn’t quite like anything we’ve seen in animated feature before. There have been countless movies about the bond that links parents and their children. Yet, Finding Dory addresses what it’s like to be the parent of somebody with special needs. While Dory’s parents love her more than anything, they’re also concerned that their forgetful girl may never be able to live a normal life. In the end, however, Dory’s unique outlook on life ultimately saves the day.
Although Finding Dory has plenty of new things to offer, it’s still hard to watch the film without experiencing déjà vu. So why couldn’t the film have just done something completely different? Well because then it wouldn’t have felt like a true successor to Finding Nemo. When people think of this franchise, they expect to see an adventure involving “finding” someone and an overarching theme regarding the importance of family. If Finding Dory had strayed too far away from Finding Nemo, audiences would’ve been caught off guard in all the wrong ways. Pixar essentially made this mistake with Cars 2, which became an espionage thriller out of absolutely nowhere.
Seeing how Finding Nemo wrapped up everything so perfectly, it was hard to imagine Pixar recapturing the same magic with this follow-up. Plus, it’s not like a sequel to the 2003 classic had to exist. Against all the odds, though, Finding Dory does continue a story and further develop characters while also remaining true to the original. This hasn’t been the best summer for sequels with Alice Through the Looking Glass, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, and Independence Day: Resurgence all being major disappointments. Finding Dory, however, proves that not all sequels have to be effortless cash grabs. Even if it is familiar, Finding Dory is one follow-up that won’t be forgotten.